Memorabilia of Hawaii is on display
When construction of King's Village (formerly King's Alley) in Waikiki was completed in 1972, the first business to open was the Rose and Crown Pub. Located at the entrance of the one-acre shopping and dining complex, whose architectural design recalls Honolulu at the turn of the last century, it drew crowds until closing in July 1997.
What: "Displaying My Memories: An Exhibit of Hawaiian Collectibles" by Paul Naki
Place: King's Village, 131 Kaiulani Ave., Waikiki
Time: 5:30 to 10 p.m. daily through July 2007
On the Net: www.kings-village.com
A year ago, Paul Naki was browsing through a downtown antique shop when part of a sign caught his eye.
Many other items were stacked in front of it, but he was able to see the letter R and a portion of the letter O. The scrolled styling of the letters and their gold color, albeit faded, were unmistakable.
"After removing everything that was blocking it, I discovered it was the original Rose and Crown Pub sign," said Naki. "It is now 'back home' at King's Village, mounted in a prominent place in the King's Guard Museum as a reminder of all the good times people spent there."
Naki is a teacher at Kaimuki Middle School and the director of the King's Guard (see "Hawaii's Backyard," April 20, 2003), the precision exhibition rifle drill team that presents the Changing of the Guard ceremony at King's Village nightly at 6:15 p.m. Opened in 2003, the 850-square-foot King's Guard Museum tells the team's story through exhibits of rifles, photos, uniforms, sabers, flags, banners, posters and trophies it has won since it debuted 34 years ago.
After being on view for three years, the items were due to be cleaned and reorganized.
Rather than leave the display cases empty for the next eight months while the work was being done, Naki thought it would be a good opportunity to showcase select pieces from his private collection of Hawaiian memorabilia.
Naki has been an avid collector for 40 years; the first item he bought was an old soda bottle when he was 10. "My grandmother's home had piles of them," he recalled, "but a friend of mine had one I didn't have. I paid him 15 cents -- part of my lunch money -- for it. I didn't tell my mom!"
He was hooked. Over the ensuing years, he bought a tiki mug here, an aloha shirt there, "and before you know it, I was going to garage sales, swap meets, antique shops and collector shows to look for stuff," he said.
"I've even picked up a few items from the mainland, Canada and Japan. Many of the pieces in my collection were souvenirs, things visitors took back home with them as gifts and reminders of their vacation in Hawaii."
COURTESY OF PAUL NAKI
One collector's array of Hawaiiana collectibles will be on view at King's Village through July 2007.
INITIALLY, NAKI focused on things he remembered using or seeing while he was growing up. As he became more passionate about collecting, his interests broadened, and he began sharpening his instincts and detective skills so he could fill the gaps in his collection.
"My senses are always on alert," he said. "I pay close attention to the smallest details and leads. You never know when or how you're going to find the next treasure."
Naki estimates there are 3,000 items in his collection; about 600 are currently being shown in the King's Guard Museum. They include etched glassware; airline travel bags and brochures; Primo beer memorabilia; old books; oil paintings; ashtrays; record albums; milk bottle lid covers; cocktail glasses; swizzle sticks; wooden bowls in the shape of pineapples, monstera leaves and more; plates, cups, pitchers and serving platters; and a wide assortment of knickknacks, including hula girls, King Kamehameha and Diamond Head.
It took him five months of rummaging through 40 boxes that had been stored at his homes in Manoa and Punaluu, to sort and choose the pieces he wanted to spotlight.
"I lost count of the hours," he said. "I often would stay up until 2:30 in the morning, whether it was a weekend or a workday, going through everything."
He compared the process to opening time capsules. "They brought back so many memories of where I was at a particular time in my life, who I was with and what we were doing," he said. "I remember the aromas of different restaurants and the entertainers who were starring in different Waikiki shows. Rediscovering things instantly transported me back in time."
Matchbooks, Naki pointed out, were the business cards of yesteryear. He has collected hundreds of them, some of which flaunt beautiful artwork along with the address, phone number and name of the business. Many closed years ago, including the original Lau Yee Chai, Kuhio Grill, Coco's, Tops, King's Bakery, Cock's Roost and Trader Vic's.
NAKI LIKES coordinating related items; for instance, he may find a matchbook from a restaurant and a few years later he'll come across a menu and napkin from the same establishment.
"When you put them together, they present a clearer picture of what the place was like," he said.
The most expensive items in his collection are fragile ceramic figurines worth up to $2,500 each. When the earthquake hit on Oct. 15, Naki's first concern was to ensure his family was safe.
His thoughts then shifted to the exhibit he had just mounted at the King's Guard Museum.
"With so many ceramic pieces on display, I expected the worst," he said. "Waikiki was without electricity for about 19 hours, so the museum's steel roll-up door couldn't be opened. The wait was painful! When the electricity finally was restored, I rushed to the museum. To my amazement, many of the items had shifted, but there was no damage."
Among the Hawaiian ceramics in Naki's exhibit is a rare set of four Julene angels, manufactured sometime in the 1940s or 1950s, that he found at a Goodwill store three years ago.
"Because of Julene's distinctive style of facial composition, I knew exactly what they were and confirmed it by reading the labels," he said. "I bought the set for $5; today, each of the angels is worth about $75."
Besides the thrill of making such unexpected finds, what Naki most enjoys about collecting is meeting people and sharing stories.
"Hold up any piece in the exhibit and someone will have a fond memory about it," he said. "The most difficult part of setting up the exhibit was deciding what items to include. I decided to do a presentation of what I felt were fun things that people didn't think much about in the past, but which are now sought by collectors.
"Local folks will be amazed at how many memories the simplest things can conjure up. The exhibit is a trip down memory lane about growing up in Hawaii."
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.