Bakers Beach, in Hilo Bay between Reeds Bay and Pier 3 is named for prominent Hilo businessman Adam Baker. It’s manmade; the coral rubble and sand are spoil materials from the dredging operations that enlarged the Hilo Harbor basin. They were deposited on the shore here between 1925 and 1930.
The newly created beach fronted Baker’s three-story house; with its beautiful lawns, rock gardens and large fruit and shade trees, it was a famous landmark. Baker was the son of John Timoteo Baker, the last appointed governor of the Big Island under the Hawaiian monarchy. (Clark)
“When Adam Baker and some of the oriental moving picture managers approached the Sheriff and asked for the needed permit for Sunday shows, he turned his back to their request and answered, ‘There’s nothing doin’ …”
“And ‘nothing doin’’ it was for July 4, the first Sunday on which the law was in effect, despite the tearful pleas of the theater men, who saw many dimes and quarters going astray, amid the holiday crowd in town, because there were no movies to be seen.” (Hawaiian Gazette, July 13, 1915)
That didn’t stop Baker in the theater business; with the Empire across the street and the Gaiety and others nearby, on October 26, 1925, at 6:30 pm, the New Palace opened its doors to an eager crowd, showing its first movie at 7:30, ‘Don Q: Son of Zorro,’ starring Douglas Fairbanks. Also shown were the short films ‘The Clodhopper’ and ‘Traps and Troubles.’ (Haleamau)
The New Palace Theater, part of a small family of theaters owned and operated by Adam Charles Baker (1881-1948) was built at the peak of the heyday for American movie palaces.
Baker’s New Palace was built on a scale that had never been seen outside of Honolulu. The original stadium seating arrangement on a sloped floor, predating stadium seating in modern theaters, accommodated 800 seats and allowed for unobstructed sight lines.
The building was constructed of redwood imported from the Pacific Northwest. (Valentine) Fourteen huge redwood columns supported the wooden roof trusses which span the entire width of the building.
Designed and built in the days before electronic sound amplification systems, the Palace boasts excellent natural acoustics for live musical groups and drama.
The early shows were silent films; in 1929, a 3-manual (keyboards,) 7-rank (sets of pipes) Robert-Morton pipe organ was built in Van Nuys, California, shipped and installed in the Palace Theater. Shortly after, Johnny DeMello became the house organist, accompanying the silent films and giving other performances.
The Empire was first to exhibit a talkie, ‘The Voice of the City,’ in Hilo on October 9, 1929. The New Palace’s first talkie, shown on October, 16, was ‘Mary Pickford’s Coquette’ (Pickford’s talkie debut). Management of the two theaters decided to take turns exhibiting silent and talkie movies. (Haleamau)
In 1931, The Palace Theater was sold to Consolidated Amusements, Ltd and closed shortly thereafter for renovation; Consolidated began showing first run movies. Baker continued on as the New Palace’s assistant manager, but retired on January 9, 1932, to travel.
By December 10, 1937, the Palace became not only the first theater, but the first building on the island to be fully air-conditioned when WA Ramsay Ltd., installed a Carrier system.
The Palace would close for renovation once more on April 25, 1940, after that night’s showing of ‘All Women Have Secrets’ (the movie debut of Jeanne Cagney, younger sister of James). It reopened on May 26, 1940. (Haleamau)
That year, the pipe organ (and Johnny DeMello) moved from the Palace Theater to the Hilo Theater (which opened on April 25, 1940 with 1,037 seats.) A few years later (1946,) a massive tsunami hit the Hilo Theater and damaged the organ console.
Johnny returned to Honolulu and in 1955 he was appointed house organist at the Waikiki Theatre and played there until his retirement in 1978.
The organ console was removed and sent to Honolulu for repairs. Unfortunately, in 1960, a second tsunami hit Hilo, and the Hilo Theater. The organ console was washed over the seats to the auditorium back wall where it broke apart.
Hilo Theater closed for good following the tsunami and the building was demolished in 1965. The Palace Theater survived the two tsunami. However, in 1984, Palace Theater closed and was used as Consolidated Theaters’ storage of the highly flammable film in a vault.
In 1990, the building was acquired from Consolidated and structural repairs were undertaken. For the past 10+ years, the non-profit ‘Friends of the Palace Theater’ has worked to restore and upgrade the theater building.
And, through numerous grants, business and individual donations, and a lot of hard work, the theater is open with independent films, concerts and other live performances. (Fundraising and further restoration are ongoing.) (Lots of information here is from Hilo Palace and Haleamau.)