Tracking down Ala Wai history
In late May 2007, I asked Water Ways readers for their help in pinpointing the year the channel was dredged from the Ala Wai Harbor through the reef to the open ocean.
I noted at the time that I had uncovered numerous reports and photos documenting the history of the Ala Wai Canal, as well as the channel that had been dredged to connect Ala Wai Harbor to Kewalo Basin through what is now Ala Moana Park.
Although there were plenty of old salts around who remembered sailing their "Mercurys" and "Lightnings" through that canal out to sea, they were all a bit hazy on exactly when the Ala Wai's channel was cut through the reef.
Thanks to several readers' responses, it finally became apparent the dredging occurred sometime between 1951 and '55, but given its importance to the harbor, it seemed odd it wasn't a celebrated date.
So, after a year, imagine my surprise and appreciation when I received an e-mail from the head of the Indexing Unit in the Hawaii and Pacific Section of the Hawaii State Library, Shelly Brown.
"I just ran across your column," she wrote. "If you are still researching this question, please call or e-mail me and I would be happy to dig around a bit and tell you what resources we have that might help you."
Naturally, I immediately responded back with an emphatic yes and subsequently visited with Brown, who met me with an armload of books and printouts related to the era and area in question.
The first copy that caught my eye was a reprint of an article from the Aug. '49 issue of Paradise of the Pacific Magazine (now Honolulu Magazine). The story line was about the author visiting the Ala Moana (sic) Harbor for the first time since before WWII.
The author expected the Territorial Legislature would soon approve a new channel through the reef opposite the mouth of the Ala Wai Canal, "so that small boat sailors can come and go on a beam wind."
A second article from the same magazine, dated Jan. '53 and titled "New look at the waterfront," proved the earlier prediction to be accurate.
"During the past two years, the Hawaiian Dredging Co. has fought ocean surf and tides to remove 280,000 cubic yards of coral and dig out a new boat channel from the sea," it reported.
Finally, Brown showed me a report titled "Ala Moana: The People's Park" prepared by historian Robert Weyeneth in '87. Because the park's present beach follows the course of the earlier Ala Wai-to-Kewalo Basin boat channel, it seemed logical there would be some mention of when it had been sealed off. And so there was.
"(The channel's) purpose became obsolete after '51, when a direct ocean entrance was dredged for the Ala Wai boat harbor," Weyeneth wrote.
(Apparently, I had my answer; the project had legislative approval in '51 and was completed in '52.)
I understand the Friends of the Library are inviting nominations for Librarian of the Year. I hereby nominate Shelly Brown for her invaluable "digging."