Waikīkī (water spurting from many sources) was once a vast marshland whose boundaries encompassed more than 2,000-acres (as compared to its present 500-acres we call Waikīkī, today). Three main valleys and the respective streams of Makiki, Mānoa, and Pālolo watered the marshland below. Beginning in the 1400s, a vast system of irrigated taro fields and fish ponds were constructed. Nearly 85% of present Waikīkī (most of the land west of the present Lewers Street or mauka of Kalākaua) were in wetland agriculture or aquaculture.
The preeminence of Waikīkī continued into the eighteenth century, as illustrated by Kamehameha’s decision to reside there. In the 1860s and 1870s, former Asian sugar plantation workers (Japanese and Chinese) replaced the taro and farmed the wetlands in rice fields, also raising fish and ducks in the ponds. Drainage problems started to develop in Waikīkī from the late nineteenth century because of urbanization. During the first decade of the 20th century, the US War Department started filling in the fishponds, pumping fill from the ocean continuously for nearly a year in order to build up an area on which permanent structures could be built. During the 1920s, the Waikīkī landscape would be transformed when the construction of the Ala Wai Drainage Canal (completed in 1928).