HONOLULU —Kaka’ako is bounded by Ward Avenue, Punchbowl Street, King Street and the waterfront.
Kaka’ako is on the verge of change, but if you look back over the centuries, it has always been about change.
In the mid-1800s, salt production was a big business. It’s a past that surprised many we talked to, like Kaka’ako resident Marcus Peng.
“I know this whole block will be redeveloped, will be called salt. That’s what it is!” said Peng.
A photograph shows Aliiolani Hale, the building that stands behind the King Kamehameha statue on King Street, and how close the ocean is to it.
So what happened to the water?
It began in the mid-1850s with the deepening of Honolulu Harbor. Over the decades, the dredge material and incinerated waste was used to fill in reef tidelands and salt ponds throughout Kaka’ako.
This created dry land allowing the building of Aloha Tower, the historic pumping station and so much of Kaka’ako.
Looking at Kaka’ako and Honolulu of old with its reefs and water with an overlay of today’s buildings show all of the reclaimed land makai of Ala Moana.
With more dry land, Kaka’ako welcomed businesses and a melting pot of island residents.
Former University of Hawaii president Fujio “Fudge” Matsuda was born and raised in Kaka’ako. He was born on the Magoon block that once stood along Queen Street.
The Matsuda family would move to a home across from Mother Waldron Park. His parents ran Matsuda Saimin, selling a bowl of their famous saimin for a dime.
“They moved here and started the saimin stand, the saimin business, and they rebuilt from there,” said Matsuda. “We lived upstairs and the houses were old then. By the time we moved in, you could see through the cracks in the wall and see outside. But, it was home.” Comfortable.”
The house is long gone and so is the unobstructed view of the mountains Matsuda had right outside his front door.
It was a bustling neighborhood with a reputation for being a tough place to live.
“But for those of us who lived there, it was paradise,” said Matsuda. “Because in our enclave here, we all knew each other. We were safe.”
In the 1940s, 5,000 people called Kaka’ako home. Following the war, most moved out and industry moved in.
By 1970, fewer than 850 people lived there.
Mixed in with the warehouses and apartment buildings, there are a few reminders of the past.
The Royal Brewery building still stands, sans the beer. And the old Kewalo Theatre with its beautiful details — state-of-the-art when it opened in 1937. Today, it’s a dive shop.
And now Kaka’ako prepares to change again in a very big way, and will soon welcome a whole new generation to call it home. Peng says he’s glad he’s there.
“I enjoy it quite a bit, actually. It’s a very comfortable place to live,” said Peng. “It’s close to the water. It’s really up-and-coming, is how I feel about it.”
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