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Imagine visiting Honolulu in the 1920s and 30s, among a ship full of passengers just as eager to reach this dream destination. The vessel set sail a couple weeks prior, and still the energy levels are up. You look around to see ladies deep in conversation, kids still gripping their suitcases with excitement – when suddenly, the roaring chatter that had fueled the ship all along slowly quiets, and the sweet scent of fresh flowers tickles your nose.
Everyone’s attention is instantly on what’s up ahead, to what looks like a huge crowd gathered at Pier 7. You can see hula dancers swaying their hips and the source of that heavenly fragrance you smelled moments ago – Hawaiian lei hanging along the waters’ edge. You lean farther over the side of the boat to get a better view of what’s standing above them. It’s a tall tower with a giant clock and the welcoming word of “ALOHA.”
Before the time of jet planes and cheap flights, commute by boat was the only way to visit Hawaii. And as you can imagine, it was a big deal – especially for those on land. “Boat Days,” as it was called, meant thousands of colorful streamers along the harbor and performances by the Royal Hawaiian Band; tutu (grandmothers, elder Hawaiian women) strung plumeria lei and locals cut their work days short so that they can take part in the lively festivities.
The tower – which still remains at what is now Aloha Tower Marketplace – had become a welcoming beacon for visitors. It served a practical function as a harbor control center as well, and at the time, it was the tallest structure in Hawaii – hovering over the incoming ships at 223 feet tall. The clock (one facing the ocean, the other facing land) was also the largest in the United States. And it’s not just any ‘ole clock. Completely weight driven, it keeps rhythmic time with each swing of the pendulum. Many don’t know this, but for more than four decades, a clock and watchmaker from Hawaii (now retired) has been quietly maintaining this historic clock.
“Boat Days” eventually came to an end, with commercial airlines becoming the preferred method of commute for travelers. Skyscrapers that started to pop up throughout the downtown district at the time also contributed to the end of the harbor’s glory days, overshadowing the once outstanding clock tower.
The tower is listed on both the Hawaii and national Registers of Historic Places.
Aloha Tower still stands as a reminder of the past but with all the attractions of the present. A variety of restaurants and shops have sprung up beneath the maritime symbol. You can also take an elevator to the top of the tower for a classic view of the city and sea. Though this landmark has a different purpose these days, the festivities around it haven’t died down one bit.
ALOHA TOWER MARKETPLACE • 1 Aloha Tower Dr., Honolulu, HI 96813 • Observation Deck opens daily 930am-5pm (free) • Most shops & restaurants open 9am-9pm • 808-528-5700 • Paid parking in lots
Photo Credit: Katherine Finch