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Goodbye Honolulu, Hello August

Alas, it is time to hang up our leis and board our flight back to the mainland. Unlike most trips to Honolulu, this was no vacation. We challenged ourselves and our readers to travel beyond the resorts of Waikiki beach and explore the rich history of the Hawai’ian islands and its many peoples. The goal we set in the introduction to our Honolulu bibliography was to peel back the facade created by U.S. imperialism and capitalism to find the city’s indigenous history and culture, without minimizing the often brutal, sometimes fruitful, impact that American involvement had on the islands.

From behind a camera lens and atop a skateboard, our correspondents roamed the city’s streets in search of sites connecting Hawai’i’s present to its past. Both wrote about visiting the statue of King Kamehameha, who unified the Hawai’ian Islands in 1810 and became the kingdom’s first monarch, to learn about his reign and how celebrations of his legacy became a symbolic act of cultural reclamation during the Hawai’ian Renaissance that began in the 1970s. Indeed, our contributing expert on Honolulu’s historic preservation concluded his interview with us on an optimistic note, with his hope that the city “can revive the heritage area concept and begin interpreting through museums and information plaques and kiosks to make [Honolulu]’s history more meaningful for both visitors and residents.”

A figurative visit to Honolulu’s Metropolitan Community Church–made via the archives, through a close reading of an issue of the church’s newsletter–also brought past and present together in one site. The Supreme Court of Hawai’i was one of the first to rule in favor of gay marriage, and the history of Honolulu’s Metropolitan Community Church provides some insight into how the mainland struggle for LGBTQ+ rights transplanted to and flourished in Hawai’i.

The inextricability of U.S. imperialism from Hawai’ian history especially came through in our readings of William Finnegan and Joan Didion, two mainland writers who spent time in Hawai’i and vividly portrayed daily life in Honolulu. Both describe the prevalence of American imports, from the racial hierarchy to the military to consumerism. Yet, both also manage to capture something essentially Hawai’ian about the place, as a result of their outsiderness.

Although we are returning to the mainland U.S. in August, we will not be deplaning in a new Metropolis of the Month. We’re going to take the month to develop exciting content about the cities we will be featuring in the fall. In the meantime, we will be posting pieces on a wide range of topics that we hope you will enjoy.

Member of the Week: Joanna Merwood-Salisbury

joanna-merwood-salisburyProf. Joanna Merwood-Salisbury

Faculty of Architecture and Design

Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

I began my career as an historian of late-nineteenth-century American architecture, in particular the culture of the early Chicago skyscraper (roughly 1880 to 1910). My research investigated the broader group of social actors involved in the creation of the skyscraper city, and asked how the appearance of the skyscraper changed ideas about the nature of cities and American society as a whole. From there I moved on to explore the types of public space available to Americans during this period: what was the dominant understanding of public space? How was it incorporated into strategies of urban design and how did different social groups make use of it? These interests lead to my current project on the history of Union Square in New York City.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

My current position as Associate Dean of Research and Innovation means I spend the majority of my time helping other scholars make the most of their own research. When I do teach it is courses in modern Architectural History. Throughout my career I have usually worked with students aiming for careers in architecture practice. I find that students enrolled in a professional program are principally focused on the contemporary issues at stake for design. For this reason I try to situate historical material in relation to those issues. For example, I connect the current concern with sustainability to the long-standing interest in “organicism” in architecture; in courses dealing with the formulation of the industrial city in the nineteenth-century, I relate historical processes of change to contemporary issues in urban design, in particular the impact of globalization and the environmental crisis.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

I am excited for the publication next year of Race and Modern Architecture, edited by Irene Cheng, Charles L. Davis II and Mabel O. Wilson. This is a series of essays on the critical role of racial theory in shaping architectural discourse. Redressing a longstanding neglect of racial discourses among architectural scholars, it reveals how the racial has been deployed to organize and conceptualize the spaces of modernity, from the individual building to the city to the nation to the planet. I have an essay in it about racial themes in Civil War-era New York City architecture. I’m also looking forward to the publication of my book-length project on Union Square, Design for the Crowd Patriotism and Protest in Union Square, which investigates the history of the Square since the early-nineteenth-century, understanding it as both a real public space and as the symbol of competing ideas about the operation of democracy in the United States.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies? 

Even if it seems unfashionable, obscure, or even over done, find a topic that you are deeply interested in, not just one that seems to tick the right boxes. The many hours you’ll spend in library basements and archival storage will seem even longer if you’re not passionate about what you’re looking at.

In this current moment of political protest, how would you design the optimal protest space? What would it look like and where would it be? Assume no obstacles!

Protest movements today no longer rely on gatherings in physical space to get their message across. Some of the most effective contemporary activism (the “Black Lives Matter” movement, for example) is geographically dispersed with a heavy reliance on social media. However I still believe that physical space has a role to play, principally in giving a visual image to protest movements, as in the Occupy Wall Street protest at Zuccotti Park. The most effective seem to combine occupation of dedicated public spaces (where proximity to symbols of power is key) with dynamic connections to larger groups not present on site, via mainstream and new media.

Finding Religion in Honolulu: The LGBTQ Metropolitan Community Church of Hawai’i

In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court issued a ruling that would prove prescient. Ninia Baehr and Genora Dancel, along with two other couples, had filed a lawsuit against the state in order to have a marriage license issued to them. At the time, Hawaii state law banned same sex nuptials. Surprisingly, while the court did not revoke the ban, it did issue a 3-1 majority opinion that would propel same sex marriage forward and spur the backlash against it. “Marriage is a basic civil right” and that “on its face and as applied,” the Hawaii law “denies same-sex couples access to the marital status and its concomitant rights and benefits,” wrote Justice Steven H. Levinson in the court’s majority opinion. When President Bill Clinton signed the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Congress cited the ruling as a compelling reason for the passage of the law. Mainland states feared having to honor same sex marriages from Hawaii–hence the reason for DOMA defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

At the time, the Baehr lawsuit appeared to be “quixotic”, noted the New York Times in 2013. Indeed, even within the LGBTQ community, the idea of gay marriage was controversial, sometimes even divisive. Literary critic Edmund White noted as much in his memoir City Boy: “Back then we had no notion of ‘gay marriage’, partly because many of us were equally opposed to marriage for straight people … As the [1970s] wore on, we became more and more convinced that monogamy – and even the concept of the couple – was outdated.”[1] White, of course, did not speak for the entire LGBT community, but he represented a powerful strain of thought among many within it at the time. Yet, two decades later, Hawaii became one of over two dozen states to sign same sex marriage into law; later Obergefell v. Hodges made same sex marriage the law of the land.

Normally when one thinks of LGBTQ history, New York or San Francisco dominate narratives, however, Honolulu clearly has its own history in this regard. A 1971 newsletter/pamphlet from the city’s Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a branch of the larger MCC evangelical LGBTQ movement started in 1968 Los Angeles, provides insight into Honolulu’s gay history and a window into the national connections beginning to emerge among the Gay Liberation of the 1970s.

Perry in Detroit
Flyer, Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, 1971-1973, Frank Kameny Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

In 1968, Troy Perry held the Metropolitan Community Church’s first service. It began in Perry’s Huntington Park living room, but by 2016, according to the MCC’s website, the Christian organization encompassed 300 congregations and 43,000 members in 22 countries across the globe. As Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons surmised in their 2006 work, Gay L.A., “it is probably the world’s largest employer of gays and lesbians.”[2] According to Heather Rachelle White, author of Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights, the founding of the MCC, “catalyzed a gay religious movement that quickly eclipsed predecessor efforts.”[3]

MCC LA photo from card
Los Angeles Metropolitan Community Church, 1973-1974, Frank Kameny Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

A former Pentecostal clergyperson, Perry had been defrocked due to his homosexuality, but never let go of his belief in Christianity. Perry did, however, express a healthy skepticism regarding traditional churches potential for accepting gay Christians. “[M]ost organized religions have been no more helpful to us than an empty well,” he wrote in 1972.[4] Thus, he embarked on creating a network of affiliated churches open to gay and lesbian Christians. Perry’s “strong features, penetrating hazel eyes, and towering six feet” naturally drew listeners as did his penchant for pithy quotes refuting scripture-based homophobia: “I’m not saying Jesus was homosexual, but if he lived today, people would be suspicious, he never married, he ran around with 12 men all the time and was betrayed by a kiss.”[5]

Within only a few years, the MCC movement had spread to several other cities and states including Honolulu, Hawaii. One of the most prominent LGBTQ political activists of the 1960s and 1970s, Frank Kameny—whose papers are located in the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress—followed the expansion of the MCC and collected newsletters from several of its churches. One such newsletter from the Metropolitan Community Church of Hawaii, located in Honolulu, provides insight into the city’s gay community and the issues most important to its the LGBT residents.

The MCC also provided a space for community beyond bars. Though gay bars had proliferated in the post WWII era and were undoubtedly important in forging a gay community, they often remained under surveillance by local law enforcement; police in Los Angeles and elsewhere frequently harassed, arrested, or outted patrons and owners. Moreover, in the search for identity and companionship, many gay men and women eschewed the bar scene more generally. “[I]t is difficult for [gay men and women] to get to know each other as people in the bars and other such meeting places,” noted the Honolulu MCC newsletter. “One of the valuable functions of the church is that it provides a place where people can relate to other peoples as individuals, rather than merely as sexual contacts.”[6] Institutions like the MCC provided both visibility and community.

Newsletter cover
Cover, “ka leo ola o Hawaii newsletter”, Metropolitan Community Church of Hawaii, March 21, 1971, Frank Kameny Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

The Honolulu church represents the power of this movement. Judging from its March 1971 newsletter, the Honolulu MCC engaged the public in a number of ways. Its pastor, Reverend Hanson, often addressed American Studies classes at the University of Hawaii; he attempted to convey to students the difficulty of gay life in 1970’s America. Due to the secrecy of gay life, promiscuity proved easier and safer “in some ways, since living with one person makes it necessary to decide what to tell other people, such as parents and co-workers.” “The strong pressures brought against such a relationship lead to the failure of many,” Hanson would tell the students, “which is why MCC requires a six months’ trial period for a couple before a marriage may be performed.” [7]The very fact that the church sanctified gay marriages demonstrates its prescience.

Denver newsletter cover
“The Catalyst” newsletter, Metropolitan Community Church of Denver, June 4, 1972, Frank Kameny Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Even the church’s small numbers—according to the newsletter, its most recent service counted 43 attendees—were related to sexuality, since many gay men and women feared being unmasked to a then hostile public. Moreover, the church’s prominence would draw unwanted attention to homosexuality. Nonetheless, the church continued to engage the broader community. Additional efforts at outreach included meetings with local police to express parishioner anxieties regarding surveillance and harassment. [8]

Police beat.jpg
“Rapping with the Police”, “ka leo ola o Hawaii newsletter”, Metropolitan Community Church of Hawaii, March 21, 1971, Frank Kameny Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Political concerns also drew the church’s attention. In 1971, the state legislature had begun to consider revoking Hawaii’s anti-sodomy law. State Rep. John Carroll (12th district) met with church members and assured the church that he was in favor of the revision, noting that he “strongly opposed . . . the hypocrisy of our current laws, and has supported changing them for several years. What people do in private should not be a matter for public concern, as long as the public is not harmed by it,” Carroll told listeners.

Mainland politics also drew the scrutiny of MCC newsletter editors Alan Chapman, Dick Roberts and Ned Will. Frank Kameny’s 1971 campaign for Washington D.C.’s non-voting seat in Congress received coverage, and the editors wrote of Kameny’s effort positively for forcing the media to acknowledge the LGBTQ community: “Kameny’s campaign has a major plank; the recognition of a Homosexual Citizen as a full member of society.”

Campaign poster “Jack Baker for MSA President, 1971, Frank Kameny Papers, Manuscript Division Library of Congress

Minnesota’s Jack Baker, who with his partner Michael McConnell attained the nation’s first gay marriage in 1971, also drew ink. Baker had been denied a position in the University Minnesota Library and had sued arguing this denial stemmed from discrimination. Baker had first gained national attention in his successful 1971 run for University of Minnesota Student Government President; now his victory in federal court added to his LGBT rights resume. Unfortunately, a Federal Appeals court reversed the decision later that same year.

Kuhio Day

While the newsletter tells us little about the ethnicity, race, or gender of church members, it did highlight native history in both its graphics and articles. One such example was this March 1971 piece on the 100th anniversary of the birth of “The Citizen Prince” Prince Kuhio Kalanianaole. “He was democratic in demeanor, dignified yet affable,” the editors wrote. “His chief contribution to constructive legislation was his work toward the enactment of Congress in 1921 of the measure creating the Hawaiian Homes Commission of which he was one of the first members.” While many date the Hawaiian Renaissance to the mid-1970s, when a series of events and protests signaled a new interest and political awakening of native Hawaiian culture, the newsletter suggests that at some small level this was occurring even earlier.

USA directory MCC

Though it might be a solitary newsletter, this single issue tells us a great deal about aspects of Honolulu’s LGBTQ culture. Perhaps congregation members were a minority among the larger gay population, but they were active not only in the church but in the surrounding community. Church congregants expressed an awareness and interest in politics, local and national, while highlighting aspects of the state’s native history.


[1] Edmund White, City Boy: My Life in New York City during the 1960s and 1970s, (New York: Bloomsbury, 2009), 99-100.

[2] Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons, Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006), 260.

[3] Heather Rachelle White, “Proclaiming Liberation: The Historical Roots of LGBT Religious Organizing, 1946-1976”, Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 11. 4 (May 2008): 103.

[4] Troy Perry, The Lord is My Shepard and He Knows I’m Gay: The Autobiography of the Rev. Troy D. Perry, (Los Angeles: Nash Publishing, 1972), 5.

[5] Faderman and Stuart Timmons, Gay L.A.; “Life in Christ”, Metropolitan Community Churches Newsletter Volume I Issue II, Christ Church, Baltimore, Maryland, July 1972, Frank Kameny Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

[6] Metropolitan Community Church of Hawaii, “ka leo ola o Hawaii newsletter”, Vol 1 Issue 10, Honolulu, Hawaii, March 21, 1971

[7] Metropolitan Community Church of Hawaii, “ka leo ola o Hawaii newsletter”, March 21, 1971

[8] Metropolitan Community Church of Hawaii, “ka leo ola o Hawaii newsletter”, March 21, 1971.

Joan Didion’s Honolulu

Critics often assail Joan Didion with accusations of solipsism. At first glance, Didion’s writings regarding her time in Honolulu confirm such assertions. “I am a thirty four year old woman with long straight hair and an old bikini bathing suit and bad nerves sitting on an island in the middle of the Pacific waiting for a Tidal Wave that will not come,” Didion wrote in 1969.[1] Yet travelogues often hinge on this sort of alien, even alienated in Didion’s case, viewpoint. The Atlantic’s Adrienne Lafrance recently summarized this reality: “Travel writing is traditionally concerned with the writer’s sense of belonging, or lack thereof—the spectacle of being somewhere new, the sense of displacement one feels.” With this premise agreed upon, revisiting essays from Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979) shows that Didion did reveal some profound truths about America—though admittedly to a far lesser extent about Hawaii.


Before diving into her work on the city, we should discuss a couple of relevant points. No doubt, in some respects Didion falters; taken together her two essays – the first “Letter from Paradise, 21 19’ N., 157 52’ W.” and the second “In the Islands” – traverse more than a decade from 1966 to 1977. Throughout each, Didion failed to really illuminate native culture. While she does not completely ignore Hawaii’s racial and cultural complexity, it is only presented through the perceptions of whites. As we noted in our bibliography for the city, for mainland writers the islands function as means to discover who we are, rather than the archipelago’s own history. For better or worse, Didion perpetuates this tendency.

Some readers will argue her criticism of American consumerism feels rote. While it is true that reading critiques of mid century American consumerism from the twenty-first century feels more nostalgic than groundbreaking, this actually testifies to Didion’s power as a writer. Her dry but ruthless vision of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and its patrons defined the period so completely that watching the Season Six premiere of Mad Men, in which Don vacations at the Royal Hawaiian and pitches their director on a new ad campaign, feels cribbed from Didion’s account. In the end, two themes emerge: the power of tourism and the breadth of the military’s influence.

Tourist Trap

Unsurprisingly, Honolulu drew from Didion an almost ineffable response. “And so, now that it is on the line between us that I lack all temperament for paradise, real or facsimile, I am going to find it difficult to tell you precisely how and why Hawaii moves me, touches me, saddens and troubles and engages my imagination,” she confessed, “what it is in the air that will linger long after I have forgotten the smell of pikake and pineapple and the way the palms sound in the trade winds.”[2] For a writer who leaned toward skepticism and doubt for much of her life–as Eric Avila pointed out she rendered Los Angeles of the same period “the paranoid capital of the world”–this is no small feat.[3]

The Royal Hawaiian, Ryan Reft, June 2017

Of course, even in such moments of appreciation, Didion clearly embodies the fish-out-of-water, stranger-in-the-land lens of the travelogue. For Didion, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel–a Waikiki landmark–is not just a place to lay one’s head, but “rather a social idea, one of the few extant clues to a certain kind of American life.” Of course, all great hotels, she concludes, operate as “flawless mirrors to the particular societies they service.”[4] The hotel’s opening in 1927 “made all things Hawaiian–leis, ukuleles, luaus, coconut leaf hats, and the singing of ‘I Wanna Learn to Speak Hawaiian’–a decade’s craze at country club dances across the United States,” she writes. The Royal, a haole creation, reflected Hawaii through an Anglo lens for an Anglo culture; a territorial influence cast across a continent an ocean away, but defined by American occupiers rather than native peoples.

From its establishment to the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the hotel catered to a certain crowd. The kind of people who sunbathed behind the exclusive ropes of the hotel’s reserved beach space discovered that “their nieces roomed in Lungita at Stanford the same year, or that their best friends lunched together during the last Crosby.”[5] Midwestern newlyweds, Seattle Mayors, and San Diego magnates rub elbows with “Australian station owners, Ceylonese tea planters, [and] Cuban operators.”[6] This vision of Hawaii, more or less “a big rock candy mountain in the Pacific,” was conveyed to the mainland through newspaper photos of “well fed Lincoln Mercury dealers relaxing beside an outrigger….”[7] The tumult of the 1960s, according to Didion, never reached Honolulu shores: “the cataclysms of the larger society disturb it only as surface storms disturb the sea’s bottom, a long time later and in oblique ways.” This last statement rings false; the mid-1970s witnessed a resurgence of Hawaiian cultural pride and protest, which goes largely unmentioned in her work.

War and Peace

Though it remains unclear she would define it as such, Didion pushes out into the waters of American imperialism. Amidst the Vietnam War, the island’s ties to European and American imperial ambitions and global conflict seem overwhelming and obvious, but according to Didion, Hawaiians viewed war differently. WWII “cracked the spine” of the Big Five (a handful of families/companies that dominated Hawaiian business and social affairs), opened up a closed economy, and brought new people and new ideas from the mainland. “War is viewed with a curious ambivalence in Hawaii,” Didion noted, “because the largest part of its population interprets war, however unconsciously, as a force for good, an instrument of social progress.”[8]

The way Didion sees it, for Hawaiians the war released them from the bondage of sugar plantation feudalism and brought investment. It also opened up society in other ways. The elite Punahou School, once reserved for missionaries and their children’s children, now served a far broader swath of the population; nearly one third of its students came from Asian and Asian American homes. Chinn Ho, a local boy climbed his way up to millionaire status; he started at the bottom and worked his way into the power elite.


Haoles prided themselves on the island’s cultural “melting pot”, though racism lay just beneath the surface. For example, when one woman informs Didion that some white Hawaiians did mingle with local Asians she framed it in less than noble terms. “The uncle of a friend of mine … has Chinn Ho to his house all the time,” the acquaintance confided; Didion characterized this as akin to saying “‘some of my best friends are Rothschilds.’” Even progressives used dodgy logic when one island teacher grabbed the arm of a pretty Chinese girl, exclaiming to Didion, “‘You wouldn’t have seen this here before the war. Look at those eyes.’” The truth is sugar cane brought diversity to the islands; the military brought a collision between Jim Crow America and its newly acquired territory, soon to become state.[9] “The Orientals are–well, discreet’s not really the word, but they aren’t like the Negroes and the Jews, they don’t push in where they’re not wanted,” another haole resident tells her.[10]


Decades after World War II, Didion returns to Schofield Barracks, the setting of James Jones’ classic novel From Here to Eternity, and records what has changed and what has persisted. For her, large parts of Honolulu belong to Jones, a sentiment that at first sounds inspiring but then condescending. For native Hawaiians, the idea that Jones, who spent time at Pearl Harbor during the war before shipping out to fight at Guadacanal, could ever “own” Hawaii must grate. Yet, Jones’s vision of Oahu’s various military installations – Pearl Harbor actually refers to a constellation of military bases – for boomers like Didion remains a somber, quasi-religious place. She visits the memorial and cries. “All I know about how other people respond is what I am told: that everyone is quiet at the Arizona.”

Schofield Barracks Military Reservation, Wilikina Drive & Kunia Road, Wahiawa, Honolulu County, HI, circa 1938, photographer unknown created by David Franzen in 1996, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Honolulu’s Hotel Street had not changed, only the destination of its patrons. Young men barely out of their teens swarmed its bars and brothels: “And the sailors get drunk because they are no longer in Des Moines and not yet in Danang.”[11] Men in search of companionship, women in search of a dollar, and military police officers in search of infractions circle one another.

Scene from film version of From Here to Eternity 

At the National Memorial Cemetery, a site more silent than the Arizona and home to over 19,000 dead from World War II through the Vietnam War, the dead from America’s engagement in Southeast Asia had begun to arrive. “The graves filled last week and the week before that and even last month do not yet have stones, only plastic identification cards, streaked by the mist and splattered with mud,” she wrote. “The earth is raw and trampled in that part of the crater, but the grass grows fast, up there in the rain cloud.” [12]

Graves devoted to Vietnam make up a fraction of the whole and are placed in the memorial’s outer rings, most often for “local boys.” However, many mainland families choose to bury their fallen in Honolulu. “A father or an uncle calls me from the Mainland and he says they’re bringing their boy here,” the superintendent of the memorial tells her. “I don’t ask why.” [13] She attends a burial service for one such soldier killed in action; a desultory event punctuated by the superintendent’s resigned admission: “Fill, cover, get the marker on. That’s the one thing I remember about my training.”[14]

Her opinions about war might have been better couched more specifically. She never really delves into Hawaiian attitudes toward Vietnam, her examples of war bringing change stem almost exclusively from the Second World War. She witnesses the military build up connected to Vietnam and related businesses dependent on such developments, but how natives and locals feel regarding American action in Southeast Asia never comes through. If one reads letters to Hawaii’s then congresswoman, Patsy Mink, residents opposing America’s involvement in Vietnam outnumber those in favor by large numbers. Later in the mid-1970s, Hawaiians protested the military’s use of the archipelago’s smallest island, Kaho’olawe as a bombing site. Though the military and U.S. aggression abroad continued to shape Hawaii – politically, economically, and even culturally – how it was viewed locally as the century progressed remains debatable.

Representative Patsy Mink announces the formation of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus at a press conference, Laura Patterson, May 20, 1994, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Writing decades later and from a much different perspective, Lisa Lowe aptly describes the most glaring aspect of Honolulu, and broader Asian American life, that Didion missed. The collective memories of Asian American and Pacific Island culture demonstrates the fragmented nature of history and experience, as it is a past “always broken by war, occupation and displacement,” notes Lowe. “Asian American culture ‘re-members’ the past in and through the fragmentation, loss, and dispersal that constitutes the past.”[15]

When Didion notes that there is also a Hawaii that deals only with the “past and with loss,” she does so from the perspective of a missionary’s descendent; as someone from the kind of family that believed Hawaii had been in decline since economic development and tourism reached the islands, never mind the intrusion of the missionaries. To her credit, she seems aware of this, but she never fully breaks from its mindset.

Still, for all its failings, Didion’s reflections on Honolulu remain spellbinding, profound, fluid, and flawed all at once. Mid-century America, arguably the height of the middle class, drank deeply of consumerism, tourism, and war. The California writer captured this better than most.


[1] Joan Didion, “In the Islands,” The White Album, (New York: Farrar, Stroux, and Giroux, 1979), 135; See also Joan Didion, “Letter from Paradise, 21 19’ N., 157 52’ W.”, in Slouching Toward Bethlehem, (New York: Farrar, Stroux, and Giroux, 1968), 187: “In an essay three years earlier also written from Honolulu, she traversed similar territory. “Because I had been tired too long and quarrelsome too much and too often frightened of migraine and failure and the days getting shorter, I was sent, a recalcitrant thirty one year old child, to Hawaii, where winter does not come and no one fails and the median age is twenty three.”

[2] Joan Didion, “In the Islands”, 188.

[3] Eric Avila, “Essaying Los Angeles” in The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of Los Angeles, Ed. Kevin R. McNamara, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 184.

[4] Joan Didion, “In the Islands”, 137.

[5] Joan Didion, “In the Islands”, 137.

[6] Joan Didion, “In the Islands”, 138.

[7] Joan Didion, “Letter from Paradise”, 189.

[8] Joan Didion, “Letter from Paradise”, 198.

[9] Joan Didion, “Letter from Paradise”, 209.

[10] Joan Didion, “Letter from Paradise”, 202.

[11] Joan Didion, “Letter from Paradise”, 194.

[12] Joan Didion, “Letter from Paradise”, 193-194.

[13] Joan Didion, “In the Islands”, 141.

[14] Joan Didion, “In the Islands”, 144.

[15] Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), 29.


Preserving Honolulu: An Interview with University of Hawaii’s William Chapman


University of Hawai’i Professor William Chapman has spent a lifetime working in historic preservation. A former Fulbright scholar and two time Fulbright Senior Specialist, he knows a thing or two about preserving urban history and architecture for future generations. Chapman currently serves on three international committees dedicated to preserving historical sites: History and Theory, Historic Towns and Urban Areas, and Vernacular Architecture. Since 2000, he has been a member of the UNESCO committee for Heritage Awards in Asia and the Pacific.  The Metropole sat down with Dr. Chapman to pick his brain on Honolulu history, preservation policy, and the city’s present and future.

How did you find your way to Hawai’i? What do you do at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa?

I was recruited, in a sense. Former Keeper of the National Register and Vice-President of the National Trust Bill Murtagh had begun a historic preservation program at the University of Hawai‘i in 1986. He was here on a part-time, one term a year basis, and the Department of American Studies, where it was housed, wanted a full-time director. I was teaching then at the University of Georgia and was active in international historic preservation through the U.S. National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (US/ICOMOS). I was encouraged to apply for the job. This was in 1992. I started in the summer of 1993. I am now chair of my department but still direct our Graduate Certificate Program in Historic Preservation.

How would you describe your experience in creating the National Register Report? How did you balance planning, history, and anthropology into a document that will influence Honolulu urban policy?

The report was for a National Heritage Area focused on downtown Honolulu and the immediately surrounding area. I expanded the report to include the whole of the ancient ahupua‘a (the Hawai’ian land division). I was asked by the initiative’s leadership to write the report, based on my past work with the National Register and my experience in the preservation field. I had great help from a special Graduate Assistant we hired for the job, Geoff Mowrer, now a National Park Service employee on the island of Hawai‘i. I approached the report as a historian, bringing in some archaeological studies to cover some of Honolulu’s early years. I had written some material on the Urban Renewal Period in Honolulu and then began with the early period. Much of my writing and research was not included in the report for the Hawai’i Capital District Proposal since it would have gotten too long. The overall aim was to rethink Honolulu as an urban site, rather than just part of the consolidated government of Honolulu and Oahu. I also wanted to provide an alternative to the usual colonial histories of both Hawai’i and the city—to better understand Honolulu as a Hawai’ian city (at least in terms of its population and workforce) not simply as the creation of Euro-Americans. There is no doubt Honolulu was a response to early globalization and the beginnings of world trade, but the labor and “personality” of the place prior to 1900 was almost entirely “Hawai’ian.”

To what extent has the report made an impact in Honolulu’s development or plans for development?

So far, very little. The proposal came up against opposition in a number of quarters. Some influential owners in Chinatown did not want to be part of a National Park Service special area even if there was no regulatory component. I think the project failed to get the word out on what this might mean and most people perceived it as “yet another level of federal government interference.” This was true of some Hawai’ian leaders as well, many of which saw the effort as an encroachment on traditionally managed homestead lands in the upper part of the proposal area.

Aerial view of Honolulu, Hawaii, Carol M. Highsmith, December 10, 2005, Carol M. Highsmith Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

I’ve read James L. Haley’s book on Hawai’i, Captive Paradise, in which he seems to suggest (and it’s possible I’m oversimplifying his argument) that Honolulu really didn’t become the true center of Hawai’i until after the whaling industry declined and sugar came on the scene in the latter part of the nineteenth century. How would you describe its development into Hawai’i’s urban/cultural/economic center?

The whaling industry kick-started the growth of the city largely through the marine chandler (supply) business. Parts of the city were devoted to the cultivation of sweet potatoes, a provision for many whaling ships. There were also ropeyards, blacksmiths, etc. The town was also a rest and relaxation area for visiting sailors and this poured quite a bit of money into the kingdom’s coffers. In 1809, King Kamehameha moved his court to Honolulu, to a site adjacent to old luakini heiau (sacrificial temple) of Pakaka from Waikiki, before returning to Hawai’i Island around 1812. By 1845, the Kingdom of Hawai‘i moved officially to Honolulu, where all functions of government operated.

This was obviously a response to the far greater economic importance of the harbor settlement over that of the old capital at Lahaina on Maui. Hawai’i continued to be an important site for the replenishment of ships’ stores and for refurbishment of ships into the 1850s and 1860s, when whaling began to decline. Sugar production, which expanded after the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 gave Hawai’i preferential tariff treatment, did in fact spark a minor boom in urban development—but this was still moderate. By the 1890s the Kingdom of Hawai’i was finding itself hard-pressed to meet its financial obligations and the Hawai’ian elite was over its head in debt. Even the overthrow in 1893 did not assure Western investors of the security of Hawai’i; only after the breakout of the Spanish American War in 1898 and the agreement to annex Hawai’i in 1900 did Hawai’i and Honolulu experience a surge in construction and urban development.

Main St., Honolulu – Fancy goods, no date, Bain Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

One of my impressions of Honolulu, and some of this might be due to my own time in San Diego and Los Angeles, was that architecturally it felt like Southern California in many ways. From the report, prior to WWII there was some influence by California-based architects such as C.W. Dickey and Julia Morgan. How did this influence the city architecturally prior to 1945?

Honolulu indeed feels much like a Southern California town and has much in common with greater Los Angeles. The history of tract development is similar as are many of the architectural styles and the building types, notably one-story bungalows. Many of the architects working in Hawai’i moved back and forth to California, though the main cultural connection during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was San Francisco, not LA. C.W. Dickey is a case in point. He had local connections but spent much of his career in California, where he was born (Alameda) and educated (Oakland). He eventually got his architecture degree from MIT, but was very much a “westerner.”

Hart Wood, Dickey’s sometimes rival and sometimes collaborator, also spent time in both Denver and Oakland (though he was originally from Philadelphia) and had worked on the Stanford campus. He moved to Hawai’i in 1919. Probably the most similar thing about Hawai’i and California was the range of building styles. Craftsman, Spanish Colonial Revival and Mission, and Georgian Revival were all popular forms in Hawai’i as they were on the West Coast. The biggest difference was the relative quality of materials; everything had to be imported to Hawai’i so there were a number of materials economies practiced in the islands, notably single wall and double board construction. This technology, which has a parallel in California for farm buildings, especially, was widely employed in Hawai’i’s many planation camps. These types of simplified generic buildings found wide acceptance in the modest Honolulu suburbs as well. Hawai’i and LA shared a dependence on a streetcar system, which moved workers and clerks from their small houses to the central business district. The city also saw the emergence of separate satellite communities such as Kaimuki and Kapahulu, in response to the streetcar suburbs. As a cost savings, many areas did not have sidewalks and nearly all telephone and electrical wiring was strung above ground, as it is today outside of the very core of the urban district.

Street looking towards hills, Honolulu, no date, Bain Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

I also wonder about Honolulu’s post World War II architecture. It seems to also share similarities with Southern California, but perhaps in a different way. For example, postwar California launched the ranch house, subdivisions, and an explosion in military spending and infrastructure, which in turn facilitated the expansion of housing, industry, and economic development. Did something similar occur in Honolulu because, at least superficially, there seem to be some parallels.

Actually, much of this was true for Hawai’i too in the postwar era. However, because of the scarcity of land Honolulu quickly accepted high-rise construction as an alternative to suburban sprawl. This occurred most noticeably in the resort area of Waikiki, but also downtown and in many former single-family home areas such as Makiki. The city applied zoning standards only in the mid 1960s, allowing for sporadic high-rise development in many former single-family areas as well. The first large apartment building was the Rosalei in Waikiki, built in 1956. Before that buildings were limited by the height of the longest fire truck ladder, to eight stories. There were postwar suburbs such as Hawai’i Kai, Aina Haina, and Waialai Iki, which—at least in Aina Haina—included houses by the New York-based Levitt Company and local companies such as Hicks Homes. Henry Kaiser applied the efficiencies learned in his industrial suburbs in Seattle during the war to his new development in East Honolulu. Finally, the construction of Hawai’i’s own “Interstate Highway,” the H-1, helped unify the various small commercial areas and encouraged the construction of large shopping centers. These included the Waialae Center (now Kahala Mall) built in the late 1950s, the Kaimuki Center (now Market City) and especially the megamall Ala Moana, built in 1959. The malls, in turn led to the decline of downtown Honolulu as a shopping and entertainment area, much as happened in LA.

Aerial view of Honolulu, Hawaii, Carol M. Highsmith, December 10, 2005, Carol M. Highsmith Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Many American cities exhibit significant economic, racial, and ethnic diversity, but Honolulu must exceed most mainland metropolitan areas. How does this differentiate the city—politically, architecturally, socially—from its counterparts in North America?

As you know, Honolulu was the center of a great agricultural enterprise beginning in the 1870s but really taking off in the early twentieth century. The sugar and pineapple industries required labor. Immigrant contract labor began under the reign of King Kalākaua (reigned 1874-1891). The Chinese had been coming to Hawai’i since the mid 1850s, helping, in fact, to develop the incipient sugar industry. With passage of the Reciprocity Treaty in 1875, Kalakaua knew he needed a fresh source of labor. This would be Japan. Beginning in 1868 before Kalākaua’s reign but expanding after 1881 following an agreement with the Emperor of Japan, thousands of Japanese single men—and later families and single women—immigrated to Hawai‘i. Many planned to stay just through their contract, but then found themselves either unprepared economically or bound to responsibilities and attachments in Hawai‘i. Many of the Japanese came from the southern island, where they had eked out a living as farmers. Others came from the Japanese dependency of Okinawa. Koreans soon joined the mix, expedited by the fact Korea was under Japanese control at the time.

Soon, Europeans from places as far away as Sweden and Scotland joined the Japanese. Many of these came as technicians. Farmland on Hawai‘i Island was offered at favorable terms to entice settlers from places such as Portugal. In 1898, following a major storm in Puerto Rico, a large number of Puerto Rican families emigrated. With the defeat of the Spanish and new ties to the Philippines, there was a concurrent influx of Filipino workers after 1900. All of these ethnic groups began to occupy Honolulu as well. As a result there was a Chinatown, a Japan-town and eventually businesses operated by Filipinos. Never truly a “melting pot,” Honolulu and the rest of the Hawai’ian Islands enjoyed an ethnic balance that many sociologists saw as enviable. Army reports and the organization of sugar labor indicate strong racial “profiling.” “The Japanese were industrious but not inventive; the Chinese clever but were inscrutable; Hawai’ians were lazy,” and so on. The Hawai’i Guard, the territory’s version of a national guard, developed its units on the basis of racial “aptitudes.” Planation owners and operators created separate villages (camps) for different ethnicities. Nonetheless, the laboring classes eventually formed a sense of unity, as evidenced by intermarriage and by a growing labor movement. So by the 1930s Honolulu was indeed diverse, reflective of the diversity of the islands as a whole.

Kamehameha The Great Statue, Hawaii
“Kamehameha the Great” statue, Hawaii, Carol M. Highsmith, December 6, 2005, Carol M. Highsmith Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

In many cities on the U.S. mainland, FHA housing policies and HOLC housing maps emerged in the 1930s and contributed greatly to institutionalizing housing segregation. I wonder if this history differs in Honolulu; for example, since it was a not a state until 1959 perhaps these policies did not affect it as acutely or at all? Also, since Honolulu is on the island of Oahu and due to the city’s demographic diversity, did anything along the lines of “white flight” occur?

Honolulu was probably far les segregated than any other US city in the 1930s. Older upper-end suburbs such as Manoa or Nu‘uanu had tacit agreements for white-only residents. Some of these expectations were written into covenants governing new land subdivisions during the early part of the twentieth century. Certainly by the 1930s these were effectively ended. By the late 1940s and 1950s they had ended even more certainly. There was no explicit segregation in Hawai’i and most neighborhoods had a mixture of different ethnicities. Hawai’ian-haole (white Euro-American) marriages were common as well, breaching the racial barrier at both the top and bottom of the social ladder. The Japanese, which comprised as much as 60 percent of the population in the 1930s, was the last group to let up on ethnic restrictions in marriage. But by the 1960s, Japanese young people were marrying out of their own ethic bounds. By the 1950s as well, former all-white enclaves, such as Manoa, had opened up to non-white ownership and residence.

Chinatown, Ryan Reft, June 2017

As noted in the report, urban renewal policies nearly destroyed the Chinatown community in the 1960s. Similar policies in places like Chicago often removed minority and working class communities, replacing them with highways and “economic development projects” and ultimately reinforced racism while hollowing out cities. How did urban renewal unfold in the 1960s in Honolulu and what were the consequences?

The urban renewal project in Chinatown and what was then Japan-town (the Aala area) provided opportunities for many Chinese and Japanese families and individuals. There had been significant disinvestment in both areas in the post World War II era. Many owners welcomed the opportunity to sell under the Urban Renewal Program. (The program allowed for appraisals well above the market rate, a fact that benefitted many owners.) Both Japanese and Chinese residents had been migrating to the suburbs since the 1900, leaving largely landless people still within the community. Many of these residents did in fact lose their homes, notably the many wood houses along Vineyard Street and within the Aala area. But the more prosperous ownership class clearly profited from the program. None of this really affected the racial and ethnic makeup of the city. The public housing replacing Chinatown and Aala shops now houses mostly Pacific island and Filipino populations, along with Hawai’ians and other ethnic mixes. The sum total of housing probably increased in both areas through the public housing projects, which are still there.

Chinatown Market, Ryan Reft, June 2017

When I visited Honolulu recently, I spent some time in the Chinatown neighborhood, which seems to be undergoing a bit of a renaissance. When I spoke with one proprietor she suggested that it was within last 12-18 months that more boutique stores and restaurants began popping up around the community, but judging from the report, it would seem that Chinatown’s development/“comeback” has been some time in the making. Can you provide some context for its current trajectory? Are there any drawbacks to these changes such as gentrification possibly forcing out long time residents—or this really a feel good story?

Chinatown’s “comeback” has been slow. In the postwar period, Chinatown had become the haunt of cheap bars and dance halls and pool halls. These evolved to be even cheaper bars and go-go bars. There was widespread drug use and prostitution in the area, a legacy of earlier times, during the 1960s and 1970s. National Register nomination and the creation of a special planning district in the 1970s and 1980s helped to reverse the downward trend, though major arteries such as Hotel Street remained seedy and dangerous. The fact that many community services, including housing for the homeless and drug treatment centers, were located in Chinatown worked against the “rebranding” of the 13-acre area as an upscale gallery and entertainment zone. “First Fridays,” beginning in the early 2000s, helped to change the area’s image. But the process has been slow. It is important to realize that what is now called Chinatown included at the east (Diamond Head) end several streets more associated with downtown Honolulu than with Chinatown proper; so it is perhaps wrong to think of Chinatown’s character being altered through gentrification. Nuuanu and Bethal Streets were always part of Honolulu’s nightlife and important site of many of the city’s movie theaters. Their revival, therefore—notably the refurbishment and reopening of the Hawai’i Theatre in the 1980s—was actually simply bringing some of the old life of the area back. The large number of Vietnamese and Laotian shopkeepers and sellers at farmers’ markets has had the effect of keeping the area predominantly “Chinese” in character; many of the Lao and Vietnamese are in fact ethnically Chinese.

Waikiki at night, Honolulu, Hawaii, Ryan Reft, June 2017

Where do you see the future of Honolulu as a city going?

We seem to be becoming a new site of luxury high-rises, growing out of the old industrial area of Kakaako. Urban renewal and new construction destroyed many of the great buildings of the 1920s and 1930s downtown. Retail commerce is shifting nearly entirely to shopping malls, making it difficult for mom-and-pop stores to survive. The elevated train, if it is ever completed, could do much to stitch together the urban fabric of the city but how this will take place is not yet apparent. I am hopeful that special attention can be given to remnants of earlier commercial centers, such as Waialae Avenue and Kapahulu Avenue, both of which retain many buildings from the 1930s through 1950s and still have an “authentic” urban character. However, this would require investment from the city, which is not at all likely. I fear Honolulu will become a rather sterile place of shopping malls and luxury high-rises, oriented increasingly to the visitor industry. I am hoping that we can revive the heritage area concept and begin interpreting through museums and information plaques and kiosks to make the city’s history more meaningful for both visitors and residents.

William Chapman is Director of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation and Professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. Educated at Columbia (M.S. in Historic Preservation, 1978) and at Oxford University in England (D.Phil. in Anthropology, 1982), he specializes in architectural recording, the management of historic districts, and materials conservation. Dr. Chapman is widely recognized as a leading authority in recording historic architecture and in policies and procedures for historic preservation at both the local and national levels.

Member of the Week: Scarlett Rebman

ScarlettSquareCrop-2-thumbScarlett Rebman

PhD Candidate in History

Syracuse University


Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 
My dissertation, “Saving Salt City: Fighting Inequality through Policy and Activism in Syracuse, New York (1955-1975),” uses mid-twentieth-century Syracuse, New York, as a lens to explore the relationship between grassroots activism and federal, state, and local government policies. I aim to uncover the factors that fostered innovative efforts to address social problems in Syracuse–and why these efforts largely failed. Five specific issues dominated community conversations during this time: education, housing segregation, tenants’ rights in public housing projects, employment, and leadership. Examining them reveals that although activists achieved some tangible victories at the local level and even reshaped the realm of possibility in the national political landscape, they were unable to fundamentally alter systemic mechanisms that reproduced inequality and segregation.
I came to this topic in stages. Before starting graduate school, I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Services. In this position, I worked with a geography professor to compile census data on the low-income neighborhoods that my organization served, including the one in which I lived at the time. The people with the lowest incomes lived in the areas with the oldest and poorest housing stock, which was expensive to maintain and potentially had lead paint hazards. Moreover, these neighborhoods were racially segregated. I wanted to understand the political, economic, and social forces that created this situation. My boss assigned me Tom Sugrue’s Origins of the Urban Crisis to read, and it captivated me and inspired me to study urban history.
As I began to think about dissertation topics, my focus shifted to the ways in which these oppressive urban conditions had been challenged by citizens. Syracuse is a perfect entry point into a study of urban social movements. The city had both a robust civil rights movement and two controversial War on Poverty programs that were terminated by the federal government. Using the case study approach allows me to untangle complicated organizational and political relationships and trace individual careers across organizations, capturing nuances that would be lost in a regional or national narrative.
Describe your current work in the public humanities. How does what you are working on relate to your scholarship?
Last November, I joined the staff at Humanities New York as Grants Associate. This necessarily entailed a transition away from the classroom and has made carving out writing time a challenge, but it has been so rewarding. Humanities New York is a state-level, nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Our grants and programs allow organizations around the state to creatively engage their communities using the tools of the humanities. I get to interact with representatives of libraries, historical societies, and quite a few academic departments. It’s all about drawing connections–among organizations doing similar work, from the particular to the general, between historic and contemporary contexts. My academic training definitely helped prepare me for this type of work.
Additionally, through my position I’ve acquired a new perspective on how communities both urban and rural are discussing issues such as economic inequality, race, democracy, and immigration. This has informed how I think about the activists that I study. It helps me appreciate that this type of work is ongoing. The issues at the top of reform agendas in 1967 certainly resonate fifty years later. On the other hand, we need to understand the specific factors that inhibited groups from achieving their goals in the twentieth century in order to move forward in the twenty-first.
What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?
Elizabeth Hinton’s From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America and Heather Ann Thompson’s Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy are both incredible books that shine new light on the history of the criminal justice system.
What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies? 
Although it can be daunting when time is so precious, seize opportunities to share your work with community members outside of academia. Consider partnering with a community organization on a humanities project. The results will most likely be unexpected but exciting.
You have done a lot of public history and teaching in the community. Would you share one of your favorite memories of doing this work?
During the 2016-2016 academic year, I was a Public Humanities Fellow with Humanities New York. Each fellow proposes and implements a public-facing project. I worked with the Southwest Community Center in Syracuse to offer a camp on local human rights history last summer. I received a Humanities New York Action Grant through my history department to make the project happen. Eleven young women between the ages of ten and thirteen participated, and I had an amazing co-teacher and assistant. We went on a field trip every day. The best trip was to Harriet Tubman’s house and gravesite in Auburn, New York. The students were amazed that Tubman’s home had been preserved and was not a replica. Harriet was a role model and hero for them, and they were excited to learn more about her legacy. At her gravesite, they spontaneously gathered around the marker and bowed their heads in prayer. History can impact us in profoundly personal ways, and I was fortunate to share that experience with the campers.

Seeing Honolulu through A Surfing Life

Until I read Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, William Finnegan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir of his life as a surfer, I had little desire to visit Hawai’i. Like Ryan, my impression of the islands was drawn largely from Hollywood films and television, and reinforced by friends’ honeymoon photo albums on Facebook. Seen through these lenses, Hawaii seemed like a Disneyland for grown-ups—a façade purposefully constructed to show vacationers the beaches, roasting pigs, and smoking volcanoes that tourism professionals believed they wanted to see.

Barbarian Days shattered my perception of Hawai’i. Finnegan’s description of his two years living in Honolulu, attending a public junior high school and surfing with locals, provides a glimpse into the quotidian lives of Honolulu residents in the late 1960s. Stories about surfing certain waves serve as a starting point to discuss the history and geography of the Hawaiian islands; other stories, of the friendships Finnegan forged through surfing, demonstrate the complex racial and ethnic hierarchies that Honolulu’s diverse residents navigated daily, the class divisions that organized social life, and youth culture.

I picked up Finnegan’s memoir having heard positive reviews and because, after finishing my dissertation, I needed to be transported to another time and place. I had no particular interest in surfing, be it sport, recreation, or aesthetic. Within the first twenty pages of Barbarian Days, I discovered that in fact I was very interested in surfing. Moreover, I had a newfound itch to visit Honolulu.

Unlike more traditional memoirs, Barbarian Days skips around through Finnegan’s life. Rather than beginning with his childhood in Southern California, Finnegan begins the memoir with the formative surfing he did in Honolulu between 1966 and 1967. The memoir then flashes back to his earlier years before returning to Hawai’i (albeit Lahaina, on Maui) and then follows his surfing adventures in the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, Africa, San Francisco, and Madeira.

Surf Riders Honolulu
Surf Riders, Honolulu, Charles Bartlett, c. 1920-1921, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Although I found the entire book immensely enjoyable, I think the first chapter on Honolulu is my favorite and the one that stands out most clearly in my memory. In it, we follow the young Bill as he evolves from a naïve SoCal teen with a single-minded focus on surfing to a savvy, cosmopolitan young man awakened to the reality of racism and classism. An anecdote about being picked on as the new haole (white) kid in school begins the book, signaling the end of Finnegan’s innocent ignorance. “[M]y parents sent me to the nearest junior high, up in working-class Kaimuki, on the back side of Diamond Head crater,” Finnegan writes, “where they assumed I was getting on with the business of the eighth grade, but where in fact I was occupied almost entirely by the rigors of bullies, loneliness, fights, and finding my way, after a lifetime of unconscious whiteness in the segregated suburbs of California, in a racialized world.”[1]

Through the fistfights and brawls that he found himself in during his first weeks at Kaimuki Intermediate School, Finnegan (and the reader) become increasingly aware of the racial hierarchies operating within Honolulu. As one of the few haole kids in the public junior high—most white parents sent their children to private schools—Finnegan found himself a target for bullying by “the ‘mokes’—which seemed to mean anyone dark and tough.” Seeking protection, he joined “the In Crowd,” a haole gang from whom he “began to learn, first, the broad outlines, and then the minutiae, of the local racial setup.”[2] This alliance insulated Finnegan from further torture, but it was not long before surfing expanded his social circle to include Hawaiian friends.

Honolulu, Diamond Head and palms, 1936, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Near the house his parents rented was a surf spot that the locals called Cliffs, where Finnegan became a regular. There he met a Hawaiian teen named Roddy Kaulukukui, who was his same age and at his same skill level at surfing. Both looked up to Roddy’s older brother, Glenn, a “superb surfer, with a style that was already flowing and beautiful.” It was from the Kaulukukui brothers and their friends that Finnegan learned the ins-and-outs of surfing Diamond Head, and it was with them that he learned local surfing culture. Unlike in Southern California, where surfing was a sport of youthful rebellion, in Hawaii surfing was and remains a family affair; a sport taught by fathers to sons. Roddy and Glenn’s father was accomplished enough to have surfed some of the most advanced waves on Oahu’s North Shore. “I had always assumed that only famous surfers rode Waimea,” Finnegan recalls, but during his year living in Honolulu he “saw that local fathers rode it too, and in time, perhaps, their sons would as well.” “These people never appeared in mainland [surfing] magazines,” and yet in time he realized “there were many families like the Kaulukukuis in Hawaii—multigenerational families, ohanas rich in talent and tradition, known only to one another.”[3]

Honolulu Hawaii, Diamond Head
Diamond Head, Honolulu, Hawaii, Carol M. Highsmith, December 9, 2006, Carol M. Highsmith Collection, Prints and Photographs, Library of Congress

Through the Kaulukukuis Finnegan also gained insight into Hawaiian life on the mainland, particularly how Hawaiians navigated the intersections of race and class. In an attempt to join the surfing club the Kaulukukui brothers belonged to, Finnegan found himself knocking on doors in a “posh looking subdivision high in the hills above Honolulu” trying to raise money by selling “a heavy sack of Portuguese sausage” to the affluent white residents. The organizer of the Southern Unit surfing club, Mr. Ching, gave the group “basic instruction in door-to-door salesmanship.” Explaining how the boys were to pitch the sale, Mr. Ching exaggeratedly code-switched from pidgin English: “Mr. Ching said ‘the Southern Unit,’ and the kids laughed, because he pronounced it haole-style, standard English, though it was usually said ‘da Soddun Unit.’”[4] When, a few weeks later, Roddy transferred into one of Finnegan’s classes at school, Finnegan realized his friend could similarly play both the role of Hawaiian surfer and “haole-style” student: “Like Mr. Ching in his fund-raising spiel, Roddy abandoned briefly, his normal pidgin and spoke standard English.”[5]

Boat and Palm tree outline at a Hawaii Beach.
Boat and Palm tree outline at a Hawaiian beach, Carol M. Highsmith, 1980-2006, Carol M. Highsmith Collection, Prints and Photographs, Library of Congress

Through his parents, Finnegan gained an adult perspective on Honolulu society, particularly its class divisions. His father, a television producer, had moved the family to Oahu to make a TV show. This work regularly brought him into (contentious) contact with the state’s labor unions, and Finnegan observed that although workers—and particularly non-white workers—had benefitted from organized labor, “By the mid-‘60s… Hawaii’s labor movement, like much of its mainland counterpart, had grown complacent, top-heavy, and corrupt, and my father, although he came to personally like some of the union bosses he fought daily, never seemed much edified by the struggle.”[6] His mother, meanwhile, found “the provincialism of Honolulu … suffocating.” Although she hid her distaste from the family and “threw herself into making the most of life in an insular, reactionary town,” in retrospect Finnegan reflects that when she traveled to “the outer islands she found, I think, a Hawaii more to her liking—not the Babbitty boosters and country-club racists of Honolulu.”[7]

Although I can only assume that today Honolulu differs markedly from the city that Finnegan explored with his friends 50 years ago, Barbarian Days nonetheless invites readers to see Hawai’i, and Honolulu more specifically, as a place populated by residents. Tourists hardly appear, overshadowed by descriptions of riding city buses, babysitting siblings, and crushing on girls—indeed, without the social life that surfing provides Finnegan, little about his junior high experience would be remarkably Hawaiian. Yet, it’s this vision of Honolulu and Hawai’i that I appreciated and that opened my mind to a possible visit. My appreciation of surfing, however, will probably remain limited to YouTube videos.

Avigail Oren is co-editor of The Metropole. She recently completed her Ph.D. in History at Carnegie Mellon University. More of her writing can be found here.

[1] William Finnegan, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, (New York: Penguin Books, 2015), 3. Big wave surfer Laird Hamilton also talks about being bullied as a haole in the documentary Riding Giants.

[2] Finnegan, Barbarian Days, 10.

[3] Finnegan, 16.

[4] Ibid., 30.

[5] Ibid., 31.

[6] Ibid., 21.

[7] Ibid., 24-5.

Friday’s ICYMI

It’s been a big week for history (and counterfactual history) in the media and around the web!

Matt Guariglia, the editor of The Metropole‘s Disciplining the City series, published an historical look at surveillance data collection in the Washington Post’s new Made By History vertical. A notable anti-surveillance advocate re-tweeted.

The Global Urban History blog featured a conversation with UHA member Nancy Kwak on the increasingly intertwining fields of urban and global history.

Mae Ngai in the New York Times on the cruel history of how U.S. immigration law has manipulated the definitions of family.

Keisha N. Blain and Ibram X. Kendi argue in History News Network that we should all be writing for a broader public.

The dates have been released for this year’s Chicago Urban History Seminar.

And for those of you who need a little pick-me-up:

A Tour of Honolulu From Atop a Tiny Skateboard

Translated as either “calm bay” or “sheltered harbor,” Honolulu is, after Auckland, New Zealand, the second largest city in Polynesia; it has been since 1845 the capital of the Kingdom of Hawai’i, and it is by far the most populous of the state of Hawai‘is metropolitan areas with just under 1,000,000 residents.[1] Honolulu has the distinction of being the only state capital in the United States that was the seat of government of a nation overthrown and annexed against the wishes of its monarchy and people.[2]

For many Hawaiians this is not a scene of liberation, “Raising U.S. flag over Hawaii”, Pan-Pacific Press Bureau photo, August 13, 1898, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

I have been thinking about Honolulu since the fall semester of 2001. I was a PhD student at the University of Arizona and had, in one of my classes, many of the members of the university’s Hawai‘i Club, an organization for students with connections to Hawai’i and other Pacific Island nations and cultures . A quest to teach U. S. history from the perspective of Hawai‘i to benefit those students that semester has led to something of a personal quest to learn about the culture of our most unique state. My observations below have as their basis a tour I made of much of the city of Honolulu while riding a 68 centimeter-long Hawaiian koa wood Arbor Pocket Rocket mini-cruiser skateboard.

Visually, Honolulu is an unusually beautiful American city, set on the lush southern coast of the 3,900,000 year-old volcanic island of O’ahu.[3] Western parts of the city sit at the base of the Wai’anae Mountains, eastern sections extend in to the canyons of the Ko’olau Mountains, and the city’s center sections encircle its harbor and the extensive bay called Pearl Harbor. The sole thing that most mainlanders know about Honolulu, and Hawai’i for that matter, is the coverage their middle and high school textbooks provide about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor not quite seventy six years ago.[4] The distinctive curvilinear 1962 memorial that hovers above the submerged U. S. S. Arizona is Hawai’i’s single most frequented tourist site. Political Scientists Kathy Ferguson and Phyllis Turnbull describe it as “a significant national memory site,” which allows visitors to see oil seeping from the tomb of hundreds of sailors and marines in the water below and to contemplate the subsequent effort to win World War II, one of the defining moments in American history.[5] Equally poignant are the many signs of kamikaze pilots’ bullets visible on the exteriors of hangars and the walls of officers’ houses at Hickam Air Force Base, now Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.[6]

The “black tears” of the crew of the U.S.S. Arizona, Ryan Reft, June 2017

People arriving in Honolulu for the first time are often surprised when they learn that the city has interstate highways. About ten miles east of the Arizona on Interstate Highway H1 is the section of the city where most of the tourists stay, Waikīkī. The hotel industry in Waikīkī is large enough to be responsible for something like 8% of Hawai‘i’s gross state product every year, and is represented by a seemingly endless stand of high-rise buildings with windows straining to offer guests a view of the Pacific.[7] Waikīkī is one of the surreal spaces in our country in which the difference between what is and what was are so drastic that an observer is left incapable of believing they are in the same place. As Gaye Chan and Andrea Feeser note in Waikīkī: A History of Forgetting and Remembering, this section of Honolulu was popular with Polynesians because its streams offered fresh water, and as a result, early Hawaiians established a thriving community in which they grew taro, built homes, religious temples, and fish ponds, and surfed.[8]

U.S.S. Arizona, Ryan Reft, June 2017

In early photographs of Waikīkī, one can follow the idyllic beach, with its gentle wave, to the volcanic cone Lē’ahi, or Diamond Head, at its end.[9] But about a hundred and ten years ago, the beachfront began to transform into a place of recreation and escape for mainlanders. Surfing historian Joel Smith has written of Alexander Hume Ford, who in 1909 began the Outrigger Canoe Club to promote surfing in Waikīkī.[10] Jack London shared his surfing and leisure experiences at Waikīkī with readers around the world in his book The Cruise of the Snark, and the famed Native Hawaiian multi-Olympic sport gold-winning athlete Duke Kahanamoku joined the Outrigger Canoe Club in 1917.[11] During this era, financiers constructed a number of elaborate hotels designed to appeal to wealthy tourists seeking a tropical paradise. The Moana, which opened in 1901, and the Royal Hawaiian, built in 1927, helped to permanently transform Waikīkī, a bucolic village Native Hawaiians inhabited for generations, into the tourist and resort center of Honolulu.[12] The white beaux-arts exterior of the Moana, now the Moana Surfrider, and the pink Moorish exterior of the Royal Hawaiian still stand, although it is difficult to make them out because the bright white high-rise hotel towers that now line nearly the entire 2.5 kilometer length of Waikīkī’s beach dwarf them.[13]

Sheraton Moana Hotel, Waikīkī’s first hotel, Honolulu, Hawaii, Carol M. Highsmith, 1980-2006, Carol M. Highsmith Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

A fascinating spot for understanding the history and culture of Honolulu and Hawai’i is the intersection of Punchbowl and South King Streets in the city’s center. Directly to the west is the 1883 statue of Kamehameha the Great, a chief and warrior from the Island of Hawai‘i who through military conquest of the islands of Maui, Molokai‘i, and O‘ahu, and diplomatic agreement with Kaua’i, became the unifier and first monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1810 and lived nearby from 1810 until 1812.[14] Kamehameha instituted the kapu system of laws in Hawai’i, developed international relations between his kingdom and other nations, and with his outstretched arm, feathered cloak (‘ahu ‘ula) and headdress (mahiole), and spear (ihe), has since served as a symbol of the Hawaiian people.[15] The statue stands directly in front of the 1874 Ali‘iolani Hale, which served as offices for the Kingdom’s government and now is the Hawai’i Supreme Court, which in 1993 made national history by being the first American state supreme court to declare that denying gay couples the right to marry constituted discrimination.[16]

Behind the Ali’iōlani Hale sits the Hawai’i Attorney General’s Office, from which have emerged some of the strongest arguments against the current president’s policies on immigration. One block further is the modernist 1977 Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana’ole Federal Building and U. S. Courthouse, where in April 2017 courtroom decisions elicited the U. S. Attorney General’s comment that “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power.”[17] About six blocks to the northwest of the Ali‘iolani Hale is Honolulu’s Chinatown, which developed as a center of Chinese community and commerce in the mid-19th century as the terms of Chinese sugar laborers ended and they sought other financial opportunities in Hawai’i.[18]

Most of the present buildings post-date the large conflagration of 1900 that destroyed much of the neighborhood in an effort to end an outbreak of the bubonic plague, but the area remains a center of civic pride in a city and state that celebrate their remarkably long-lived ethnic integration.[19] As University of Hawai‘i Music Professor Frederic Lau has noted, mid-nineteenth century agricultural laborers and commercial workers arriving from China, Korea, Japan, Okinawa, the Philippines, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain, and elsewhere in Polynesia intermarried with Native Hawaiians, African Americans, and haoles, or white Americans, resulting in “Hawai‘i’s  rainbow [multicultural] society” in which “many local-born children are known to be descendants of mixed-race marriages that often include three or four ethnicities.”[20] The result is the notable menu feature of many of Honolulu’s and the Hawaiian Islands’ restaurants; as Geographer Ines Miyares explains:

Most plantation workers were poor and would bring tins containing one or two items of simple fare for the midday meal. Despite their differences, workers would share bits of their meals, sometimes introducing each other to new foods. The Chinese introduced rice, chicken, and duck; the Japanese, various forms of fish and the use of teriyaki; the Koreans kimchi; the Puerto Ricans, pork and various spices such as saffron; the Portuguese, sweet bread and doughnuts. The sharing of food evolved into a tradition among plantation workers and became known as the “mixed plate” or the “plate lunch.”[21]

One of Honolulu’s storied restaurants noted for this mélange of cuisines, ‘Ono Hawaiian Foods, will serve its last plate lunches in August after fifty-seven years of business near Waikīkī.[22]

Turning left at Punchbowl and King, to the south one sees a distinctively New England style religious edifice erected in coral, the 1842 Kawaiaha‘o Church, from which the Congregationalist missionary Hiram Bingham led his quest to Christianize the Native Hawaiian population.[23] His arrival in 1820 occurred just after the abandonment of the kapu system in 1819, the result of Kamehameha’s son’s violation of a major kapu just six months after ascending to leadership of the Kingdom.[24] The impact of Bingham’s and other missionaries’ efforts was deep and devastating for Native Hawaiians as Christians, teamed with American business leaders, spent much of the rest of the nineteenth century leading efforts to rid Native Hawaiians of their land, religion, worldview, language, lifestyle, foodways, and customs, including hula and surfing.[25] Just behind the church sits the New England-style building complex constructed by other Protestant missionaries between 1821 and 1840, today used as the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Museum.[26] Turning east and then to the northeast, there appear a series of government buildings—first the Honolulu Mayor’s Office, the Honolulu City Hall, the Hawai‘i State Library, and the Hawai‘i State Archives. Looming largest in this complex is the Hawai‘i State Capitol, a modernist 1969 design by architect John Warnecke, with whose work, including John F. Kennedy’s grave, Stanford University’s Meyer Library, and the mathematics-science complex at the U. S. Naval Academy, mainlanders are likely familiar.[27]

Hawaii State Archives, Honolulu, Ryan Reft, June 2017

Finally, directly to the north of the intersection of King and Punchbowl sits the ‘Iolani Palace, which holds perhaps the deepest meaning of all of these buildings for Native Hawaiians. Completed in 1882 under the oversight of King David Kalakaua, its telephone, electricity, lighting, and plumbing made it in a technological sense the first “modern” building in Honolulu.[28] Kalakaua’s reign had great impact: he brought widespread literacy to the Hawaiian people, he signed the Reciprocity Treaty that gave the United States operations in Pearl Harbor in exchange for duty-free Hawaiian sugar exports to the U.S., and he made substantive efforts to revive hula, surfing, and other cultural expressions that had suffered for five decades under missionaries’ influence.[29] Kalakaua’s commitment to the perpetuation of Native Hawaiian culture is recognized by the annual Hilo-based Merrie Monarch Festival, which showcases competitive hula dancing.[30]

‘Iolani Palace, Ryan Reft, June 2017


Kalakaua’s rule was also notable for the numerous efforts of American planters and entrepreneurs, among them Sanford Dole, to wrest control of the Hawaiian Kingdom and to convince the United States to annex the islands for their financial gain.[31] After Kalakaua’s death in 1891, his sister Lili’uokalani ascended to the throne and lived in the ‘Iolani Palace under similar pressures from whites. Lili’uokalani spent much of her rule defending her monarchy, the independence of the kingdom, and perpetuating elements of Hawaiian culture.[32] In 1893, some American businessmen colluded with U.S. Marines to occupy the ‘Iolani Palace grounds, effectively deposing Lili’uokalani and creating a pseudo-government of their own leading.[33] The next year, Dole declared Hawai‘i as a republic under his leadership, and Lili’uokalani was arrested in 1895 after her supporters tried to restore her to her throne; she lived in the ‘Iolani Palace for eight months as a prisoner.[34] In 1896, whites banned the teaching of Hawaiian language in the kingdom’s schools, a long-lived scar on the soul of Hawaiian culture.[35] On August 12, 1898, from the windows of Washington Place, a royal home just 250 feet from the ‘Iolani Palace, Lili’uokalani watched Americans unfurling patriotic bunting and celebrating the official, and illegal, annexation of Hawai’i by the United States.[36] Washington Place remained her home, from which she wrote defenses of her monarchy and the Native Hawaiian people, until her death in 1917; inside one if its rooms, Lili‘uokalani, a trained musician, completed perhaps the most celebrated classical composition in the Hawaiian songbook, “Aloha ‘Oe.”[37]

‘Iolani Palace also holds great meaning for many Japanese American Hawaiians. As in other Pacific-bounded locations in the United States during World War II, the U.S. government set up internment camps in Hawai‘i, and 24 kilometers from the ‘Iolani Palace sit the remains of the Honouliuli Internment Camp, which had a wartime population of 4,000 Asian and Asian American residents. Former Honolulu resident, President Barack Obama, declared it a national monument in 2015.[38] However, the ‘Iolani Palace was the site of one of the great moments of Asian American pride when, on March 28, 1943, before a crowd of 20,000 onlookers assembled on the palace grounds, 2,600 Japanese American men took the oath of office as members of the United States Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team and went off to Europe to fight in the war; they remain the most decorated military unit in American history.[39]

Japanese-American volunteers . . . nearly 3,000 new American soldiers of Japanese ancestry–assembled at ‘Iolani Palace grounds, Honolulu“, for the farewell ceremony honoring them en masse, United States Office of War Information, March 1943, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Just two blocks southwest of the ‘Iolani Palace, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit is constructing the Downtown Station—the eighteenth of twenty-one planned stops on the city’s 32-kilometer elevated light rail system.[40] Although since the project’s inception the goal has been to ease traffic on the city’s freeways, light rail construction has faced a similar issue as building those freeways: the disturbance and destruction of ancient Native Hawaiian burials.[41]   As a non-Native Hawaiian student of Hawaiian culture and language, I have begun to learn about the significance with which Native Hawaiians treat all aspects of the natural world and the reverence Native Hawaiians demonstrate toward their kupuna, or ancestors. I have also come to understand that nearly all places in the Hawaiian Islands are inextricably bound with the sacred Hawaiian past, including religious sites, homesteads and village sites, locations of agriculture and aquaculture, places noted in proverbs and chants, and locales with close associations to the natural and spiritual worlds. It is of little surprise, then, that any construction in Honolulu, let alone a public transit project necessitating digging in the ground, will inevitably disturb cultural, religious, and burial sites. Paulette Kaleikini, a self described “activist for our kingdom,” raised the issue of the light rail’s disturbance of ancient graves along its route before the Supreme Court of Hawai’i, prompting the court to order a halt to construction while the state and archaeologists investigated further disturbances along the planned route.[42] Kaleikini also protested a construction project back at the intersection of Punchbowl and King because that area, too, sits above ancient burials.[43]

Aloha building at night, Ryan Reft, June 2017

Kaleikini’s efforts represent just one of a myriad of examples of the Native Hawaiian cultural revival that has had many facets, including an active Native Hawaiian sovereignty movement,[44] the reestablishment of teaching Hawaiian language in schools across the islands,[45] a resurgence in Hawaiian music in both composition and instrumentation,[46] and, like Kaleikini’s steps, a wider recognition, acknowledgment, and protection of Native Hawaiian sites.[47] One of the institutions at the center of both the celebration of Hawaiian culture and the protest against the appropriation of that culture’s artifacts is the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, a campus of buildings 4.8 kilometers northwest of the King Kamehameha Statue. There are few places on the planet at which one can learn more about Native Hawaiians and other Polynesian groups through photographs, manuscripts, and cultural objects which the museum curates and displays. However, many Native Hawaiians consider the holding of cultural artifacts and human remains to be a violation against their ancestors, and have utilized the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to challenge the Bishop Museum’s continuing to curate sacred objects and human remains.[48]

The crux of the controversy, “Brochure advertising Hawai’i, 1899” from the Bishop Museum, Ryan Reft, June 2017

One of the most anticipated days of 2017 for tens of thousands of Honolulu residents was directly connected to Native Hawaiian cultural revival: the June 17 return of the canoe Hōkūle’a to the city’s harbor, its home port. In 1973, anthropologist Ben Finney, waterman Tommy Holmes, and artist Herbert Kane created the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Honolulu and set about building the Hōkūle’a, an ocean voyaging canoe.[49] Finney later recalled that with sailing skills learned from Caroline Islands traditional navigator Mau Pialug, Hōkūle‘a’s first “voyage from Hawai‘i to Tahiti and return in 1976 helped to inspire what has become known as the Hawaiian renaissance.”[50] During the past 41 years, Hōkūle‘a has proved that Polynesians were capable of deliberately sailing long distances across the Pacific and settling previously uninhabited islands. The project has also led other Polynesian cultures to build and sail similar traditional canoes, prompted cultural revivals among other indigenous peoples, and inspired native peoples in every port in to which it has sailed.[51]

Hōkūle‘a is also deeply connected to two other primary agents of the Hawaiian Renaissance. Immortalized on a small plaque on board the canoe is Eddie Aikau, a big wave surfer and the first lifeguard at O‘ahu’s Waimea Bay, who died after Hōkūle‘a capsized in 1978 off of the island of Lāna‘i; Aikau sought help by paddling to shore on his surfboard, but disappeared, prompting Hōkūle‘a’s navigator, Nainoa Thompson, to note that “at a deeper level, Eddie tried to rescue not only the crew of the Hōkūle‘a but the symbolism and dignity of the canoe because he knew it carried the pride of his people.”[52] Surfer Mark Foo, commenting that Aikau enjoyed engaging particularly large swells, noted that “Eddie would go,” a phrase which has become inspirational to Native Hawaiians that one will find on bumper stickers and tattoos, and in graffiti, around Honolulu.[53]

Kuhio Day
Example of burgeoning Hawaiian pride in the early 1970s, “Kuhio Day from the Metropolitan Community Church of Hawaii in Honolulu”, circa 1971, Frank Kameny Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Hōkūle‘a also has a unique connection to Honolulu native Israel Ka‘ano‘i Kamakawiwo’ole, a noted ukulele player who initially rose to fame as part of the music group Makaha Sons Of Ni‘ihau. Although Iz propelled himself to international acclaim as a solo artist with his one-take melding of Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World,” it was his recording of the song “Hawai‘i 78,” in which Iz asks how the monarchs would feel seeing condominiums and freeways on their sacred Honolulu lands, struck a cord with many Native Hawaiians and helped to propel his album, “Facing Future,” to its status as the best-selling Hawaiian music album in history. When Iz died at age 38 from complications due to his obesity in 1997, the state ordered flags flown at half-mast, and Iz’s body was laid in state in Hawai‘i’s Capitol Building.[54] After his body was cremated, Honolulu residents gathered along the city’s beaches. Iz’s producer Jon de Mello, who was on board the Hōkūle’a, recalled that “all the big semi-trucks on the island of O’ahu had their air horns blowing. And from the ocean we could hear the echo, the bounce off the mountain ranges.”[55] Then, from the Hōkūle‘a, Iz’s ashes were thrown into the Pacific and the winds offshore of his hometown.

Hawai‘i’s is a state of unique towns, such as Hanalei on Kaua‘i, Hale‘iwa and Makaha on O’ahu, Kalaupapa on Molokai’i, Lahaina and Hāna on Maui, and Hilo and Kailua-Kona on Hawai‘i Island. Together they collectively offer a sense of the kingdom’s, and state’s, culture, history, and natural beauty. But only Honolulu is a true urban center, a place contested in its meanings, confronted with many of the ills and challenges of other American and global cities, but truly unique among the world’s centers of population. I highly recommend a skateboard as a means of seeing the city on an intimate scale. Of course walking or cycling would be great too, as would a traditional Polynesian canoe or a surfboard.

H. Gelfand is Associate Professor of History, Honors, and Interdisciplinary Studies at James Madison University. He teaches courses on topics such as sports, the environment, and San Francisco, and his current research focuses on surfing and the environmental movement and on Robert F. Kennedy’s civil rights advocacy.  Gelfand is also the chair of the Bergen County (New Jersey) Historical Society Historic Preservation Committee, and since June 2016 has been a student of Hawaiian language.

[1] Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Elbert, Hawaiian Dictionary (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986); United States Census Bureau Statistics for Honolulu County, Hawai’i, 2016, (accessed 22 June 2017).

[2] See, for example, Haunani-Kay Trask, From A Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai’i (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1999).

[3] David Sherrod, “Hawaiian Islands, Geology,” in Rosemary Gillespie and David Clague, Encyclopedia of Islands (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), p. 406.

[4] Carolyn Anderson, Television Histories (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001), pgs. 143-144.

[5] Michael Tsai, “Oil Continues To Flow From The USS Arizona,” Honolulu Star Advertiser, 30 November 2016; Michael Ruane, “After 74 Years, Bones From Pearl Harbor Tomb Ship May Be Identified,” Washington Post, 6 December 2015; Kathy Ferguson and Phyllis Turnbull, Oh, Say, Can You See: The Semiotics of the Military in Hawai’i (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).

[6] Shane Cuomo, “Hickam Quiet On This December 7,” Air Force Print News, 7 December 2005.

[7] “The Economic Contribution of Waikiki,” State of Hawai’i Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism, 2003.

[8] Gaye Chan and Andrea Feeser, Waikīkī: A History of Forgetting and Remembering (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2006), p. 5.

[9] “Two Natives With Outrigger Canoes At Shoreline, Honolulu, Hawai’i,” photograph, 1920, Library of Congress, (accessed 28 June 2017); Photograph of Native Hawaiian Surfer, photograph 1, in Claire Martin, “Surfboard Design, Catching A Wave From Old Hawai’i,” New York Times, 21 December 2013, Business Section p. 3.

[10] Joel Smith, The Illustrated Atlas of Surfing History: Wave Riding from Antiquity to Gidget (Waipahu: Island Heritage Publishing, 2016), pgs. 85-88.

[11] Jack London, The Cruise of the Snark (New York: Macmillan, 1911); Smith, The Illustrated Atlas of Surfing History, pgs. 90-91. On Duke Kahanamoku, see Gary Osmond, “‘Modest Monuments’: Postage Stamps, Duke Kahanamoku, and Hierarchies of Social Memory, Journal of Pacific History (Vol. 43, No. 3, December 2008), pgs. 313-329.

[12] Chan and Feeser, Waikiki, p. 84; Derek Paiva, “A Look Back at Hawai’i’s Earliest, Most Historic Hotels,” Hawai’i Magazine (online version, 23 December 2016, accessed 3 July 2017).

[13] “Royal and Moana Hotel at Waikiki Beach,” photograph, 1935, in “Aloha Hawaii Scrapbook,” University of Hawaii at Manoa Hawaiian Rare Photograph Collection, (accessed 26 June 2017).

[14] Glenn Wharton, The Painted King: Art, Activism, and Authenticity in Hawai’i (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2012), pgs. 81-86; Gavan Daws, “Honolulu In The Nineteenth Century: Notes on the Emergence of Urban Society in Hawai’i,” The Journal of Pacific History (Vol. 2, 1967), p. 77.

[15] Jennifer Thigpen, Island Queens And Mission Wives: How Gender and Empire Remade Hawai’i’s Pacific World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014), pgs. 10-29.

[16] The Hawai’i Supreme Court case is Baehr v. Miike, Supreme Court of Hawai’i, 910 P.2d 112 (1996), 80 Hawai’i 314.

[17] Alexander Burns, “Hawai’i Sues To Block Trump Travel Ban; First Challenge To Order,” New York Times, 9 March 2017, p. A13; “Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana’ole Federal Building and U. S. Courthouse,” General Services Administration,

(accessed 29 June 2017); Charlie Savage, “Sessions Dismisses Hawai’i As ‘An Island In The Pacific,’” New York Times, 21 April 2017, p. A15.

[18] Gavan Daws, “Honolulu In The Nineteenth Century: Notes on the Emergence of Urban Society in Hawai’i,” The Journal of Pacific History (Vol. 2, 1967), p. 81.

[19] Gary McDonogh and Cindy Wong, “Beside Downtown: Global Chinatowns,” in Marina Peterson and Gary McDonogh, eds., Global Downtowns (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), p. 278; James Mohr, Plague And Fire: Battling Black Death and the Burning of Honolulu’s Chinatown (New York City: Oxford University Press, 2005).

[20] Frederick Lau, “Serenading The Ancestors: Chinese Qingming Festival in Honolulu,” Yearbook for Tradtional Music (Vol. 36, 2004), pgs. 130-132.

[21] Ines Miyares, “Expressing ‘Local Culture’ in Hawai’i,” Geographical Review (Vol. 98, No. 4, October 2008), p. 524; Samuel Yamashita, “The Significance of Hawai’i Regional Cuisine in Postcolonial Hawai’i” in Ku Robert Ji-Song, Manalansan Martin, and Anita Mannur, Eating Asian American: A Food Studies Reader (New York City: New York University Press, 2013); Rachel Laudan, The Food Of Paradise: Exploring Hawai’i’s Culinary Heritage (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1996).

[22] Lorin Gill, “After 57 Years, ‘Ono Hawaiian Foods Is Closing For Good,” Honolulu Magazine, 28 June 2017

(accessed 28 June 2017).

[23] John Andrew, Rebuilding The Christian Commonwealth: New England Congregationalists and Foreign Missions, 1800-1830 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1976), pgs. 151-170.

[24] Jennifer Fish Kashay, “From Kapus To Christianity: The Disestablishment of the Hawaiian Religion and Chiefly Appropriation of Calvinist Christianity,” Western Historical Quarterly (Vol. 39, No. 1, Spring 2008), pgs. 19-27.

[25] Elizabeth Buck, Paradise Remade: The Politics of Culture and History in Hawai’i (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993), pgs. 101-120; Isaiah Walker, Waves Of Resistance: Surfing and History in Twentieth-Century Hawai’i (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2011), pgs. 26-27.

[26] Laurel Spencer Forsythe, “Anglo-Hawaiian Building in Early Nineteenth Century Hawai’i,” Perspectives In Vernacular Architecture (Vol. 6, 1997), pgs. 161-173.

[27] Rosa Lowinger, “Conserving Otto Piene’s Kinetic-Light Sculptures in the Hawai’i State Capitol,” APT Bulletin: The Journal of Preservation Technology (Vol. 42, No. 2/3, 2011), p. 39.

[28] Charles Peterson, “The Iolani Palaces and the Barracks,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (Vol. 22, No. 2, May 1963), 91-103; Randall Biallas, “Building Automation System at Ionali Palace, Honolulu, Hawai’i,” Bulletin of the Association for Preservation Technology (Vol. 13, No. 1, 1981), pgs. 7-8.

[29] Jon Van Dyke, Who Owns The Crown Lands of Hawai’i? (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2008), pgs. 96-99, 118-120; Adrienne Kaeppler, “Festivals Of Pacific Arts: Venues for Rituals of Identity,” Pacific Arts (No. 25, December 2002), pgs. 12-14; Ben Finney, “Surfing In Ancient Hawai’i,” Journal of the Polynesian Society (Vol. 68, No. 4, December 1959), pgs. 330-331.

[30] Amy Stillman, “Hawaiian Hula Competitions: Event, Repertoire, Performance, Tradition,” Journal of American Folklore (Vol. 109, No. 434, Autumn 1996), pgs. 357-380.

[31] Carol MacLennan, Sovereign Sugar: Industry and Environment in Hawai’i (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2014), pgs. 233-236.

[32] Miriam Fuchs, “The Diaries of Queen Lili’uokalani,” Profession (1995), pgs. 38-40.

[33] Lydia Kualapai, “The Queen Writes Back: Lili’uokalani’s Hawai’i’s Story By Hawai’i’s Queen,” Studies in American Indian Literatures (Vol. 17, No. 2, Summer 2005), pgs. 32-62.

[34] Jon Van Dyke, Who Owns The Crown Lands of Hawai’i? (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2008), p. 178.

[35] Sam Warner, “ ‘Kuleana’: The Right, Responsibility, and Authority of Indigenous Peoples to Speak and Make Decisions for Themselves in Language and Cultural Revitalization,” Anthropology and Education Quarterly (Vol. 30, No. 1, March 1999), pgs. 70-74.

[36] Virginia Price, “Washington Place: Harboring American Claims, Housing Hawaiian Culture,” Buildings And Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum (Vol. 16, No. 2, Fall 2009), pgs. 48-72.

[37] Lili’uokalani, “My Own Nation,” in Daniel Cobb, ed., Say We Are Nations: Documents of Politics and Protest in Indigenous America Since 1877 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015), pgs. 13-18; Jim Tanquanda and John King, The ‘Ukulele: A History (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2012), pgs. 28-33; Malcolm Chun, No Ma Mamo: Traditional and Contemporary Hawaiian Beliefs and Practices (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2011), pgs. 42-45.

[38] Molly Solomon, “Once Lost, Internment Camp In Hawai’i Now National Monument,” “Code Switch,” National Public Radio, 16 March 2015.

[39] Gregg Kakesako, “65 Years, 1 Legacy: Weekend Activities Honor the World War II Service of Japanese Americans,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 30 March 2008, p.1.

[40] Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit Route Map, (accessed 30 June 2017).

[41] “Plans For Hawaiian Highway Hit Snag Over Ancient Burial Ground,” New York Times, 25 November 1985; Adam Nagourney, “After 40-Year Battle, Train May Roll For O’ahu,” New York Times, 4 January 2012, p. A10; Adam Nagourney, “Hawaii Struggles To Keep Rail Project From Becoming A Boondoggle,” New York Times, 21 March 2016, p. A10.

[42] Tiffany Hill, “Meet Paulette Kaleikini: The Woman Who Stopped The Rail,” Honolulu Magazine, 25 June 2013 (accessed 28 June 2017); Mark Abramson, “Hawaii Supreme Court Overturns Ruling On Burials Along Honolulu Rail Route,” Pacific Business News, 24 August 2012 (accessed 28 June 2017); Mischa Wanek-Libman, “Hawai’i Approves Transit Archaeological Survey; Construction Could Begin In A Month,” Railway Track And Structure News, 10 August 2013

(accessed 28 June 2017). The court case is Paulette Ka’anohiookalani Kaleikini v. Wayne Yoshioka et al, 24 August 2012, Supreme Court of Hawai’i, No. SCAP-11-0000611.

[43] Tiffany Hill, “Meet Paulette Kaleikini: The Woman Who Stopped The Rail,” Honolulu Magazine, 25 June 2013 (accessed 28 June 2017).

[44] See, for example: Janis Magin, “Occupation Of Palace Area Invigorates Native Hawaiian Movement,” New York Times, 3 May 2008, p. A14; John Titchen, “Anniversary Stirs Hawaii Sovereignty Movement,” New York Times, 18 January 1993; Haunani-Kay Trask, “Feminism And Indigenous Hawaiian Nationalism,” Signs (Vol. 21, No. 4, Summer 1996), pgs. 909-916.

[45] See, for example: Laiana Wong, “Authenticity And The Revitalization Of Hawaiian,” Anthropology and Education Quarterly (Vol. 30, No. 1, March 1999), pgs. 94-115; Suzanne Romaine, “Signs Of Identity, Signs Of Discord: Glottal Goofs and the Green Grocer’s Glottal in Debates on Hawaiian Orthography,” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology (Vol. 12, No. 2, December 2002), pgs. 189-224; Chieko Tachihata, “Hawaiian Sovereignty,” The Contemporary Pacific (Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 1994), pgs. 202-210.

[46] See, for example: Stephanie Teves, “Tradition And Performance,” in Stephanie Teves, Andrea Smith, and Michelle Raheja, eds., Native Studies Keywords (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2015), pgs. 257-269; John Troutman, Kika Kila: How The Steel Guitar Changed The Sound Of Modern Music (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016), pgs. 200-206; Fay Akindes, “‘Na Mele Paleoleo’ (Hawaiian Rap) As Liberatory Discourse,” Discourse (Vol. 23, No. 1, Winter 2011), pgs. 82-98.

[47] See, for example: Greg Johnson, “Caring For Depressed Cultural Sites, Hawaiian Style,” in Lindsay Jones and Richard Shiels, eds., The Newark Earthworks: Enduring Monuments, Contested Meanings (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016), pgs. 262-276; Davianna McGregor, Nā Kua’aina: Living Hawaiian Culture (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2007); Scott Fisher, “Hawaiian Culture And Its Foundation In Sustainability,” in Jennifer Chirico and Gregory Farley, eds., Thinking Like An Island: Navigating A Sustainable Future In Hawai’i (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2015), pgs. 7-27.

[48] See, for example: Greg Johnson, “Ancestors Before Us: Manifestations Of Tradition In a Hawaiian Dispute,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion (Vol. 71, No. 2, June 2003), pgs. 327-346; Greg Johnson, “Naturally There: Discourses of Permanence in the Repatriation Context,” History of Religions (Vol. 44, No. 1, August 2004), pgs. 36-55; Greg Johnson, “Social Lives Of The Dead: Contestation and Continuities in the Hawaiian Repatriation Context,” in Marc Ross, Culture And Belonging In Divided Societies: Contestation and Symbolic Landscapes (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), pgs. 45-67.

[49] William Grimes, “Ben Finney, Anthropologist Who Debunked Theory On Island Settlement, Dies At 83,” New York Times, 18 June 2017, p. A23; Douglas Martin, “Kawika Kapahulehua Dies; Hawaiian Seafarer Was 76,” New York Times, 27 May 2007, p. A32.

[50]Ben Finney, “The Sin At Awarua,” The Contemporary Pacific (Vol. 11, No. 1, Spring 1999), p. 6.

[51] Ben Finney, Sailing In The Wake Of The Ancestors: Reviving Polynesian Voyaging (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 2004); Nainoa Thompson, “Hōkūle’a’s Voyage Of Hope,” 28 March 2017, Patagonia Books, (accessed 30 June 2017).

[52] Isaiah Walker, Waves Of Resistance: Surfing and History in Twentieth-Century Hawai’i (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2011), pgs. 115-122.

[53] See, for example: Stuart Coleman, Eddie Would Go: The Story of Eddie Aikau, Hawaiian Hero (New York: Random House, 2004); Brook Sutton, “‘Eddie Would Go’ Is About So Much More Than Sending It,” “Adventure Journal” Blog, 14 July 2016

(accessed 30 June 2017).

[54] Jim Tranquada and John King, The ‘Ukulele: A History (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2012), pgs. 157-158.

[55] Renee Montagne, “Israel Kamakawiwo’ole: The Voice of Hawai’i,” National Public Radio, 9 March 2011.

Member of the Week: John Fairfield

Fairfield head shotJohn D. Fairfield

Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

I’m currently working on several projects. I recently drafted an essay on my late friend/mentor/editor Zane L. Miller called “’The Metropolitan Mode of Thought’: Zane L. Miller and the History of Ideas.” I hope it will be part of a retrospective on Miller’s career (including several excerpts from the unfinished manuscript he left behind) that I am working on with Larry Bennett and Patty Mooney-Melvin. I’m also writing something on Jesuit pedagogy and education for sustainability for a project that my Xavier colleague Kathleen Smythe is heading up. With my students, I’ve recently finished a little history of Oakley (a Cincinnati neighborhood) and am working on another one on Avondale (another Cincinnati neighborhood). I’m currently finishing an article on “The City Beautiful Movement, 1890-1920” for The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. That last work intersects with my current book project on urban sustainability and human ecology. The basic argument is that urban sustainability is not a new thing. The success or failure of cities has always depended on their ability to construct productive ecologies and to manage precarious settlements. We have not, however, fully developed the knowledge of human ecology that should guide those efforts. I think what unites all my interests, from the beginning, is urban space. I did a book on city planning, a book on public experience, and now human ecology; urban space is there in all that.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

Most of my teaching is in two programs at Xavier, the Philosophy, Politics, and the Public honors program (PPP) and the M.A. in urban sustainability and resilience (MA URS) that I designed and co-direct with my colleague Elizabeth Blume (a former city planner in Dayton and Cincinnati). In the PPP program, I teach a course called “Constructing the Public” that examines political culture, political philosophy, and urban experience and a course called “Writing in Public” that explores the historical and philosophical roots of contemporary issues (the subject changes every semester as the course is blocked with a political science course where the students engage in legislative politics, trying to advance an issue). In the MA URS program, I teach a course called “Urban Ecologies and Urban Economies” that looks at the intersections, collisions, and synergies between urban ecologies and economies. I also teach (with a member of the City of Cincinnati’s Planning Department, James Weaver) a course on Urban History, Geography, and GIS. Weaver does the heavy lifting in that class, teaching the students how to use the ArcGIS software. My role in the PPP program came out of the work I did for my book The Public and Its Possibilities: Triumphs and Tragedies in the American City (Temple University Press, 2010). The MA URS courses come out of my current research on urban sustainability and human ecology.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

I recall as a young faculty member hearing senior faculty describe work for encyclopedias and other research guides as the grunt work of the profession (they sometimes used a less gentle adjective). But I’ve always enjoyed doing such work and I believe it gets read more than anything else I write. A recent piece I did on “Green Cities and Sustainability” for The CQ Press Guide for Urban Politics and Policy in the United States (CQ Press, 2016) gives me great satisfaction. It also has provided me with something of a blueprint for my current book project. But the work I am most anxious to see is my partner and Xavier colleague Rachel Chrastil’s “historical companion to childlessness in the 21st century” (currently under review). Although I’ve lived a “child-full” life (having four children and now a grandson), I find Rachel’s work to be illuminating about all the most important things about life, from enjoying it and making a contribution to finding meaning and leaving a legacy. It’s a book we very much need today, not least because if we are to seriously address our mounting environmental challenges, childlessness is likely to be an experience that more and more people share in the coming years.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies? 

Well, I’d tell them it’s the right place to be. If you recall the talk about imbrication and the dangers of meta-narratives and interdisciplinarity and all that, cities demand it. They are so complex, so many things are always going on, there are so many dimensions to everything, that you can never be tempted by mono-causation or totalizing narratives. History and especially historians can never have the whole urban story and so you must branch out into philosophy, sociology, political science, literary theory, economics, ecology, and so much more. I’d also tell them about something I read long ago, when I was in graduate school. I believe it appeared in the Journal of Urban History, in Bruce Stave’s interview of Sam Bass Warner, Jr. (the first one, in 1974, although I just looked it up and couldn’t find the passage). But Warner (or whomever it was) essentially said it takes all kinds, just write what you can, there is no one way to do history. Here was this giant of the profession saying that and I didn’t know what I could write, if anything, but that sounded encouraging; write what I can, there’s all sorts of contributions to make. I later got the same thing from Elvis Costello, in an interview about his anti-capital punishment song, “Let Him Dangle,” where he said we all have to find our own way to contribute. It takes all kinds; write what you can. Read and write and talk and read and write some more.

What’s your favorite history book to recommend to non-historians?

The book that drove me back to graduate school to study cities was Robert Caro’s biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker. I was just out of college, working as a glorified clerk (a “paralegal”) at a big-time New York City law firm with a roster of evil clients. I took that book everywhere I went in the city and read it every spare minute I got, cover to cover. Sure, it suffers from the great man theory of history and perhaps isn’t entirely fair to Moses, but what a story, what a canvas. I went to many of the places Caro wrote about (some of them on one of Ken Jackson’s early midnight bicycle tours) and it fired my imagination and ambition. Somewhat more recently, I’ve found Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors, Jeffrey Sanders, Seattle & the Roots of Urban Sustainability, and Andrew Needham, Power Lines to be stimulating reading. But here’s a test for any non-historian. Take a look at three very different books, Mike Davis, City of Quartz, Robert Sklar, Movie-Made America, and Daniel Walker Howe, The Political Culture of American Whigs. If you don’t find something in at least one of those books that you find fascinating, then maybe you just don’t like history.