Hard as it may be to conceive today, in the 1880s the entire area near ʻAʻala Park and the OR&L train station (now a Human Services Building) was under water. The original 1889 OR&L station was built on stilts and the train tracks ran on hastily-placed fill.
Just ʻEwa of Chinatown was swampy lowland bordered Nuʻuanu Stream; it was an area that many wished to see developed. It used to include private lands that were conveyed to the Minister of Interior in 1871.
On May 14, 1898, the Republic of Hawaiʻi officially adopted “an act to convert land at Kaliu … into free public recreation grounds, and to maintain the same as such under the supervision of the Minister of the Interior.”
They called the nearly 4-acres “River Park.” (The Territorial government confirmed the same in 1915.)
The project was underway in 1898, with the masonry work completed the following year walling in Nuʻuanu stream’s banks, allowing sand and rocks to be brought in. Nuʻuanu Stream formed the Waikīkī boundary of the new park, and Chinatown the other three sides.
Reportedly, it was announced in 1900, when it was decided the park should be converted from “a barren waste composed of harbor dredging into a resort of beauty.”
Bounded on one side by Nuʻuanu Stream and by Chinatown – with its laundries, shops, slaughterhouses, rail yards, piers and tenements – on the other three sides, the park was born.
Later named ʻAʻala Park (officially, ʻAʻala International Park,) it featured a bandstand and two baseball diamonds and baseball became the park’s defining image. The ʻAʻala Park comfort station, built in 1916, was the first public restroom in Honolulu.
ʻAʻala Park, dedicated to “Almighty Baseball” in 1902, evolved as a result of insistent public clamor that called for filling in this marshy section of lwilei.
Avid fans came out to watch their local teams – the Honolulus, the Kamehamehas, the Punahous, the Athletes and the Maile Ilimas (the top five teams in 1902.)
Later, Japanese and Chinese leagues were formed. “ʻAʻala Park is a public park where baseball is almost constantly in progress.” (Schnack)
On a week-end afternoon during the 1900s, two games would often be in progress at the same time. Japanese push carts bristling with soda water bottles, peanuts, cigars, cakes and candy, served the spectators rain or shine. (Saga – Scott)
Horse drawn hacks, filled with boisterous participants and excited onlookers, converged upon ʻAʻala from all parts of Honolulu. Umbrellas sprouted like magic when showers moved down Nuʻuanu Valley, folded with the clouds passing, and then reappeared when the mid-day sun beat mercilessly down. (Saga – Scott)
The park, one of the oldest in Hawaiʻi, benefitted from the first project of the then newly-formed Outdoor Circle (TOC;) founded by Mrs. Frederick J. (Cherilla) Lowrey, Miss Frances Lawrence, Mrs. Charles M. (Anna Rice) Cooke, Mrs. Henry (Ida) Waterhouse, Mrs. George (Laura) Sherman, Mrs. Isaac M. (Catharine) Cox and Miss Kulamanu Ward, TOC’s mission was to “Keep Hawai‘i clean, green and beautiful.”
The Outdoor Circle’s maiden project (1912) was the planting of twenty two monkey-pod trees “to shade the children’s play space,” this being the City’s first playground.
ʻAʻala also boasted a sizeable bandstand ʻEwa of the baseball diamonds with a two-story tenement conveniently overlooking the activity. Although political rallies were regularly held at the Park, the name ʻAʻala to Honoluluan’s was synonymous with baseball. (Saga – Scott)
Until 1947, the train ran from Kaʻena Point into Honolulu, with the line ending directly across from ʻAʻala Park. “Every day the train would leave here, go down to Kaʻena Point, go to Kahuku, go load up the sugar and pineapple in Waialua area, come around the point, stop in Makua to pick up cattle if they had cattle and load up the sugar and go back to town.” (HawaiiHistory)
Chinatown and ʻAʻala Park were the meeting place for urban and rural, land and sea, work and leisure, and cultures from all over the world. (HawaiiHistory)
Half a century later, most of what is known as the ʻAʻala Triangle consisted of slum housing, dance halls, pool rooms and a dilapidated three-story building that housed the ʻAʻala Pawn Shop, at the point of North King and Beretania streets.
Then, in the late-1960s, every structure in the triangle was razed and the entire 4-acre wedge transformed into a landscaped “gateway to Honolulu.” That’s when the City and County of Honolulu (City) asked that the land be conveyed to the City.
By the 1980s, the homeless had returned, along with a growing number of drug dealers, prostitutes and what Honolulu City representatives referred to as other “unsavory elements.” Last time I looked, it’s still a magnet for the homeless.
(Lots of information here is from Saga by Scott, Honolulu-The Story of OR&L and HawaiiHistory-org. The image shows ʻAʻala Park (Saga, Scott.))
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Bobby Command says
The more I think about urban renewal in Honolulu in the 1950s and 60s the more I recognize the embedded racism that drove it. The Housing Act of 1949 and its consequences across the nation still affect us today, and we are poorer as a people because of it.