Honolulu in 1888: The City That Made the Magazine
King David Kalakaua founded this magazine under a royal charter as Paradise of the Pacific, publishing our first issue in January 1888. On these pages, we take you back in time to see what life in Honolulu was like then.
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Nuuanu Stream in its original, natural state. Unfortunately, the stream was the city's toilet; outhouses lined its banks.
The Directory of Honolulu for 1888 calls Nuuanu Avenue the “aristocratic portion of Honolulu,” home to Wilders, Patys, Judds, Damons and Brewers. With the Royal Mausoleum and Queen Emma’s summer palace in its upper reaches, Honolulu’s only suburb has royal associations, and its cool temperatures and stunning views are within commuting distance of the city if you can afford to keep a horse or two. A few Chinese who have established businesses have moved into Nuuanu; the wealthy businessman Ah Fong’s garden is known to be one of the most beautiful on the avenue.
But Nuuanu Avenue is not entirely quiet. The road terminates at the Pali Lookout, the most famous tourist destination on the island (beyond that, there’s a steep, uneven stone path that can be navigated by horse or on foot, leading to the farms and plantations of the Windward Side). The Pantheon Livery Stables promises ship passengers, who often only have a six-hour layover, a trip to the Pali and back in under three hours, “if necessary.”
A reservoir in Nuuanu already exists, piping water to businesses and residences throughout Honolulu, though water quality is becoming an issue. The water-wheel for the electricity plant, which provides street lighting to the city’s major intersections, runs night and day.
In 1888, Manoa Valley is a landscape of streams and springs, field and pasture, and very few people. Its fertile bottomlands, intensively cultivated in pre-contact days, are still a checkerboard landscape of taro and rice fields tended by Hawaiians and Chinese. Its gentle outer slopes are rich pasturelands for the Woodlawn and Kaaipu dairies, whose cream and butter are sought after in the city. Thickets of lantana grow wild on either side of the valley’s narrow cart tracks. Deep into the valley, on the slopes of a hill called Akaka Peak, the Chinese cemetery is already more than 50 years old.
But although small clusters of Native Hawaiian houses can still be found, Manoa has been transformed by the same demographic changes that are sweeping Hawaii as a nation. In the first half of the century, Manoa was populous enough for four missionaries to establish a Protestant chapel in the valley (it will one day become the site of Manoa Valley Theatre). A public school followed nearby, and at least one missionary family had a summer cottage there as well. But, by 1886, attendance at the school was a third of what it had been decades before, at its peak. In 1892, Thrum’s Annual explained the chapel’s “sparse” attendance: “The former residents of the valley have passed away.”
Waikiki in the 1880s was a marshy place. Here, a lagoon sits in the area that would become the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
Water and land mingle freely at Waikiki, with its fish ponds, marsh and rice fields, punctated every so often by a farmer’s tin-roofed shack. Tourists go to see the 10,000 trees of the Helumoa coconut grove, a Kamehameha preserve that dates back to the 16th century, and magnificent Waikiki beach, known for its soft sand and gentle waves.
There has always been a village here, but wealthy residents, including King Kalakaua and Princess Liliuokalani, have also built summer cottages along the shore, with large, open verandas that come alive with music and laughter on moonlit summer evenings.
Tourists without a letter of introduction can always call in at the Long Branch Bath House, where they’ll get a dressing room, a towel and a stretch of beach to enjoy, or at the Park Beach Hotel, Waikiki’s first overnight tourist establishment, where the Elk’s Club will one day stand. But hurry—the Park Beach Hotel will close next year because business is too slow.
At the far end of Waikiki are the elegant circular drives and horse-racing course of Kapiolani Park, in 1888 a privately held enterprise that opens to the public once a year on June 11, Kamehameha Day. It’s also a favorite turning-around point for a horseback or carriage ride out of Honolulu.
Oahu Prison inmates took their lunch out in the courtyard, sharing from communal poi buckets.
Until a year or two ago, Kapalama’s claims to fame were its scandal-ridden insane asylum in the mountains, and Oahu Prison in Iwilei, a marshy no-man’s land almost completely cut off from the main island by two immense fishponds. Recently, however, the wealthy estate of Bernice Pauahi Bishop has been moving things in a respectable direction. The Kamehameha School for Boys, offering instruction in tailoring, wood-turning and blacksmithing along with academic subjects, has just opened on Kapalama’s lower slopes, where stone for the building of Bishop Museum is also being quarried.
If someone says you should be sent to the reef, it’s not a vacation, it’s a threat. “The Reef” is the nickname for Oahu Prison; constructed of white coral and standing by itself on watery Iwilei peninsula, it looks from the city’s vantage point as though it’s part of the outer reef. The prison’s high walls afford a stunning ocean view, and it is not an uncommon spot to take visitors during the day while prisoners are out working.