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Tutu’s Memories: Waikiki as I knew it

Community Contributed

By Marie Yamashita

“Bruce, please point out Paoakalani Ave. where I grew up,” I asked my son as we drove along Kalakaua Ave. in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

“It’s further on,” he replied.

The colorful sights along Kalakaua fascinates me.   There are tourists, surfers, beachgoers, hawkers, panhandlers, and towering hotels, restaurants, elegant shops and convenience stores.

Shortly past Kuhio Beach Bruce points, “There’s Paoakalani.” I strain to see. It’s between two big hotels.

Waikiki had changed from the time I grew up there in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. In the ‘20s there were only three hotels — Moana, Royal Hawaiian and Halekulani.

We lived on Cartwright Rd., near Kapiolani Park, in a neighborhood of friendly, hardworking families where fathers went out to work, mothers took in peoples’ laundries and watched their children. I went to Waikiki Elementary School and to Waikiki Japanese School in Kapahulu right after “English school.”

When oka`asan (mother) opened a dressmaking shop on the corner of Kalakaua Ave. and Paoakalani, where Marriot Hotel is today, we moved there. On Kalakaua Ave., the pulse of life beat faster. Our neighbors were in business. Next door was a picture framing shop, followed by Mr. Yasumatsu’s dry cleaning shop, then a Chinese laundry where men used heavy irons heated over live charcoals to iron men’s white shirts. Further on was Mr. Kuniyuki’s taxi stand and at the end of the block on Ohua Ave. was Aoki Store diagonally across from St. Augustine Cathedral. We rode the streetcar everywhere for a nickel.

When the building that housed oka`asan’s shop was torn down, we moved into a two story house behind it on Paoakalani Ave. Life was good there. Vendors came. The Japanese man came with his little store on a modified truck selling Vienna sausage, aburage, tofu. Then came the Chinese manapua man sing-song chanting, “Manapua, pepeiao, chow fun…” On Sundays, Japanese ladies came, calling “Fahwes, fahwes,” and I would hurry down the stairs to ask oka`asan to buy a bunch of violets, carnations or snapdragons.

From my bedroom upstairs, I could look across the street over the high wooden fence of the Lalani Hawaiian Village, Aston Hotel’s site today. When word got out, “The Fleets In!” life in Waikiki reached a high pitch.   Sailors were all over the place. Nightly, Lalani Hawaiian Village held a luau and hula show for them. Every night I heard them sing, “Well, well, well…I love the pretty little hapa haole hula girl….with a naughty little wiggle… hula girl.”

By the time I was a ninth grader in the 30s, Kalakaua Ave. was beginning to change. Lau Yee Chai, foremost Chinese restaurant, opened in oriental splendor, classy Canlis catered to discriminating diners, and beautiful Waikiki Theater was being built. In college, the night scene along Kalakaua Ave. and Kuhio Beach was quiet and I was seldom scared walking home late at night from work at the Waikiki theater.

Waikiki…I loved her then….still do.

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