Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, May 11, 1999

"The Saga of the Sandwich Isles," by Edward Scott
One of the earliest known drawings of Honolulu was done
in the early 1800s by Louis Choris, aboard the Russian ship Rurick.

Nothing planned for
city’s bicentennial

By Burl Burlingame


By any measure, Honolulu is one of the great cities of the world, blessed by climate, location and culture, with a rich and varied history that has seen kings and queens, revolution, commerce, democracy, war and peace, voyagers and astronauts, classic architecture and a unique sense of place.

And it's 200 years old, give or take a few years. Honolulu's bicentennial may be occurring right now, or soon, and no one in local government or historic organizations appear to be taking note of the anniversary.

Asked about any city plans to commemorate its bicentennial, Mayor Jeremy Harris last week at an editorial board meeting blurted out, "Bicycles? Bicycles?" But then his mind was on current budget problems, not ancient history.

Part of the problem of celebrating a bicentennial is pinning down an exact date. According to histories such as "Saga of the Sandwich Islands" and "The City and County of Honolulu -- A Governmental Chronicle," in 1792, European ships began dropping anchor in the protected backwater known as "honorourou," Hawaiian for "fair harbor."

By 1800, the little village of Kou, approximately where Merchant Street is today, began to grow.

In 1804 to 1805, Kamehameha shifted the capitol of the islands to Oahu, and in 1810, to the community already known to sailors as Honolulu.

Which means, 200 years later, we're smack dab in the midst of a 15-year time period during which Honolulu sprang into existence.

Tonia Moy, architecture historian for the State Historic Preservation Division, said no individuals or agencies have noted the anniversary.

Peter Radulovic of the Mayor's Office of Culture and the Arts says the same thing. So does Sandy Miller of the Hawaii Visitors Bureau.

Councilman Steve Holmes' office did query the mayor in January about the City's 90th anniversary -- Honolulu's municipal government was inaugurated Jan. 4, 1909 -- without getting a response. But Holmes was unaware of the bicentennial. "The Mayor is the lead on that sort of thing," said a Holmes spokesperson.

"Absolutely!" said councilman Jon Yoshimura, when asked if the city's bicentennial should be noted somehow. "I can only think that the only reason we're not pursuing it is that there's no clear date."

Councilman John Henry Felix's reaction was to promise "an immediate resolution looking for a way to commemorate the bicentennial. We should get scholars together to figure out when to do it, though."

According to David Scott of the Historic Hawaii Foundation, bicentennial commemorations are the sort of signature events that help create a community's identity. This is crucial when creating marketing strategies for cultural tourism.

As Honolulu heads into a new millennium, we at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin are concerned about this city's blind spot toward its own history. Starting today, we will run occasional stories dealing with this problem. After all, we are members of this community too.

Watch for these stories. Let us know how you feel: Historic Honolulu, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu HI 96813, or e-mail

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