Monday, May 14, 2001

These panoramic slices of Honolulu were shot 44 years apart.
You can take a virtual look at 1955 and 21st-century Honolulu,
thanks to Webmaster Blaine Fergerstrom and Apple Quicktime VR
software. You can move around Chester Chaffee's panoramas
of Honolulu then and now, almost as if you were seeing them
from Roundtop Drive. You can use your cursor to get different
perspectives; use the control and shift keys to zoom in and out.
Look at where you live, where you used to live, old hangouts
and landmarks, and see the changes that have taken place
during the past 45 years.
Click here or on the image above
to go to the Quicktime VR panorama.

Honolulu: Now and then

Longtime residents miss the
low-rise skyline but enjoy
today's conveniences

Landmarks in time
About the photos

By Craig Gima

The seeds of change were sprouting in the Honolulu of 1955.

Three high-rise hotels opened in Waikiki: the Princess Kaiulani, the Reef Hotel and the Waikiki Biltmore, which itself became a victim of progress and was imploded to make room for what is now the Hyatt Regency Waikiki. Another hotel -- Henry Kaiser's Hawaiian Village, which was not yet a high-rise -- opened its first 70 rooms.

It was the year Honolulu hosted its biggest convention ever - 3,500 clergy and lay people at the 58th general convention of the Episcopal Church.

That year, 108,000 tourists visited the islands, spending an estimated $56 million.

Today, 177,756 visitors are in the state on an average day. They spend more than $11 billion a year.

In 1955 the Democrats took power for the first time in the Territorial Legislature. A Republican mayor, Neal Blaisdell, fought with the six Democrats on the Board of Supervisors, including a young businessman named Frank Fasi.

At year's end a decision was made that ensured decades of development for Honolulu: The Hawaiian Aeronautics Commission said it would spend $7 million to remodel the Honolulu Airport and put in a 12,000-foot runway that would enable passenger jets to bring more tourists Hawaii.

In August of that year, Air Force Master Sgt. Chester Chaffee took a series of photographs of the view from Diamond Head to Punchbowl.

Tourism was already beginning to change the
skyline of Honolulu in 1955. The year before,
Matson began digging the foundation for what
would become the Princess Kaiulani Hotel,
located across the street from the Moana
Surfrider. The $4.5 million Princess Kaiulani
with 300 rooms opened on June 12, Kamehameha
Day. It was one of three high-rise hotels
to open in Waikiki that year.

Forty-five years later, he took another series of photos, then combined each series into a panorama.

The two panoramas show more than just a sweeping view. They show how Honolulu evolved from a small town of wooden apartments and single-family homes to a modern high-rise city of apartments, hotels and office buildings.

"We look like a big city now. Yesteryear, we looked like a rural city," said longtime resident Wallace Maruyama as he examined the panoramic pictures with other retired friends over a cup of coffee at McDonald's in Ala Moana Center (which did not exist in 1955).

"The main thing is all the high-rises. After statehood all the high-rises came in," said 70-year-old Fusae Asato.

Asato remembers roller derby at the Honolulu Civic Auditorium (torn down in 1974) and Islanders games at the Honolulu Stadium (torn down in 1976).

In the Honolulu of 1955, people did not lock their doors. There were more local people than tourists in Waikiki. There were farms in Kaimuki and no freeway to take people to what were then sugar and pineapple plantations in Kapolei and Mililani.

"You can go around the island so easily now," said Sandra Yamada, who was 10 in 1955. "When you said you had to go to Kaimuki, it was like going to the country."

"My gosh, we sure have changed," said Tom Dinell, a professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii who founded the School of Urban and Regional Planning.

Dinell remembers when the two major complaints about Waikiki were "no air conditioning and nothing to do after 10 o'clock at night. We've corrected both those problems."

When Dinell came to the University of Hawaii, he said, many of the buildings were converted military barracks, and some faculty lived in Quonset huts. The lower campus, where the Stan Sheriff Center is now, had Klum Gym and a few old military buildings around it and still looked very much like the quarry it once was.

In the old Honolulu you could rent paddle boats on the Ala Wai. The Ward Estate was a gated private residence rather than the area where the Blaisdell Center and shopping centers are today. The Matson cruise ship Lurline docked regularly at Aloha Tower, which was the tallest structure in a low-rise and low-key downtown.

In the 1950s "we didn't really need a downtown," Dinell said. He noted there were 500 lawyers in Hawaii in 1959. There are more than 5,000 today.

"You've got to have a place to put them," he said.

Former city planning and city Department of Land Utilization Director Don Clegg remembers coming to Hawaii in the 1960s.

"This is when we used to say the state bird is the (construction) crane. We won't see that kind of development boom again," he said.

As downtown and Waikiki developed, Clegg said, high-rise apartments sprouted up between them. "People liked to live sort of close to where they worked," he said.

Nancy Bannick, one of the early advocates for historic preservation in Honolulu, said there were some victories and many losses in the battles to save old Honolulu.

"We've built a few good-looking things, but most of the stuff is pretty mediocre compared to the stuff we've lost," she said. She noted the Capitol District with Iolani Palace, Kawaiahao Church and other historic structures was nicely preserved, but much of old Waikiki was lost.

"We've lost our sense of place," Bannick lamented. "Only in a few places have we tried to maintain it."

Bannick said there was not much planning during the '50s and '60s, and individual landowners were looking out for themselves instead of getting together to create coordinated developments.

"When I first came (in 1948), there were no height limits," said Frank Haines, chairman of Architects Hawaii. "You could build a building 100 stories high."

Haines' firm designed the Federal Building, Pacific Tower, Grosvenor Center and Pioneer Plaza. He looked at the panoramic pictures and said the change surprises him. "No one dreamt anything like this would happen," he said.

"(Tourism) is what drove all of it," Clegg says of the development. "If you don't have the economy, jobs, you don't have the need for these other things."

Not all the development was detrimental, Clegg says.

"We could have grown better, but we haven't grown as badly as we might have," he said.

"Honolulu is a much more interesting and vibrant place to live than it was in the 1950s."

 | | |

>> Diamond Head development:

In the 1960s through the 1980s, residents half-jokingly said that the state bird was the construction crane. During the 1950s through the late 1960s, there were an number of development fights over high-rises near Diamond Head. The controversies came to a head during a City Council meeting in 1967, when 500 people packed a hearing on a zoning change to allow apartments on the ocean side of Diamond Head. Most of the speakers were against the proposal. The zoning change was defeated.

>> Honolulu Stadium:

Honolulu Stadium, nicknamed the "Termite Palace," stood at King and Isenberg streets for nearly 50 years. Joe DiMaggio hit a home run out of the park there in 1944. The Farrington Governors beat Kamehameha there for the 1965 prep football title in one of Hawaii's most memorable football games. The last sporting event at the stadium was on Sept. 8, 1975, when the Pacific Coast League Honolulu Islanders baseball team beat the Salt Lake City Gulls 8-0 before a crowd of 7,731. The stadium was demolished in December 1976, a year after Aloha Stadium opened. The site now is a city park.

>> Ala Moana Center:

Seen here from the top of the Hawaiian Life building, Ala Moana Center opened 42 years ago on the site of what had been a coral-filled swamp. It had 87 stores and 4,000 parking spaces; Sears was the anchor tenant. Today it has 230 stores and 9,000 parking spaces. The $25 million shopping center opened in August 1959, the same year Hawaii attained statehood. It changed Hawaii's retail landscape and meant the end of downtown as the main place Honolulu shopped.

>> Honolulu Civic Auditorium:

The Civic Auditorium opened on Jan. 21, 1933. It was demolished in 1974, 10 years after what is now the Blaisdell Center was built. During its time it was home to the Show of Stars, the Hawaii Chiefs professional basketball team, roller derby and professional wrestling. The Civic was replaced by the American Security Bank Building, now the Interstate Building on South King Street.

>> Ward Estate:

The Ward Estate once covered 100 acres of land from Thomas Square to the sea. The seven daughters of Curtis P. Ward, who was a shopkeeper of the Royal Custom House, lived in the Old Plantation House their father built. In 1958, the city bought the Old Plantation Estate and tore it down to build the Honolulu International Center, which later became Blaisdell Center.

>> Aloha Tower:

At one time the 10-story Aloha Tower was the tallest building downtown. Aloha Tower was built in 1926 to greet ships, and recently celebrated its 75th anniversary. In 1955 most visitors came to Hawaii aboard cruise ships, and children used to dive into the harbor for coins tossed by tourists. The tower is 184 feet 2 inches tall and is topped by a 40-foot flagstaff. Ship traffic in Honolulu Harbor still is coordinated from the tower.

>> Alexander Young Building:

Perhaps downtown's biggest development controversy was the tearing down of the Alexander Young Building on Bishop Street between Hotel and King streets. In 1903, when it was built, the Alexander Young was the grandest hotel in the Pacific Basin, with 22 elevators, 192 hotel rooms, a dozen retail establishments and a roof garden for dancing. In 1981 owner Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. demolished the building to make room for the Pacific Trade Center, which is now Bishop Square.

>> National Cemetery of the Pacific, Punchbowl:

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl was dedicated on Sept. 2, 1949, on the fourth anniversary of V-J Day. The memorial at the cemetery was not built yet in 1955. It was constructed in 1966. The memorial consists of a flight of stairs leading up to a statue of a woman known as "Columbia." The stairs are flanked by the ten "Courts of the Missing," containing the names of servicemen and women recorded as missing, lost or buried at sea. Punchbowl is literally translated from the Hawaiian "Puowaina" as "Hill of Sacrifice." It is the final resting place of thousands of World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans.

Chester Chaffee with his panoramic photos of
Honolulu, a 45-year project.

Amateur photographer’s
project creates visual
through time

Chester Chaffee captured
his first panorama of a changing
Honolulu in summer 1955

By Craig Gima

While going through old photographs 10 years ago, Chester Chaffee found a series of photos he had taken from Round Top Drive while showing friends around Oahu in the summer of 1955.

"I forgot that I had them," he said.

Then Chaffee put the photos side by side. "I said, 'Holy mackerel. That all fits together.'"

Using computer technology, Chaffee had the four separate photos blended together to make a single panorama. He usually goes out each year to take an updated picture of Honolulu.

His last picture was taken in the spring, which is why the city looks so green.

To keep the light and shadows consistent, he took the picture at the same time of day on a date in April, the same number of days back from the summer solstice as the original picture was taken forward from it so the length of the day would be the same.

"The 1955 photos were taken around noon time," he said. "I shoot every 15 minutes to match the shadows on Diamond Head perfectly."

He used an Olympus 35 mm camera with lenses from 20 mm to 200 mm.

"What gets me is the old-timers," Chaffee said. "They point and say, 'I used to live here.' Some of them get a little teary-eyed and walk away 'cause it's not that way anymore."

Chaffee sells the photos on 12-by-36-inch paper at Sears Photo Express and the Art Board in Ala Moana and the Waikiki One Hour Photo in Discovery Bay. He also has other sizes available and can be reached through his e-mail address at

Chaffee spent 24 years in the Air Force, serving in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He was stationed at Hickam Air Force Base from 1953 to 1956, married a local girl, retired here as a master sergeant in 1968 and now lives in Pearl City.

Photography is a hobby for the 82-year-old widower.

He has been taking pictures ever since he got a free Kodak Brownie box camera as a child in West Lafayette, Ind. His home is filled with photos, mostly of scenery like Waimea Canyon and Lumahai Beach.

"It's something you can take with you and bring up memories later on," he says of his hobby.

As for his own memories of 1955, Chaffee remembers going to the Kapiolani Drive-in Theater, watching roller-skating in the Civic Auditorium and stock car racing in the old Honolulu Stadium.

"I look at it and reminisce to myself. The tallest structure in 1955 was Aloha Tower, which was 10 stories high," he said.

As for the changes in Honolulu, "it's progress and you got to accept it. For the original, I stood on the side of the road. Now I've got to use a stepladder and sit on top of it because the koa grew."

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