The Last Days of Club Hubba Hubba
After a thorough renovation, about all that's left of Honolulu's most infamous strip club is the legendary neon sign out front, and the memories of Hubba Hubba's lurid past.
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In 1969, Honolulu Associated Press reporter Bruce Dunford wrote a piece headlined, “Honolulu’s Once Lively Hotel Street Nears Death Gasp.” City planners, it seemed, wanted to bulldoze Hotel Street as part of a mass-transit project. In that report, Dunford quoted the ever-morose Matsuoka on the future of Club Hubba Hubba as saying, “Sure, it’s dying. It may not even last another year. I’m losing money, even though I have a floor show and draw a local crowd.” What is interesting about Dunford’s article is that it was picked up by several Mainland newspapers, including papers in Florida, Connecticut and Indiana. Why were so many people on the Mainland interested in a grimy little street in Honolulu? Today, Dunford says the story was probably printed so widely because of the millions of servicemen who had partied in downtown Honolulu ever since World War II. Servicemen told their friends about Hotel Street when they got home and word spread through the military that, if you are in Hawaii, Hotel Street is where the action is, he said.
But Club Hubba Hubba, in 1969, was nowhere near death. The mass-transit system was never built, although Hotel Street eventually closed to regular traffic and was converted into bus lanes. That lead to a decrease in business. But the thing that killed off Club Hubba Hubba, ironically, turned out to be a reevaluation of what is considered obscene and what isn’t. The U.S. Supreme Court, in 1973, said, basically, one man’s obscenity is another man’s hot night on the town watching ladies take off their clothes on stage. It was up to local jurisdictions to set community standards. In “hang loose” Hawaii, this meant an increase in clubs featuring not only naked dancers but, in some cases, even actual sex on stage. Club Hubba Hubba and the Forbidden City on Kalakaua Avenue were no longer the only skin games in town.
Another funny thing happened as Matsuoka and others lamented the imminent demise of Hotel Street businesses: A movement arose to save historic Chinatown and downtown buildings and breathe new life into the area. The Honolulu Culture & Arts District Association was established in 2001 to develop the area as a center for the arts, entertainment and dining out and to help landowners rehabilitate their properties.