COURTESY LES HONG / LAURA RUBY
After Hawaii won statehood in 1959, John F. Kennedy, then a U.S. senator, took part in a parade on Beretania Street, passing Charley's Tavern at South Beretania and Kaialiu streets. The location later became Moiliili Chop Suey and is now Kirin Restaurant. Below, Babe Ruth played at Moiliili's Honolulu Stadium in 1933 and autographed several baseballs for fans.
The life of a community is preserved in 5 pounds of photographs and memories
There are 71 people listed in the opening credits to the nearly 400-page tome "Mo'ili'ili -- The Life of a Community," but they represent just a fraction of all who contributed lore, memories, photos and little-known factoids about growing up in the area. In this case it took a village to write a book about a how a 19th-century farming and fishing village became the thriving urban community it is today.
"Mo'ili'ili -- The Life of a Community"
Edited by Laura Ruby
Published by the Moiliili Community Center (396 pages, hardcover, $29.95)
Available at the center at 2535 S. King St., University of Hawaii Bookstore, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, Hula Supply Center and Kuni Island Fabrics
Book signing and reception: 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday
Place: First Hawaiian Bank University Branch, 2411 S. King St.
"Mo'ili'ili -- The Life of a Community" talk: Laura Ruby will speak about the book project and research, noon to 1:30 p.m. March 2, University of Hawaii Center for Biographical Research, Henke Hall.
"Mo'ili'ili -- The Life of a Community" exhibition: March 18 to May 5, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, 2454 S. Beretania St. A gallery walk begins at 1 p.m. March 18, with reception following from 2 to 4 p.m.
"Mo'ili'ili's Neighborhoods": Slide presentation, 4 p.m. April 8, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii.
Skimming through pages of photographs showing pa'u riders, stock-car racing and Babe Ruth taking a whack at a ball in Moiliili's Old Honolulu Stadium, and John F. Kennedy waving from a convertible in a parade through the town, readers will be reminded of the colorful history of an area outsiders now regard simply as a place where college kids go to eat, shop, make photocopies and maybe once in a while take in an art film.
The book is put together in a large-format, coffee-table style with photos on every page. But unlike so many of the picture books released here, this one demands to be read. If you can lift it. The book weighs in at 5 pounds, which makes it difficult to lug around, especially if you're a bedtime reader. Rest it on your chest and you might have trouble breathing.
For this, Rebecca Ryan, executive director of the Moiliili Community Center, which published the book, is unapologetic.
"That's just how it turned out," she said, laughing about the weight, the result of community interest and input. The original idea was simple: to preserve the history of the center, now contained in Chapter 7.
"All these things came up when we were putting it together. We went out and gathered oral histories, gathered information, and it just grew from there," Ryan said. "Someone would hear something, then we would have educational talks. People from Waianae, from all over, would drive in and say, 'We used to live here.' A lot of connections were made at a community level and at a family level.
"This went on for three years, but once we had financing, we were committed and had to produce the book. People wanted it to be perfect and complete, but well, you know, nothing is ever perfect. We had to finish."
This 1987 photograph shows Tom Ena, left, and a friend in the cavern pool beneath Moiliili. Ena would swim in the icy underground waters, where blind mullet could be speared or netted.
Members of the center had talked about documenting its history for 10 to 15 years with no results until Lila Gardner and Laura Ruby became interested in the project four years ago. Both are credited as managing editors, and Ruby took on additional tasks of grant-writing for initial funding of the project and photographing subjects whenever necessary. As a professional artist who also was responsible for the layout of the book, Ruby said, "I didn't want the photos to be small, where you can't see them. When something wasn't there, I'd go out and take the photograph."
The photographs guide readers through the book, stirring interest in accompanying blocks of copy. It is interesting from the start, in which we are told about the sea of pebbles, or 'ili'ili, that gave the area its name -- today an abbreviation of Ka moana 'ili'ili (or Ka mo'o aina 'ili'ili, in connection with a lizard god who lost his life in a battle with Pele's sister Hiiaka). The pebbles resulted from lava balls that erupted from Puu Kakea on Tantalus, which were swept onto the flat plains by Manoa Stream.
From there, readers are whisked underground to the watery caverns beneath Moiliili's streets. In reading the descriptions of the cold, fresh water and fishing holes filled with blind fish, shrimp, mullet and catfish, one can't help but feel a sense of loss.
"The air and water quality down there is terrible now," Ruby said. "We tell people not to go down there and don't tell people where the entrances are."
MOILIILI COMMUNITY CENTER
In the 1920s, Moiliili was home to many sumo "dohyo," or training centers for young men.
MOILIILI WAS home to agriculture in the 1800s. Early Hawaiians built auwai to irrigate their taro fields, and Chinese taro and rice farmers followed. The Great Mahele brought Western-based land distribution to the area via Land Commission Awards bestowed from 1846 to 1853. One of the book's highlights is a color fold-out map combining maps of Waikiki and Manoa to show the extent of the Land Commission Awards.
Development sped up with the mining of the Moiliili Quarry in the late 1800s. The bluish-basalt lava rock provided employment for Portuguese stonecutters and Japanese laborers who could leave the sugar plantations for a better life. For more than 60 years, rocks from the quarry were used to construct Honolulu's streets, sidewalks and gravestones.
Bingham Park tract homes developed in the 1920s, selling for nearly $700,000 today, were built for $3,500 to $5,000.
By the 1930s a huge Japanese-American community had taken root, and the Moiliili Hongwanji Mission became a community center not only for temple activities, but for intramural athletics and classes in such domestic arts as knitting and crocheting.
Entrepreneurs found diverse careers along the way. The book contains recollections of the two-can Manapua Man, cans connected on a pole balanced on his shoulders; Mr. Nishida's yellow hot dog wagon, parked in an empty lot where University Square is now located; and the puff rice peddler.
Out of these small businesses grew many small restaurants, fish markets, teahouses and niche businesses such as florists and dry-goods stores.
Businesses are documented, from the Miyazono Open-Air Theatre that screened American silent films starring Mary Pickford, Tom Mix and Rudolph Valentino, to Kuhio Grill, where a kitchen floor led to a water-filled cavern where those in the know could catch mullet.
Other activities took place at Moiliili Field, which later became Honolulu Stadium, and in its waning days more affectionately known as the "Termite Palace." But in its heyday it was the venue for many sporting and entertainment events. In October 1933, sports fans were treated to a visit from Babe Ruth, who demonstrated his baseball skills. Joe DiMaggio and Joe Louis appeared at the stadium, as did performers such as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Irving Berlin.
Stock-car racing came to the stadium in the 1950s. "People who lived there really didn't like it," Ruby said. "It tore up the field and kicked up a lot of dust."
The amount of information contained in the volume is vast, detailed and intimate, and could take months to absorb.
Ruby, who lived in Kapahulu before moving to Moiliili in 1980, said she continues to discover facts about the area "even now that the book is out. Of course, we knew that would happen."
"We're open to hearing things people want to tell us," Ruby said. "If people have anything of significance to add, we're going to have a file at the (McCully-Moiliili) library and provide an area for people to leave things."
Ryan said she hopes the book will serve as a template for other community organizations seeking to preserve their histories.
"I think we created something that can be replicated. It's important because people forget. I think because of the way we live now, people don't have time for community. It's something we've lost, but you see all over that a longing for community is coming back.
"You look at these things now and you see how they all connect, past and present."