A look back at Waialae Drive-In

The Honolulu City Council’s approval to develop the old Kam Drive-In theater site in Aiea has many wondering what will the 14-acre property look like when 1,500 homes are built on it one day.

The concept isn’t new. In fact, something similar happened 28 years ago.

The private Nohona Kahala community in Waialae is home to 55 luxury residences. “They’re all over a million dollars now and it’s a very nice, gated community,” said real estate analyst Stephany Sofos.

But the gated family community across from Kahala Mall was once home to a much different family destination: the Waialae Drive-In Theatre.

“My favorite time was when we were small kids and we would run out at intermission and see who was kissing who,” Sofos said.

Waialae Drive-In Theatre opened in 1956 with Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” It was operated by Royal Theatres, often packing the grounds with 300 cars.

The theater was also close to an old cemetery. Legend has it, the ghost of a faceless woman with long hair haunted the women’s bathroom at the drive-in. Many say she’d appear behind you in the mirror if you were alone.

“I never was in that bathroom by myself because I wouldn’t go,” Sofos said. “I was scared. I always brought my mom with me.”

But like all drive-ins across America, drive-ins on Oahu slowly faded and in January of 1986, Waialae closed for good with the movie “Young Sherlock Holmes.”

But the land wouldn’t sit idle for long. The homes at Nohana were completed by 1991.

“It’s highest and best use. Most of these drive-ins were near urban centers,” Sofos said.

Some day soon, new homes will surface at the old Kam Drive-In site.

“I can see the future of this Aiea project, which is going to house a lot of people, and it’s going to provide a lot of access to people who didn’t have the ability to have a home where they can just walk to shopping and entertainment,” Sofos said.

Today the neighborhood is thriving and the only “sign” of an old drive-in is on Kiionioni Pl. and Lp.

The English translation of Kiionioni is “moving picture,” in honor of an old friend, Waialae Drive-In.

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Nohona Kahala
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