The Hawaii Theatre is celebrating its 90th anniversary. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its excellent architectural and interior design, craftsmanship, and detailing.
The theater is a rare example of eclectic architecture that was relatively common to this area of Honolulu prior to World War II.
The theater, historically, had two primary functions. During its early years it was both a live center for the performing arts and a motion picture theater, its dual uses gradually shifted, and in later years it functioned solely as a motion picture theater.
In March, 1920, the Honolulu architectural firm of Emory and Webb was commissioned to do the design plans. On June 9, 1921, a construction contract was awarded to Pacific Engineering Company, another Hawaiian company.
Official opening of the theater was held on September 6, 1922, and was attended by Governor Wallace R. Farrington and members of the Territorial government, and members of social circles.
It is the oldest theater still remaining in Honolulu and the State of Hawaiʻi that was originally planned, built and used as a legitimate theater and concert hall.
Great pride was expressed that “the finest theater in Honolulu…is a home product.”
“Honolulu is to be congratulated on what is being done for the entertainment of its residents and visitors. It has now a most attractive and well conducted amusement place in Aloha Park and its new Hawaii Theater is as if one of the best and most attractive from the white light district of New York had been carried bodily across the continent and out into the Pacific to the Paradise of the Pacific.” (Maui News, October 3, 1922)
The theater was built at a cost of a half million dollars and was ranked with the most modern theaters in America for that period.
It was equipped with air conditioning, indirect lighting, a fire/emergency exit system, wicker chairs in the balcony and a seating capacity for 1,726 persons, and was the largest and the first modern theater in the Territory of Hawaiʻi.
The Hawaii Theatre is situated at the southwest corner of the intersection of South Pauahi and Bethel Streets in Downtown Honolulu and abuts the Chinatown Historical District.
The Hawaii Theatre opened as a showplace for vaudeville, silent films, plays, musicals, and Hawaiian entertainments. It slowly evolved into a plush movie palace until it fell on hard times in the 1970s, when Waikīkī became the entertainment destination for locals and tourists alike.
In the 1980s, concerned citizens banded together around the mission to preserve and restore the Hawaii Theatre and formed the Hawaii Theatre Center, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that owns and operates the historic Hawaii Theatre.
The Hawaii Theatre hosts approximately 100,000 patrons annually showcasing the finest in local, national, and international entertainments.
Each year the Hawaii Theatre Educational Programming Project reaches thousands of Hawaii’s children through programming geared specifically for student matinee performances. The Hawaii Theatre Center SHOWTIME! Student matinee series has drawn thousands of students to the historic theatre to experience the wonders of performance.
In 2005 the League of Historic America Theatres named it the “Outstanding Historic Theatre in America”; in 2006 the National Trust for Historic Preservation gave Hawaii Theatre its highest “Honor Award” for national preservation; and in 2006 the Hawaii Better Business Bureau presented its “Torch Award for Business Ethics” to the Hawaii Theatre Center, the first small nonprofit to receive that award.