In 1899, the coastal road from Honolulu Harbor to Waikīkī, formerly called the “Beach Road,” was renamed “Ala Moana.”
At the beginning of the twentieth-century, this stretch of coast makai of Ala Moana Boulevard was the site of the Honolulu garbage dump, which burned almost continually. The residue from burned rubbish was used to reclaim neighboring wetlands (which later were more commonly referred to as “swamp lands.”)
In the 1920s, Kewalo Basin was constructed and by the 1930s was the main berthing area for the sampan fleet and also the site of the tuna cannery, fish auction, shipyard, ice plant, fuel dock and other shore-side facilities.
In 1928, a channel was dredged through the coral reef to connect the Ala Wai Boat Harbor and the Kewalo Basin, so boats could travel between the two. Part of the dredge material helped to reclaim swampland that was filled in with dredged coral.
When the area became a very popular swimming beach, the channel was closed to boat traffic.
The City and County of Honolulu started cleaning up the Ala Moana area in 1931. They used funds provided by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal Project to create a city park in the Ala Moana area.
Back in the early twentieth century, most playgrounds consisted of large areas of pavement used to get children off of the street and had no aesthetic value.
In 1933, Harry Sims Bent was chosen as the park architect for the City and County of Honolulu. Bent’s design went beyond the modern level and into the realm of art deco, allowing for play, as well as contact with nature. His works at Ala Moana include the canal bridge, entrance portals, sports pavilion, banyan courtyard and the lawn bowling green.
President Roosevelt participated in the dedication of the new 76-acre “Moana Park” in 1934 (it was later renamed Ala Moana Park in 1947.) During his visit to the islands, Roosevelt also planted a kukui tree on the grounds of the ʻIolani Palace.
Ala Moana Park was developed on a swamp and the Honolulu garbage dump.
In the mid-1950s, reef rubble was dredged to fill in the old navigation channel (between Kewalo and the Ala Wai); it was topped with sand brought from Keawaʻula Beach (Yokohama Beach) in Waianae.
At the same time, a new swimming channel was dredged parallel to the new beach, extending 400-feet offshore; in addition, the west end of the fronting channel was closed by a landfill project that was part of the Kewalo Basin State Park project. A large fringing reef remained off-shore protecting the beach area.
Reportedly, in 1955, Henry Kaiser was the first to propose building two artificial islands and six hotels over the fringing reef. His proposal included inlets for boats, walkways and bridges. He called it Magic Island and offered to pay the $50-million cost. (Sigall, Star-Advertiser)
In 1958, a 20-page booklet was sent to Congress to encourage them to turn back Ala Moana Reef to the Territory of Hawaiʻi for the construction of a “Magic Island.” Local businessmen and firms paid half the cost and the Territory paid half through the Economic Planning & Coordination Authority) (Dillingham interests were among contributors, Henry J. Kaiser interests were not.) (Honolulu Record, February 13, 1958)
The booklet puts forth the argument that “Tourist development is our most important immediate potential for economic expansion,” and displays pictures of the crowded Waikiki area to show the lack of room for expansion. Then it directs the reader’s attention to land that can be reclaimed from the sea by utilizing reefs, especially the 300-acre area of Ala Moana Reef. (Honolulu Record, February 13, 1958)
It was supposed to be part of a new high scale beachfront resort complex with a half-dozen hotels that would have included two islands built on the fringing reef, offshore of the Ala Moana Park.
The Interest of the Dillingham’s in developing off-shore areas is obvious, since Hawaiian Dredging is the only local company large enough to undertake such sizable dredging operations.
The Dillingham interest in the current “Magic Island” project is more obvious because of the immediate increase in value it would bring to Dillingham land mauka of Ala Moana Boulevard. (Honolulu Record, February 13, 1958)
The Dillinghams figure to do the dredging and construction of Magic Island, itself, of course, and it must be recalled that the original Dillingham idea was to use Ala Moana Park for hotels and apartments and build the reef island for a park. (Honolulu Record, May 15, 1958)
But now that Magic Island is being proposed as a hotel and apartment site, it doesn’t mean for a moment the first plan has necessarily been abandoned. There is good reason to fear Ala Moana Park may be wiped out entirely so far as the people of Oahu are concerned if they don’t keep alert and guard” against every effort to encroach upon it. (Honolulu Record, May 15, 1958)
Substantial changes were made from the more extensive original plan for the Ala Moana reef; rather than multiple islands for several resort hotels built on the reef flat off of the Ala Moana Park, in 1964 a 30-acre peninsula, with “inner” and “outer” beaches for protected swimming, was constructed adjoining the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor and Ala Wai Canal outlet.
The project stopped after the development of “Magic Island,” leaving the State with a man-made peninsula, which they converted into a public park.
In 1972 the State officially renamed Magic Island to ‘Āina Moana (“land [from the] sea”) to recognize that the park is made from dredged coral fill. The peninsula was turned over the city in a land exchange and is formally known as the ‘Āina Moana Section of Ala Moana Beach Park, but many local residents still call it Magic Island.
Between 1955 and 1976 the beach eroded, and in 1976, more sand was brought in from Mokuleʻia on the north coast of Oʻahu.