Holoholo Honolulu

Armstrong Building an
archetype of Chinatown

Sometimes a building is interesting simply because it serves as a model for others. The Armstrong Building, anchoring the entrance to historic Chinatown on King and River streets, was an archetype for other buildings of the same style. The similarity isn't in appearance -- the town is full of substantial brick-masonry buildings faced with bluestone and rock exteriors -- but in usage.

The Armstrong typifies structures with spacious shops on the street level, while the second story is devoted to family quarters for the shop owners. Their morning commute was simply down the stairs.

Such a living/working arrangement was ideal for immigrant Asian communities, creating a tight-knit and cohesive society largely impervious to outside influences.

In the wake of the devastating Chinatown fire of 1900, all new buildings in the area were required to have interior fire walls. The Armstrong Building's fire walls were removed in 1952, creating interior store space and changing the nature of the arcade shops lining King Street.

The design of the Armstrong Building is functional and squarish, with a modest parapet and regularly placed sconces. Unusual for the period, the windows are large and airy, and the corner view over Nuuanu Stream is one of the best in Honolulu. The building maxes out its property line and is irregularly trapezoidal in map view.

The building is considered in excellent shape, despite some concern about decaying pine floors on the second story.


Armstrong Building

Opened: 1905
Architect: Unknown
Style: Commercial
Address: 185 N. King St.
National Register: 1973 (District No. 73000658)
Hawaii Register: No

The Armstrong Building was the prototype for Chinatown buildings that featured retail space downstairs and family living space on the second floor.

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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