Honolulu City Lights stir up memories


POSTED: Friday, December 04, 2009

Why is Santa so jolly this time of year? Perhaps because Mr. Claus is an investor in Hawaiian Electric, and all the power for those Christmas lights fattens his stock portfolio?

The lights of Honolulu will go season-festive tomorrow when Mayor Mufi Hannemann and first lady Gail Mukaihata-Hannemann trigger the switch on the city's Christmas tree in front of Honolulu Hale. Opening festivities kick off at 4 p.m. with food booths and keiki rides; a free concert is planned at 5 p.m. at Kawaiaha'o Church, followed by a tree-lighting ceremony at 6 p.m. and an “;Electric Light Parade”; at 6:30 p.m.

At 7:30 p.m. tomorrow the “;Honolulu City Lights Jubilee Celebration Holiday Concert”; will take place, featuring performances by the U.S. Air Force Band, Maunalua, Amy Hanaiali'i, the Delima Ohana and Touch of Gold.





        Sponsored by First Hawaiian Bank, Hawaiian Electric Co., Macy's, John H. Connors Insurance, Hawaiian Airlines, FUJIFILM Hawaii, GEICO, Papa John's Pizza, ING Direct, Aloha Pacific Federal Credit Union, Cox Radio and Tom Moffatt Productions

» Where: Honolulu Hale, 530 S. King St.


» When: Tomorrow through Dec. 31


» Cost: Free


» Info: 768-3710 or


» Note: Additional concerts are planned for Dec. 12 and Dec. 19; souvenir T-shirts and ornaments are available online




While the switch to turn on the holiday lights display is likely not as big as the one that the mayor will throw when the rail transit system is turned on, he still needs some help. The city held a contest last week to find someone who was present when the first “;Honolulu City Lights”; were switched on a quarter-century ago on Dec. 12, 1985.

As of this writing they're still looking. However, former City Hall spokeswoman (and the go-to person for Honolulu City Lights for most of its existence) Carol Costa was there and remembers it well. She gave full credit to then-Mayor Frank Fasi for wanting a downtown Christmas display that parents could show kids, and former Deputy Parks Director Biillie Beamer for creating the blueprint.

“;City Hall had been dark for four years under Eileen Anderson, and Mayor Fasi remembered what fun it had been to drive around with his kids, looking at the way people lit up their homes,”; recalled Costa. “;Beamer put together a committee and came up with the idea of putting a 50-foot Norfolk pine in front of Honolulu Hale, which is not an easy thing to do! And they started putting decorated Christmas trees from each city department in the courtyard.”;

BOTH IDEAS continue today. That first year included evening concerts, and later the large sculpted decorations on the city hall campus. Peer-pressuring businesses on King and Bishop streets helped create a “;Corridor of Light”; that made Honolulu a kind of warm-weather Christmas capital.

That first year, however, was more modest, although Costa remembered it as being “;pretty darn spectacular.”; The tree, decorated with white wooden doves and small golden balls, was lit by floodlights, not strung Christmas lights.

“;The groundskeeper dug up the floodlights around the building and moved them to the front and used colors that lit up in a sequence,”; said Costa. “;To control it we used a traffic light timer.

“;If you listened, when the lights changed, you could hear it go 'clunk! clunk! clunk!'”;

Although Costa credited Fasi for making Honolulu City Lights a reality, when she was given the job of managing the event, Fasi took her aside and warned her that she'd “;never be free of it.”;

“;And he was right,”; Costa laughed. “;I retired five years ago and I'm still working on it!”;

This 25th anniversary sparked a photo history by the Friends of Honolulu City Lights that was on display at Kahala Mall until this week, when it moved to City Hall.

“;City elves are also working nonstop to put the finishing touches on several spectacular displays and ornaments that will be unveiled at the city's silver-anniversary celebration,”; said Mayor Mufi Hannemann in a prepared statement. Hannemann invited the Fasis onstage for his first tree-lighting as mayor in 2005.

How spectacular? According to Costa, they go by one criterion: the moment when the switch is thrown, the sounds of “;Ooooooohh!”; and “;Aaaaaaahh!”; from the crowd.

“;That noise of pleasure, we hear it every year, from the first year to now,”; said Costa. “;That 'Oooooohhh!' makes it all worthwhile.”;