From Our Files: What Honolulu Looked Like Between December 1949 and 1994

Our History

In 1888, King Kalākaua issued a royal charter, commissioning a magazine. Then titled Paradise of the Pacific, this publication became HONOLULU Magazine, making it the oldest magazine west of the Mississippi.





Island Girl, photographed by Edward D. Adams



Martha Stermer describes what it’s like to be a coffee picker, from getting attacked by “microscopic speleletiers, bent on exploring the caverns of your nose” to “fine bark dust or particles from dead leaves … always ready to assault your eyes.” It’s a difficult but rewarding job, with returns four or five times what they used to be. “Kona farmers are thankful that debts have been paid, their offspring sent away for higher education; many who came here from the Orient 40 years ago are able at last to visit their homeland,” Stermer writes. “There’s Heaven and Hell in every brew.”



Musicians Eaton “Bob” Magoon Jr., Ed Kenney and Gordon N. Phelps write “Numbah 1 Day of Christmas” in 15 minutes while eating Chinese food in Magoon’s home. Paradise runs a full spread of the song lyrics, all the way down to “Twelve TELEVISION, eleven missionary, ten can of beer, nine pound of poi, eight ‘ukulele, seven shrimp a-swimmin’, seex hula lesson, forty steenkin’ peeg, foah flowah lei, tree dry squid, two coconut, an’ one mynah bird in one papaya tree!” More than 50 years later, the song is one of Hawai‘i’s most beloved Christmas classics.



Comedian Frank De Lima talks about his dreams of Godzilla attacking Hawai‘i (little did he know that would come true in 2013), why he decided not to become a priest after years of study, clean jokes and the tragic drug-related deaths of some comedy legends. “The image now is that every comedian is a druggie,” he says, because of people like Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, John Belushi amd Rap Reiplinger. But De Lima doesn’t even tell “bad” jokes that are X-rated, because they embarrass him. “Hawai‘i humor is picturesque,” he says. “People here grew up with [ethnic humor]: They can picture the neighborhood kids, the different nationalities and what they did.” It may come as a surprise that De Lima has a master’s in divinity, but even though he chose a different career path, he’s still inspired thousands of people.


1994: Robin Isayama, 26, becomes the first woman to swim the Moloka‘i Channel. It takes her 15 hours and 21 minutes.


Learn more about the evolution of covers in Honolulu Magazine and Paradise of the Pacific: 125 Years of Covers, available at





Read More Stories by Katrina Valcourt