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Before the Ala Wai

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).

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Jimmy Mann

The day after Jimmy Mann arrived in Hawaii in 1916, he was penniless. The first night he had met “Doc” Hill and lost $4.40, all he had to his name, in a “friendly crap game.” During the nearly 41 years since, James B. Mann has become one of the Territory’s best-known engineers. And in the process he has more than recouped that first night’s loss.

He drew the first design for the Ala Wai drainage canal and Kapiolani Blvd. He was engineer for the first concrete road on the Big Island through the forest reserve from Waiakea to Ola‘a. He was in private practice as a civil engineer and surveyor for subdivisions, boundary determinations, land court titles, and the like.

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Timeline Tuesday … 1920s

Today’s ‘Timeline Tuesday’ takes us through the 1920s – dredging of the Ala Wai Canal, Hawaiian Pineapple buys Lāna‘i, billboards outlawed and Honolulu Hale is completed. We look at what was happening in Hawai‘i during this time period and what else was happening around the rest of the world.

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Ala Wai Canal

A son of Mā’ilikūkahi (who ruled about the time Columbus crossed the Atlantic) was Kalona-nui, who in turn had a son called Kalamakua. Kalamakua is

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Ala Moana Center

In ancient times, the area was known as Kālia – an ʻili in the ahupuaʻa of Waikīkī – that runs from the present Halekūlani Hotel

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