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There still are local people who see Waikiki’s high rises, the glittering shopping venues and the luxury hotels and long for the days before the world discovered Hawaii as a vacation destination.
A lot of those folks, of course, weren’t born then or were children. So what was it like in the 1920s? If we could rip back the calendar pages, what would we find?
Starting from downtown and heading toward Waikiki, probably by taxi, you’d go along King Street. Only swampland filled the areas now occupied by Ala Moana Boulevard and Kapiolani Boulevard, the main arteries now. You’d pass the Civic Center, which consisted of Iolani Palace, the Judiciary Building and the new Public Library. In front of the Judiciary Building stood the imposing statue of Kamehameha, already a 40-year-old treasured landmark.
Magnificence and fragrance would strike you as you passed the trees and flowers of the Catholic cemetery. Plumeria was known as the “cemetery flower” and it was abundant in cemeteries. It’s different now, but back then plumeria wasn’t planted in private gardens or used in lei.
People no longer lived in grass houses, but you would pass one that housed an antique and curio shop. Next you’d go by Old Plantation, a mid-Victorian building where the three unmarried Ward sisters lived. That’s now the location of the sprawling Ward Centers.
Now that you were approaching Waikiki, you’d turn onto Kalakaua Avenue. You’d encounter a truck farm at the corner of King and Kalakaua, and beyond it were acres of duck ponds and rice fields.
Waikiki consisted of only the area on the ocean side of Kalakaua. An open-air trolley ran over a trestle through the swamps. You could see the impressive Moana Hotel on the horizon from all directions. Fort DeRussy was a bustling Army post that housed a shoreline artillery detachment whose cannons pointed out to sea to protect the island from enemy warships.
You couldn’t see the beach from the street. It was reachable only via occasional rights of way. The Elks Club still stands on Kalakaua where it was then, renovated of course. It formerly had been the residence of James B. Castle and was perhaps the finest home in the entire Pacific.
That’s about it. Not much to look back fondly on. But we can dream, can’t we?