The first moving pictures were first publicly shown in Hawaiʻi in February 1897. A little over a decade later, the ‘cameraphone’ arrived, it was “the picture machine that sings and talks”. (Hawaiian Start, January 18, 1909)
“Harry Werner and his wife Leona Clifton leave in the SS Alameda on Wednesday next for the mainland … Werner will devote his attention abroad to the cameraphone, a device producing the effect of talking-moving pictures and which he may bring to Honolulu later.” (Hawaiian Star, September 12, 1908)
“Harry Werner was an incoming passenger on the SS Lurline arriving this morning. He has been away several months and returns with a cameraphone, a moving picture novelty popular at the Coast but never introduced here.” (Hawaiian Star, January 13, 1909)
“In reproducing the picture and vocal record at exactly the same rate of movement, the moving picture machine is placed as usual at a point behind the audience at the back of the Opera House, while the talking machine is located near the screen.”
“By this means we have a perfect concordance between the two apparatus. This great novelty will open in the Opera House next Saturday evening. Seats are on sale … Prices 15¢, 25¢, 35¢ and 50¢.” (Evening Bulletin, January 21, 1909)
“Tonight the Cameraphone will make its first how to a Honolulu audience. The program selected is sure to please as it made up of operatic trio, duets and solos, as well as vaudeville acts and dramatic numbers.” (Evening Bulletin, January 23, 1909)
And so the modern movie phenomenon began.
By 1910, a dozen nickelodeons were operating in downtown Honolulu, including the Savoy. The Liberty, the first modern, “fireproof” theatre, opened on Nuʻuanu Street in 1912. Others opened.
In 1911, many of the independent theatres joined forces and formed the Honolulu Amusement Company; it was later renamed Consolidated Amusement, eventually operating more than three dozen theatres at its peak and became the Islands’ largest theatre chain (first under J Albert Magoon, then his son, John Henry Magoon.) (Angell)
J Alfred Magoon was a prominent Honolulu lawyer and promoter of the Honolulu Consolidated Amusement Co. (which controlled the Bijou, Hawaii, Ye Liberty and Empire theatres at Honolulu.) (Variety, 1916)
“Articles of incorporation were filed today by the Consolidated Amusement Company Ltd. … The incorporators are GT Chong, president, who holds 1,498 shares of the stock; J Alfred Magoon, vice president, holding 1,498 shares of stock; Robert McGreer, treasurer, holding one share; John Henry Magoon, secretary, holding one share, and William H. Campbell, holding one share. L Abrams is named as auditor.” (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, October 5, 1912)
Joel C Cohen was instrumental in the organization of the Honolulu Amusement Co., Ltd., in which were consolidated a number of moving picture houses. He became president and manager of the Consolidated Amusement Co., Ltd., in 1913; he also operated a motion picture exchange which supplied all the theaters of the Territory with films.
Back then, movie going was not the near-dawn to waay-dark, 7-days-a-week phenomenon that it seems to be today. “… a law was passed in this past legislative session giving the responsibility to the board of supervisors of each county to make laws to approve showing movies on the Sabbath; the Consolidated Amusement Company put a request before the board of supervisors of the City and County of Honolulu at the meeting of that board on this past Tuesday night, to ask for approval to show movies on Sundays.” (Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, May 14, 1915) (Sunday performances were allowed May 23, 1915.)
Downtown Honolulu’s Hawaiʻi and the nearby Princess theatres both opened in 1922, the biggest and fanciest the Islands had ever seen. The Dickey-designed Waikīkī Theater opened in 1936.
“… the Hawaiʻi, a class of entertainment hitherto undreamed of in the Islands. The Hawaiʻi Theatre is the home of Hawaiʻi’s people, whether living in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, Maui or Kauaʻi. It is there for your entertainment and delight whenever you visit the Queen City.” (Maui News, October 22, 1922)
But opportunities for movie entertainment were not limited to downtown Honolulu.
“Fun. Laughter. Excitement. These words describe the Kalaupapa Social Hall. Built in 1916, the hall hosted numerous recreational events and gatherings for all the residents of Kalaupapa. Isolated from the outside world both physically and socially, people needed a place for coming together, for socializing, for “talk story.” Now they had a suitable structure for hosting movies, dances, theater performances and concerts.” (Paschoal Hall, (NPS))
“Hawaiʻi, in a few brief years, has been swept from the edge of world affairs close to its vortex. And, until a very few years ago, the Territory was dependent for its amusements entirely upon such stray attractions as dropped off the steamers enroute between Orient and Occident.”
“The Consolidated Amusement Company has changed all that. It has brought the world’s best pictorial entertainment your door. And, now, it has afforded Island people, when in Honolulu the advantages of playhouse second to none in America so far as beauty and comfort is concerned.” (Maui News, October 22, 1922)
By 1929 popularity of movies caused further expansion and, to meet the demand, Consolidated Amusement began constructing neighborhood theatres that year and into the 1930s, with well over a dozen built on the Island of Oʻahu.
“Honolulu in the early 1930s was mad about the movies. … To meet the growing demand, the leading theater operators, Consolidated Amusement, built more than two dozen neighborhood and rural theaters on O‘ahu and elsewhere during the decade. Every neighborhood had one.” (Friends of Queen Theater)
“On October 9th, 1931 the first sound program was shown in the Kalaupapa theatre with the dual equipment installed by the Consolidated Amusement Co. This equipment has given complete satisfaction since its installation and an average of two programs weekly has been maintained since the initial show.” (Superintendent’s Annual Report, 1932)
“Everybody looked forward to the movies. There was nothing else to do on Monday and Friday except go to the movies unless there was a baseball game, then maybe they would go to the game and then come to the movie. But other than that, nobody misses the movie because it starts at 7:00.”
“During the War, (World War II) at one time they started it at 3:30 in order for it to get through before dark. They blacked out all the windows inside and then they showed the movie.” (Kalaupapa resident, NPS)
In all, there have been more than 400 theatres throughout the Islands. The tropical climate and social, cultural, and ethnic diversity contributed to a variety of theatre designs unique to Hawai’i — tin-roofed plantation theatres, neighborhood movie houses in exotic styles, large downtown “palaces,” and the uniquely beautiful, tropical 1936 Waikīkī Theatre. (TheatresOfHawaii)
The most famous hula movie in Hawaiʻi is not a movie at all but a “trailer” featuring torch-bearing hula dancers appearing on the screens in all Consolidated Amusements Theatres before every feature-length film.
For the last 22 years, Consolidated Amusement has run the “Hawaiʻi” trailer more than a thousand times a day on its screens across the Islands. Jon de Mello, the film’s producer, believes it is the longest running movie trailer ever made. (Fawcett)
Click HERE for Consolidated Amusement’s trailer.
The first movies actually filmed in Hawaiʻi were ‘Honolulu Street Scene,’ ‘Kanakas Diving for Money’ (two parts), and ‘Wharf Scene, Honolulu,’ all made by two Edison photographers, W Bleckyrden and James White, on May 10, 1898 while in transit through Honolulu. (Schmitt)
Keeping on the entertainment subject, television came to the Islands in late-1952. Station KGMB-TV was first with both a live program and televised motion pictures, initiating regular programming at 5:05 pm, December 1. Color television was first viewed in Hawaiʻi on May 5, 1957 at 6:30 pm, when KHVH-TV presented a program of color slides and movies. (Schmitt)
Live television broadcasting to and from the Mainland was inaugurated on November 19, 1966, when KHVH-TV used the Lani Bird communication satellite to bring the Michigan State-Notre Dame football game at East Lansing to Island viewers. (Schmitt)
The image shows Empire Theatre on Hotel Street from Bethel. (HSA, 1911.) I have added other images to a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.
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