Sunday, January 4, 2004


Holoholo Honolulu

Corner saw
first big fire

This is another location more noted for the site itself rather than what's on it. At this corner, the first of the great Chinatown fires erupted in 1886.

In 1852, due to the growth of the sugar industry, the Chinese became the first contract laborers to arrive in the islands. By 1882 the Chinese in Hawaii formed 49 percent of the plantation work force, outnumbering Caucasians in the islands.

The Chinese population in Honolulu reached 5,000, and a number began leaving the plantation to create small businesses. They were serious about it. Less than a decade after the arrival of the first large group of Chinese laborers, 60 percent of the wholesale and retail establishments of the islands were operated by Chinese. By 1880 they held 24 percent of the wholesale, 62 percent of the retail and 85 percent of the restaurant licenses issued in Honolulu.

Three-fourths of them concentrated in the 25 acres of downtown Honolulu that immediately became known as Chinatown, a description that has stuck to this day.

Most of the businesses were in wooden structures, and in 1886 a fire blazed out of control and destroyed the homes of 7,000 Chinese and 350 Hawaiians. The three-day fire razed more than eight blocks of Chinatown. Laws were enacted to regulate rebuilding with fire precautions, but many new buildings were put up in violation of the rules.

During an outbreak of Black Death in 1900, Chinatown was quarantined, and a controlled burning of infected homes was attempted by officials. But the winds changed and created an even larger conflagration. At the time, many Chinese believed -- and many still do -- that the 1900 fire was deliberately set to wipe them out.


Chinatown Fire

Opened: 1886
Architect: N/A
Style: Historic location of fire
Address: Smith and North Hotel streets
National Register: 1973 (District No. 73000658)
Hawaii Register: No

Fires leveled Chinatown twice, in 1886 and 1900, the latter when fires set to burn down homes of those with Bubonic Plague blazed out of control.


Chinatown came roaring back as strong as ever and continues to be defined by its earliest inhabitants.

Quicktime VR Panorama
Click on pictures to view panaromas


Every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin Travel section, rediscover the charms of old Hawaii through a tour created by the Honolulu Historic Trail Committee and Historic Hawai'i Foundation and supported by the city's Office of Economic Development. The yearlong project commemorates Honolulu's bicentennial.


See Honolulu City Highlights

Various Honolulu historical organizations have clamored for years to have some sort of survey created of downtown Honolulu's historical sites. The mayor's Office of Economic Development stepped in last year to create order, and 50 locations were chosen as representative of Honolulu's history.

There is, of course, far more history in Honolulu's streets than indicated here, but these sites give the high points and can be visited on a walking tour lasting about three hours.

Click to view enlarged map

To commemorate Honolulu's bicentennial, the Star-Bulletin kicks off "Holoholo Honolulu" today, a year-long project to examine these historic properties. For the next 50 Sundays in the Travel section, stories and photographs will illuminate these sites.

But that's just the tip of the architectural iceberg. Viewers can step right into these locations via the magic of QuickTime Virtual Reality, a computer process that allows visitors from around the world to feel as if they're standing right there on the street.

WE'RE ALSO looking for old photographs of these sites to scan for public use. If you have anything, let us know:

Write to:
Honolulu Star-Bulletin
7-210 Waterfront Plaza
500 Ala Moana
Honolulu, HI 96813.



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