Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, August 9, 1999

Historic Honolulu

1907—a very good year
for Honolulu

By Burl Burlingame


AN ad hoc task force created by Mayor Jeremy Harris in response to a Star-Bulletin query has determined that while it's possible to nail down the City and County's 100th birthday -- 2007, the centennial of the formal adoption the Charter of the City and County of Honolulu -- determining the city's 200th birthday proved nearly impossible.

"Like virtually all cities, there is just no specific date to point at," explained W. Donald Duckworth of Bishop Museum, task force member. "Anything else would either be an educated guess or a purely arbitrary decision."

More than two centuries ago, European ships had begun 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 be known as Honolulu. In 1805, Kamehameha shifted the kingdom's seat of government to Oahu, living in Pakaka at the mouth of Nuuanu Stream, and formally named Honolulu as the capitol in 1810.

Although the charter was adopted in 1907, Honolulu's municipal government wasn't inaugurated until Jan. 4, 1909.

In other words, the first challenge was to pick a date. The second will be to stick to it.

Harris refers to the task force as the "Honolulu Bicentennial Celebration Commission," and said the members included Duckworth, museum consultant Deborah Pope, David Scott of the Historic Hawaii Foundation and designer Mary Philpotts. "I'm very interested in Honolulu's history," said Harris, adding his usual bedside reading is the weighty history "Saga of the Sandwich Islands."

Honolulu, however, may be the only state capitol in the United States without a city museum or city-history learning center.

Harris is studying the group's preliminary document, which reportedly includes suggestions for celebrating the event. While the focus will be on the city's 100th birthday and achievements over the last century, the city's previous century of royal and independent history will be acknowledged to some degree.

One of the attractions of the 1907 birthdate, said Duckworth, was that it gives the city some breathing room in planning a celebratory event. "What kinds of things would we want to do?" he said. "Now there would be time to create them in a responsible way, and it's farther away from the Millennium events.

"For example, there's an absolute treasure trove of photos scattered about the various city departments and in the archives. A pictorial history could be created, published or put on-line."

Marking Honolulu's history is an uphill battle, admits Duckworth.

"There's a general lack of awareness of history in all levels of government," he said. "Go into Honolulu's 'historic' downtown district and it's completely anonymous. Go into any older city in Virginia and you'll see marker plaques everywhere."

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