Part 2: History and political football

Photo provided by Kamaka Ukulele

Part 1 | Main | Part 3

“Kaka‘ako according to the Hawaiian Historical Society means low, underhanded, tricky fraudulent or mean,” said author and historian Bob Sigall.

Whether you agree with the definition or not – it’s interesting how some of those words are used to describe Kaka‘ako today.

But long before the first cement pilings were pounded into the soil here, the flat land, that was just steps away from the ocean, was rich in salt.

Photo provided by Bishop Museum
Photo: Bishop Museum

“In the ancient days, it was salt ponds. It was very dry. It was hard to grow things there, but the Hawaiians made good use of all the ‘aina, and in this case, they got salt from it that helped preserve fish and used (it) for other purposes,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

“Kaka‘ako would have been just like any other part of the Hawaiian Islands: a place where people lived, but not only where they lived, where they supported themselves, where they gathered their food, where they grew their food,” said DeSoto Brown, historian at Bishop Museum.

Kaka‘ako stayed a gathering place for decades. It was prime land between the hustle and bustle of downtown Honolulu and the tourist mecca of Waikīkī.

“Because there’s downtown not too far away from Kaka‘ako, there were development pressures to start improving infrastructure in this area because it had a lot of inadequate roads. Some of the roads weren’t even paved; they were narrow and utilities were not below ground,” said Brown.

Kaka‘ako became a residential neighborhood with private homes.

From KHON2's archives
From KHON2’s archives

“Again, the history was it was just a neighborhood, and then people got very comfortable with some of the services and the people, and we got along. There was a Chinese store, there was a soy factory, and there was a poi factory. I mean it had it all. It was really pretty cool, from a village standpoint, where we could coexist — live together; work together,” said Anthony Ching of Hawai‘i Community Development Authority (HCDA).

A place where families and businesses grew together, and a “person right down the road could fix your automobile in case you got into trouble,” said Sam Kamaka Jr., previous production manager and son of the founder of Kamaka Ukulele.

Kamaka Ukulele opened its doors on South Street in 1958.

Kamaka Jr. reflects on that time. “In the beginning (it) was family-friendly,” he said.

Chris Kamaka, current production manager and Kamaka Jr.’s son, said, “We did spend a lot of our childhood here because we’d always come in with Dad, help sweep up the sawdust.”

Photo provided by Kamaka Ukulele
Photo: Kamaka Ukulele

For decades, it was an overlooked part of the city.

“I’ve been here over 40 years before the park came, when it was an empty lot, duty and everything, but it was a place we could surf,” said Ron Iwami, founder of Friends of Kewalos.

But in the last two decades, that would finally start to change.

As urban Oahu grew, Kaka‘ako became more valuable for its ideal location. It was something that former Gov. George Ariyoshi recognized early.

“We were then talking about creating new towns with the amenities that make for a good town, and we looked at Kaka‘ako and we said ‘Oh, Kaka‘ako is a place we can maybe make a new town without changing the community a lot,'” said Ariyoshi.

But Ariyoshi and other state leaders wanted to do it right and believed the only way to do that was for the state to have full control over the area.

“He pulled it out of the city because he thought he could nurture it and sustain it and have the sustainable livable community,” said Kaka‘ako resident Sharon Moriwaki.

Ariyoshi created the Hawai‘i Community Development Authority to oversee plans for the future, pulling it out of the hands of then-Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi.

“(In) 1976, there was a thought (of) ‘Hey, this has a lot of potential, so let’s form HCDA.’ There’ll be stories about why this was formed, and they might point to Mayor Fasi and others,” said Anthony Ching, HCDA executive director.

Aerial view of the Ward area

“Part of the decision (that) was made to punish Fasi was we’re going to take the heart of Honolulu between Waikīkī and downtown Honolulu, we’re going to make it a state agency, give the state the authority for development there, and I know Frank Fasi got very upset,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

Some say Kaka‘ako was a political football. Ariyoshi saw it differently.

“For me, it was a not a game. It was not a football. It was an effort to try to make the community better and the city had a chance to put in some of the infrastructures to fix the roads and so forth but didn’t do that, and so we felt we had to step in and we did that at our cost,” he said.

The state would spend more than $200 million on infrastructure to build “better sewer systems there. We improved the roads. Parking became better. People could pass through Kaka‘ako very nicely, and that’s what happened to Kaka‘ako,” Ariyoshi said. “We put the funds in to make it possible for Kaka‘ako to be a better place.”

Kaka‘ako was preparing for the future for Hawai‘i residents, but critics say that mission got lost along the way.

“What has happened is that Hawai‘i Community Development Authority is ‘Hawai‘i Development Authority.’ They forget the community,” said Moriwaki. As urban Oahu grew, Kaka‘ako became more valuable for its ideal location. It was something that former Gov. George Ariyoshi recognized early.

“We were then talking about creating new towns with the amenities that make for a good town, and we looked at Kaka‘ako and we said ‘Oh, Kaka‘ako is a place we can maybe make a new town without changing the community a lot,'” said Ariyoshi.

Cooke Street
Cooke Street

But Ariyoshi and other state leaders wanted to do it right and believed the only way to do that was for the state to have full control over the area.

“He pulled it out of the city because he thought he could nurture it and sustain it and have the sustainable livable community,” said Kaka‘ako resident Sharon Moriwaki.

Ariyoshi created the Hawai‘i Community Development Authority to oversee plans for the future, pulling it out of the hands of then-Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi.

“(In) 1976, there was a thought (of) ‘Hey, this has a lot of potential, so let’s form HCDA.’ There’ll be stories about why this was formed, and they might point to Mayor Fasi and others,” said Anthony Ching, HCDA executive director.

“Part of the decision was made to punish Fasi. (The decision) was we’re going to take the heart of Honolulu between Waikīkī and downtown Honolulu, we’re going to make it a state agency, give the state the authority for development there, and I know Frank Fasi got very upset,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

Some say Kaka‘ako was a political football. Ariyoshi saw it differently.

“For me, it was a not a game. It was not a football. It was an effort to try to make the community better and the city had a chance to put in some of the infrastructures to fix the roads and so forth but didn’t do that, and so we felt we had to step in and we did that at our cost,” he said.

The state would spend more than $200 million on infrastructure to build “better sewer systems there. We improved the roads. Parking became better. People could pass through Kaka‘ako very nicely, and that’s what happened to Kaka‘ako,” Ariyoshi said. “We put the funds in to make it possible for Kaka‘ako to be a better place.”

Kaka‘ako was preparing for the future for Hawaii residents, but critics say that mission got lost along the way.

“What has happened is that Hawai‘i Community Development Authority is (now) ‘Hawai‘i Development Authority.’ They forget the community,” said Moriwaki.

Part 1 | Main | Part 3

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