Friday, September 14, 2012

Aloha Amusement Park (Waikiki Park)

An amusement park for the city of Honolulu was a long contemplated project by a number of prominent citizens, and various sites convenient to the public traffic were considered.

The “official” opening of Aloha Amusement Park on Kalākaua Avenue in Waikīkī was September 14, 1922.  (Although the American Legion held a 4th of July carnival there as its first use (even though the park was not completed, they used the partially completed facility for the celebration.)

The three-day 4th of July celebration attracted nearly 25,000 paid admissions to the park; of this number, 16,395 attended on the closing day.

That year’s annual report of the Honolulu Rapid Transit and Land Company noted the opening of the park “resulted in a considerable increase in night travel.  This attraction in its present location will no doubt stimulate travel on the cars.”  (In part, the siting of the facility was due to the accessibility over the transit line.)

Reportedly, the Advertiser described it as "another laurel to the wreath of Honolulu's progressiveness."

The reception was not all good.  Apparently, the Outdoor Circle and many residents called it an "atrocious ballyhoo bazaar".  There were complaints of commercialization of Waikīkī.

Likewise, a petition, signed by property owners in the area, said the park was misrepresented when the permit was granted, would lead to immorality. RA Vitousek, attorney, represented the park and its manager, WA Cory.

City Supervisors said they cannot revoke the permit but feel it should be investigated.  (Krauss)  (The City’s 1922 financial report notes a $50 expense, for “Aloha Amusement Park Investigation”.)

The operator noted the complaints were coming from people who are already operating hotels, bath houses and dancing places – all of which were catering to the rich. He noted that the rest of the people should have a place in the same area.  (He had considered and decided against siting the Park in Pālama.)

Aloha Park was adjacent to Fort DeRussy, an American army base and was opened by the Aloha Amusement Company, a group of local investors. They invested $250,000 to build and equip the park with modern rides. They hired Los Angeles resident Cory to manage the park and gave him a stake in the new company.

While Honolulu only had a permanent population of 90,000, it also had a transient population of 30,000 soldiers, sailors and tourists. And its mild climate was perfect for year around operation.

Although its proximity to the army base was helpful, the five-acre site required extensive filling and dredging to make it into an amusement resort. Two acres were set aside as sunken gardens and grass lawns.

Technical director Mark Hanna was in charge of the park’s construction. The park’s entrance was designed after the Palace of Fine Arts arcade at the 1915 San Francisco Exposition.

The park’s rides included the Big Dipper roller coaster designed by Prior and Church of Venice, California, a Noah’s Ark fun house,  a 70 foot high Traver Seaplane, a ten-car Dodgem, a carousel built by Arthur Looff,  and a miniature railroad.

The dance hall had a floor 120 x 150 feet, with a 20 foot lanai, where refreshments were served, and contained boxes for private parties. Music was provided by the Hawaiian brass band, that played at the band pavilion where a big musical revue was staged nightly.

Electric lights at light brightly lit up the grounds and rides. Free daily entertainment was provided. Oscar V. Babcock performed his thrilling bicycle loop-the-loop during the park’s opening weeks.

Running into financial difficulties, the Park went into bankruptcy in 1924.  New investment came in and the park was renamed Waikiki Park.  It is believed the park lasted until the 1930 Depression.

The Park played a role in the Massie case in 1931.  Five young men who had been charged with rape of Thalia Massie, as she walked home from a Waikiki nightclub, had reportedly been at a dance at the Aloha Amusement Park (and used that as an explanation in their defense.) (More on that later.)

Lots of information here from National Amusement Park Historical Association and Bob Krauss’s newspaper notes.  The image shows a Honolulu and Vicinity Map from 1934 (portion noting Waikiki Park) and the layout of Waikiki Park in 1927.

© 2012 Hoʻokuleana LLC

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