Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Downtown Honolulu In 1950

A picture is worth a thousand words; they (and maps) tell stories.  This map tells lots of stories … and brings back some great memories.

OK, I wasn’t even born when the map was printed.  But a few years later, when I was a kid, there are a lot of familiar places (and associated stories) depicted on this map.

Take some time looking at the ownership and operations up and down the streets.  There have been lots of changes since then – but the memories are still here.

Bishop Street was and continues to be the center of Hawai‘i commerce and banking (in the center of the map, running up/down.)

Do you remember the Big 5?

Did you notice their placement on Bishop Street (and to each other) back then (as well as the battling banks across Bishop Street from each other?)

Five major companies emerged to provide operations, marketing, supplies and other services for the plantations and eventually came to own and manage most of them.  They became known as the Big 5:

        Amfac (1849) - Hackfeld & Company - a German firm that later became American Factors Ltd (Amfac.)  It was started by a young German selling goods to whalers and grew to manage and control various sugar operations.

        Alexander & Baldwin (1870) - started by Samuel Thomas Alexander and Henry Perrine Baldwin, sons of missionaries.  It was the only Big 5 that started in sugar.  Their irrigation project sent water 17-miles from Haleakala to 3,000-dry sugar cane acres in central Maui.

        Theo H. Davis (1845) - a British firm that started as a small isle trading company and expanded into other businesses including sugar, transportation and insurance.

        Castle & Cooke (1851) - founded by missionaries (Samuel Northrup Castle and Amos Starr Cooke,) which originally sold sewing machines, farm tools and medicine in Hawaii.  It later bought stock in sugar plantations and focused on sugar companies.

        C. Brewer – (1826) founded by James Hunnewell, an officer on the Thaddeus that brought the original missionaries to Hawai‘i in 1820.  He returned in 1826 to set up a trading company specialized in supplying whaling ships but then moved into sugar and molasses.  The firm’s namesake, Capt. Charles Brewer, became a partner in 1836.

Another Hawai‘i family and company, Dillingham, started in the late-1800s, although not a “Big Five,” deserves some attention – it’s offices were down there, too (next to the Big 5.)  They played a critical role in agricultural operations through leasing land and controlling some operations, but mostly moved the various goods on OR&L.

Back in the ‘50s, Fort Street was “it” for shopping (to the left of Bishop Street, also running mauka/makai – now, it’s mostly a pedestrian mall.)

You can read the names of old Honolulu retail iconic institutions – Liberty House, McInerny, Watamulls and Andrades - along with Kress, Woolworths, National Dollar and Longs Drugs.

I remember the “moving windows” during Christmas season; we’d pile in the station wagon and take a special trip over the Pali to downtown to Christmas shop (the Pali Tunnels and Ala Moana Center weren’t open until 1959.)

We’d walk up and down Fort Street and look at all the animated window displays, then stop in at a restaurant for dinner (one of our favorites was Fisherman’s Wharf at Kewalo Basin.)

‘Iolani Palace is on the site labeled Territorial Executive Grounds (we’re still nine years away from statehood;) mauka of it had different uses – it’s now the State Capitol and Hotel Street walkway.

The YWCA (just to the left of ‘Iolani Palace) is still going strong and nearby was the YMCA, now converted to the Hawai‘i State Art Museum and state offices.

The Alexander Young Hotel, opened in 1903 (on Bishop between Hotel and King,) was later converted hold offices and was demolished in 1981.

You can see some roads have changed or have been consolidated into adjoining properties.  Did you notice, back then, Ala Moana/Nimitz on the map was called Queen Street?

In my early years in real estate (while still a student at UH, I used to do research in the Tax Office and Bureau of Conveyances (lower right of map.)  Fifty-two years later, I directed DLNR which now has the Bureau of Conveyances under its management umbrella.

The map is from UH-Mānoa, Hamilton Library and used with permission for personal, non-commercial and educational purposes.  In addition, I have added some other old Downtown Honolulu 1950s Maps and Images in a folder of like name in the Photos section of my Facebook page.


  1. Like you, this map is a bit before my time (I was born a month before statehood). I had wondered what Nimitz was called before (I had assumed it was named after the Admiral shortly after the war, but I suppose now that they named it for him upon his death). I wonder how far the street extended as 'Queen Street' back then? I'm sure it didn't extend with that name as far as Nimitz does today.

    Also of interest to me is that Union St. used to extend across Bishop St. I suppose that little section was obliterated when they built the HawTel tower in that location in the late 60's.

    I remember when they converted Fort St. into the pedestrian mall. It seemed like a cool idea at the time but did that ever turn out to be a mistake. I suppose the retail district were doomed anyway due to the lack of parking (just like most Amer. downtown shopping areas), but its a shame what Fort St. has become--especially on the weekends.

    Thanks for another good post!

  2. Hi Peter, I am a mystery writer working on a novel set in current-day Honolulu. I have a scene that will take place at the residence of a man who purchased his home new (with his wife) in the 50s. I have several questions about areas where this type of housing might have existed in those days as well as building materials used in Hawaii at that time. Would you be interested in answering a few questions for me? (I've sent also a Facebook friend request) You can learn more about me on my website at terryambrose.com

  3. Terry: here's a link to a post that includes some info on 'Hicks Homes' - the mass produced housing of the 1950s in Hawaii - http://totakeresponsibility.blogspot.com/search/label/Hicks%20Homes

    You can look at almost anyplace in the Islands where they were built.