Hawaii Business salutes the people, places, businessses and events that profoundly changed Hawaii over the past half century.
When it comes to natural disasters, it seems Hawaii just can’t get a break. Besides the volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and hurricanes that have ravished the Island chain over the past 50 years, Hawaii has also endured its fair share of flash floods, heavy storms and even a few earthquakes.
Without question, the outermost counties of Kauai and the Big Island have suffered the biggest losses, both in terms of lives and financial damages. The 1946 tsunami that struck northeastern Hawaii Island, killing 159 people, remains the state’s deadliest natural disaster in Hawaii’s recent history. And in 1960, Big Island residents were hit again, this time with a double whammy, as a lava flow from a Kilauea eruption destroyed the village of Kapoho, and a 35-foot tsunami obliterated Hilo town, killing 61 people and leaving hundreds homeless.
The 1960 tsunami remains Hawaii’s second-deadliest natural disaster to date. It is the island of Kauai, on the opposite end of the Island chain, however, that holds the record for the two costliest natural disasters in Hawaiian history. Hurricane Iwa, which pummeled the island (and parts of Oahu as well) on Nov. 23, 1982, generated more than $200 million in damages. A decade later, on Sept. 11, 1992, the island’s nastiest storm in recorded history, Hurricane Iniki, ripped through the island, leaving more than $2 billion in damages in its wake. Iniki, which touched down nearly 13 years ago, remains the last major natural disaster to hit Hawaii. -JLY
Hawaii’s passenger ships have long evoked the romance of traveling to a tropical island: sailing away with great ceremony, waving at the unfortunate landlubbers, then gazing out at an endless horizon, being pampered, doted upon by ship staff, soon seeing land, being greeted by the gentle strains of Hawaiian music, graceful hula dancers and fragrant lei.
Such experiences abruptly ended as all four of shipowner Matson’s vessels were used as war transports during World War II.
The 1950s saw a resurgence of demand for passenger ships to Hawaii: the Lurline started sailing from California to Hawaii first, in 1948. By 1955, the Lurline was operating at 97 percent capacity. The Matsonia (formerly the Monterey) followed in 1957. The Mariposa and Monterey started South Pacific service in 1956. But this was a new world: by the 1960s, more tourists were coming to the Islands by air. Matson began marketing its ships as floating “resort hotels,” enticing visitors with nightly entertainment, party and dining themes, and a Mariner Club, with added perks for repeat passengers.
At the same time, Matson was already in the midst of transforming itself into a cargo operation, which had become more profitable, thanks to increased efficiencies in cargo handling and innovations such as large, refrigerated containers.
By 1976, Matson ended its passenger service, sold its ships and concentrated on honing its fleet of container ships. Almost three decades later, Boat Days have returned, courtesy of Norwegian Cruises. Its ship, the Pride of Aloha, is Hawaii’s first home-ported passenger vessel for interisland cruises since American Classic Voyages ceased Hawaii operations in 2001. Norwegian plans to add two more ships to its fleet by 2006. -MTK
John A. Burns
Shortly after being sworn in as lieutenant governor in 1970, former Gov. George Ariyoshi turned to his boss, then-Gov. John A. Burns, for advice and guidance. “Jack said to me, ‘I know you’ve been very supportive of my thinking and the things I do, but I realize you’re a different individual, with your own background and experiences, and therefore you need to do whatever you feel you need to set forth your own vision,'” recalls Ariyoshi.
“That was one of Gov. Burns’ biggest strengths – recognizing that every person in Hawaii has something to contribute and is important to the community and helping to realize that potential by giving everyone equal opportunities to share in the good life.”
In fact, equality, along with education and economic diversification, were the three E’s on which Burns built his political platform. When Burns first entered politics at the end of World War II, many of the Japanese-Americans whose rights Burns fought to protect as captain of the Honolulu Police Department during the war, rallied around his efforts to renew the Democratic Party and enact social change in the Islands. Through the ’50s, while chairing the Democratic Party and then serving as a congressional delegate, Burns fought vigorously for statehood, and, when that day finally came, his efforts were widely heralded – although he lost his bid to become Hawaii’s first post-statehood governor. In 1962, Burns won the gubernatorial race and remained in office for three terms.
Among the many things Burns is credited with over his career are shaping the modern Democratic Party, the establishment of the East-West Center and supporting the creation of new schools at the University of Hawaii – in particular, what is now the John A. Burns School of Medicine. “The med school was his idea. He felt that, without it, many people in Hawaii could never become doctors,” says Ariyoshi. “He felt very strongly that the university had to provide better undergraduate instruction for Hawaii’s people, to give everyone here an equal shot at the good life in Hawaii. Because that was really his vision – to have Hawaii be a place where everything is equal and fair for every person, no matter their race or class.” -JLY
Spouting lava fountains as high as 1,540 feet (almost four times the height of the 430-foot First Hawaiian Center, the state’s tallest building) and adding more than 540 acres of lava land and black sand beach over the past two decades, Kilauea is the Big Island’s biggest visitor attraction. Since
Jan. 3, 1983, the youngest volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii has been putting on a spectacular show of continuous eruption for tourists, residents and scientists and is at or near the top of the list of the world’s most active volcanoes.
Daily crowds of up to 1,500 come to see the so-called “drive-in” volcano, because of its relative safety. Cruise ships schedule their night sails past the Puna coast to catch the fiery, steam-billowing lava flows into the sea. Helicopter tour companies take up to 400 visitors a day to get a bird’s-eye view of the spouting fountains and rivers of molten lava. Attendance at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the state’s largest single visitor attraction, rose from 1.5 million in 1983 to 2.17 million in 2003, a 45 percent increase.
The home of Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, has been called Hawaii’s oldest tourist attraction. Scientists are unable to tell how much longer Kilauea – estimated to be about 600,000 years old and active ever since – will continue to be active. But most believe it will continue to erupt through the rest of human history. -GM
For more than a decade, Waikiki has been the Nora Desmond of Hawaii’s tourist industry, a glittering, but fading, superstar that got too big, too fast and is too old. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, Waikiki grew wildly, with few restrictions and without a coherent, long-range plan.
By the late ’80s, the bustling tourist district had alienated Island residents, with building and population densities that rivaled Hong Kong and Tokyo, while new and repeat visitors were disappointed with a tired infrastructure and ancient attractions.
The old girl got long in the tooth, but it was and still is vital to the state. Over the past 50 years, the 500-acre peninsula has been Hawaii’s main economic engine. The numbers are staggering: Approximately 90 percent of all hotel rooms in the state are located in Waikiki, generating $2.5 billion in revenue. Waikiki’s 1,600 businesses employ 30,000 people, who make up half of the tourist industry’s work force and 10 percent of the state’s. On any given day, as many as 50,000 tourists are wandering its beaches, avenues and side streets, with 20,000 more people calling it home. Last year, nearly 9 million people visited Waikiki Beach, one-quarter of whom were local residents.
Where Waikiki goes, so goes the rest of the state.
It is heartening for residents and visitors alike that the district is currently undergoing an extreme makeover. In 2002, the city completed the $50 million renovation of Kuhio Beach Park and Kalakaua Avenue, which has been credited with reviving the beachfront. More importantly, more than $1 billion in private-sector improvements are planned over the next five years, including everything from Outrigger Hotels & Resorts’ $800 million Beachwalk to the redevelopment of both the International Marketplace and the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center.
Soon, Waikiki will again be ready for her close-up. -DKC
In the late 1980s, real estate investor and corporate raider Harry Weinberg was near the top of the list of Hawaii’s richest residents. Today, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, which had a 2004 market value of $1.9 billion, is among the top 25 of the nation’s philanthropic organizations. Yet, Weinberg in his time, professed to not know how much he was worth, saying he didn’t have the time to total it all up.
“He had a wonderful heart and that’s what people didn’t realize about him,” says his friend and former corporate nemesis Michael Marks, who has retired from his job as legal counsel for Alexander & Baldwin Inc. “He was ruthless in how he got his money, but it was all for the good eventually.”
In November 1966, Hawaii Business and Industry hailed Weinberg as “Transit’s Medicine Man: The man in the driver’s seat at Honolulu Rapid Transit is a freewheeling, financial genius who looks and talks like one of his more colorful drivers.
Weinberg made his mark on business in Hawaii, by acquiring what he considered vastly undervalued assets. He would buy up stock in local companies and make them pay him to get off their boards. In 1979, Hawaii Business said, “With the cunning of a street fighter he has bullied their boards and bamboozled their management into making him one of the richest men in town.”
Marks says: “He was an icon in the business community, because he made people realize the value of Hawaii companies, which no one else realized. He was the only one who saw that and he made hundreds of millions of dollars because of that.”
Weinberg targeted some of the biggest names in town, from Honolulu Rapid Transit Co. to Dillingham Corp., Amfac Inc., Maui Land & Pine Inc. and Alexander & Baldwin Inc. While Marks worked at A&B to oppose Weinberg’s takeover maneuvers, he also became a friend and confidante, who would serve as a pallbearer when Weinberg passed away in 1990.
Marks says: “He always knew that he would be very popular after his death, but not before his death.” Today, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg foundation owns more than 2,000 acres of land in the state, for a total tax-assessed value of $923 million, and the foundation gives away about $20 million every year to Hawaii charities. -KAT
For the first time, as early as this summer, the Akaka Bill, formally known as the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2005, to recognize Native Hawaiians as an indigenous people, is up for consideration for a full vote in the U.S. Senate. A companion measure in Congress is also seeking House approval. But not all Native Hawaiians are pleased by the news on the landmark legislation. First introduced in 2000 by Hawaii Senator Daniel Akaka, the Akaka Bill has been a galvanizing force for lively debate among Native Hawaiian sovereignty groups.
As the name given to a very loose coalition of groups, the Hawaiian sovereignty movement shares the common concerns of seeking self-determination and self-governance for Native Hawaiians and redress from the U.S. government for its role in the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom. How these ends should be achieved, however, is where opinions among the groups vary greatly.
Would the Akaka Bill’s proposal that U.S. recognition of the nation’s 400,000 Native Hawaiians, similar to the way it recognizes American Indians and Native Alaskans, create a nation within a nation and nullify recognition of an independent Hawaiian nation? Is parity with other indigenous peoples and the creation of a Native Hawaiian governing entity to negotiate with federal and state governments over land, resources and other assets the best approach to self-determination?
Seen against the backdrop of the larger Hawaiian renaissance over the past three decades, the Hawaiian sovereignty movement is very much a part of this “uncharted journey” to bring together people who have not been so for generations. It sparked a centennial commemoration in 1993 of the overthrow of the monarchy, rallied 200 supporters for the Aloha March from the U.S. Capitol to the White House in 1998 to bring awareness of Native Hawaiians to the nation and, in 1999, organized the first Native Hawaiian Convention to propose a Native Hawaiian government.
Hawaiian sovereignty has had its share of bumps along the way, but shares a commonality with the voyages of Hokulea, the renaissance of Hawaiian culture, music and dance, the revival of language in Hawaiian immersion schools, the emergence of Hawaiian activist groups, from militant Ka Lahui Hawaii to service-oriented Alu Like, and much more. It can be a means of profound expression for Hawaii’s first people in their quest for identity, pride and a place in Hawaii’s future. -GM
Hilton Hawaiian Village
According to legend, Henry J. Kaiser first got the idea to build the Hawaiian Village after he and his wife couldn’t get a room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. When he took one look at Waikiki’s crowded beach and low room inventory, he quickly realized that he had stumbled upon a new economic frontier.
“I figured that just about everybody wants to travel to Hawaii, but facilities have not kept pace,” Kaiser told Time magazine in 1956.
In 1954, Kaiser and Fritz B. Burns purchased the Niumalu Hotel and eight oceanfront acres of the John Ena Estate for $3.5 million. Within four months, Kaiser demolished the old hotel and, in its place, constructed the Hawaiian Village, a complex of 24 thatch-roofed bungalows, three swimming pools, a nightclub and a bar. To ensure that his structures were sound and authentic, he hired a crew of Samoan workmen, who wove his resort’s thatched roofs by hand. Inside, he decorated his rooms with Polynesian and Asian furnishings, yards of tapa cloth and thousands of sea shells.
At the edge of his new village he dredged a large lagoon, using the dug-up coral as the base for his beach, which he named Duke Kahanamoku Beach, the widest in Waikiki. In 1957, he added the Ocean Tower (now known as the Alii Tower), as well as a geodesic dome showroom (built in just 20 hours). The Village Tower followed in 1958 and the Diamond Head Tower in 1960.
With Martin Denny playing his exotic tropical music at the Shell Bar, crooner Alfred Apaka selling out the Dome and the popular television detective show Hawaiian Eye shooting on location (occasionally), the Hawaiian Village became the epicenter of ’50s and ’60s tiki culture.
In 1961, the Hawaiian Village was renamed the Hilton Hawaiian Village after hotel mogul Conrad Hilton bought a controlling interest. Kaiser was no longer associated with the resort, but expansion continued with the construction of the Hilton Lagoon Apartments in 1965, the Rainbow Tower in 1968, the Mid-Pacific Conference Center in 1969, the Tapa Tower in 1982 and the Kalia Tower in 2001. Today, the Hilton Hawaiian Village boasts 3,386 rooms in 5 towers spread out over 22 acres. In addition, there are five pools, 22 restaurants and more than 90 shops. Excluding the mega-resorts in Las Vegas, the Hilton Hawaiian Village is the second-largest resort in the world.
As big as the Hilton Hawaiian Village is today, it could have been even larger. Kaiser’s original plan for the resort called for the construction of an island just offshore, which would be home to hotels, an aquarium, a convention hall and a theater. -DKC
Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial
Oil still seeps to the surface of Pearl Harbor from the USS Arizona more than 60 years after the battleship was sunk during the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941, that heralded the U.S. entry into World War II. On that Sunday morning at Pearl Harbor, 2,390 lives were lost, half from the Arizona. And from that day, Pearl Harbor would become, together with Diamond Head, Hawaii’s best-known landmarks.
Known as Puuloa and important to the ancient Hawaiians for its many fish ponds, Pearl Harbor got its modern name from the pearl oysters that once thrived in the Central Oahu harbor. But its sheltered waters and natural lochs are what first caught British Capt. Vancouver’s eye in 1790 and, later, influenced American Lt. General Schofield’s recommendation in 1872 that Pearl Harbor offered an ideal naval anchorage. In exchange for duty-free Hawaiian sugar entering the American market, the Hawaiian Kingdom and the United States signed a treaty in 1884 for an exclusive American station at the harbor.
Today, Pearl Harbor, home to the U.S. Pacific Fleet, may be best known as the site of the 184-foot-long Arizona Memorial, which stands over the sunken battleship. Over 1.4 million visitors annually come to see the names of the 1,177 fallen Arizona crewmen engraved on the shrine’s marble wall and to take in the gentle serenity envisioned by its designer, architect Alfred Preis.
After nearly 20 years of military fund-raising to build the memorial, private funding to help finish it came from an unlikely source: the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll – Elvis Presley. At a sellout charity fund-raiser on March 25, 1961, at Bloch Arena and in his first concert after his Army discharge, Elvis wowed the crowd and exceeded the concert’s $50,000 goal by raising over $64,000, more than 10 percent of the memorial’s $500,000 cost. He waived his usual fee of $25,000 and even bought the first of the limited $100 tickets to his own concert. Most tickets, available at Sears, sold for $5. Every penny Elvis raised went to complete the Arizona Memorial, which was dedicated in 1962.
Today, new fundraising efforts to rebuild the memorial’s sinking visitor center will soon expand to the Mainland, says Pearl Harbor Memorial Fund Communi-cations and Grants Manager, David Gibson. Local fundraising efforts have started, as volunteers collect donations at the current visitor center and schools raise money through the Pennies for Pearl Harbor program. The Fund expects to raise $34 million dollars, with 80 percent coming from grants and donations from the Mainland. -GM
He started as a 12-year-old deck hand aboard tugs and steamers, and wound up taking the helm of Hawaii’s largest shipping company and Big Five corporation, Alexander & Baldwin Inc. According to his friends and colleagues, however, Robert J. “Bobby” Pfeiffer possessed a heart that was as big as his lengthy résumé.
“He’s a remarkable success story, and he left behind a tremendous number of legacies,” says W. Allen Doane, president and CEO of Alexander & Baldwin, and vice chairman of the board at Matson Navigation Co. Inc. “One legacy that endures even today is the standard he set in giving back to the community. It was about 20 years ago that he gave a speech that, at the time, seemed pretty revolutionary. He said that companies everywhere had an obligation to give back, to return part of their income every year back to the community.”
In 1992, three years before he retired, Pfeiffer helped establish the Alexander & Baldwin Foundation. In 2004, the foundation donated more than $1.3 million to 267 separate nonprofit organizations in Hawaii and the Pacific islands.
Pfeiffer died in September 2003 at his home in Orinda, Calif. He was 83.
Born in Fiji in 1920, Pfeiffer grew up on the Big Island. His family moved to Honolulu in 1929, and Pfeiffer began working odd jobs at the waterfront. By the time he was 15, he had earned a license to skipper harbor tugs.
Pfeiffer became president of Matson in 1963, directing a $400 million capital investment program that turned the company into one of the world’s leading marine transportation companies. He became president of Alexander & Baldwin in October 1979 and the company’s CEO three months later. Under his guidance, A&B made a successful transition from sugar to real estate development and management. The company’s annual revenue and assets nearly tripled under his leadership.
“There was a special fraternity that included Bobby and the Matson captains,” recalled Walter Dods in his eulogy for his friend. “Skippers knew to expect phone calls from the ‘Old Man’ every day, asking about weather, wind speed and even what they had for breakfast. And they could call him back anytime. Bobby Pfeiffer brought joy and camaraderie, humor and warmth, everywhere he went. He ran his boardroom with an iron hand, but had enough of a twinkle in his eye to write his own obituary, starting with these words: ‘Old sailors never die, they just drop anchor.'”
“Icon? He certainly fits in that category,” says Doane. “He was a remarkable individual who was a superb leader. He was very focused on the core parts of A&B; where some other companies have gone by the wayside over the years, we’ve pretty much stuck to the businesses we know: shipping, real estate and agriculture. Bob, in his wisdom, was very strong about staying with what you know and doing well at it, and that continues to be a big part of A&B today.
“Wherever he is now, he should feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment for what he meant to the company, and what he still means to the company.” -LT
The venerable Coco Palms Resort on the east side of Kauai has been idle since shutting down in September 1992, when the damage inflicted by Hurricane Iniki proved too pricey to repair. But after 15 dormant years, the famed resort is finally scheduled to once again open its doors to the public in late 2007.
Earlier this year, Mainland developer Richard Weiser was given the county’s go ahead to spend $200 million to restore the ailing property, and reopen 104 of the original hotel rooms, along with an additional 200 condo units.
While it will be impossible for Weiser to recreate the resort exactly as it was in its glory days in the ’60s and ’70s (at its peak, Coco Palms had 400+ hotel rooms), the property still retains a lot of its original charm and appeal. The historic fishponds, which former Coco Palms manager and marketing marvel Grace Guslander often touted as the “royal fishponds” of Kauai’s ancient alii, will remain signature features of the hotel when it is reopened. And, in addition to the hundreds of palms speckled throughout the resort grounds, Coco Palms will still be home to the oldest and largest coconut palm tree grove in the state. The famous “Elvis Cottage,” where the king himself stayed during the filming of 1961’s Blue Hawaii, will also be restored to near original condition. And, of course, the famous lagoon, where Elvis Presley serenaded his bride with the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” in Blue Hawaii (and perhaps a little lesser known – where throngs of locals gathered regularly for the hotel’s keiki fishing contests), is still gloriously intact. -JLY
When “Hawaii’s Horatio Alger,” venture capitalist Chinn Ho, died in 1987, at the age of 83, Time magazine said that Ho had built a real estate empire that stretched from California to Hong Kong and proclaimed him, “The putative model for Hong Kong Kee the wily businessman who outsmarts the white hierarchy in James Michener’s Hawaii.”
Ho was blunt in an interview with Hawaii Business in 1980, saying, “I’ve always been fearful of an influx of Mainland population and the capability of the people in local government to cope with the situation.”
He was probably best known to Hawaii residents through the years through two high-profile business ventures: his pioneering of the condominium concept with the 24-story Ilikai Hotel in 1964, along with colleagues Matsy Takabuki and Sam Silverman and his 1952 purchase and 1971 sale to Gannett of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
In 1961, Time described Ho, then 57, as “stocky, cigar-chomping … the prototype of Hawaii’s newest business phenomenon: the self-made fast-moving Hawaiian millionaire of Asian descent.” Ho broke ground for Asians in Hawaii in the business arena. According to Time: “So successful a hui manager was Chinn Ho that he cracked Hawaii’s bamboo curtain and gained a toehold in the haole establishment; he was the first Oriental named a trustee of one of Hawaii’s landed estates, the huge Robinson estate, a bastion of Hawaiian conservatism, first Asian invited to join the businessmen’s Commercial Club (now the Pacific Club), the first named President of the Honolulu Stock Exchange.”
His son, Dean Ho, now oversees businesses in Shanghai that Ho started in the 1980s. Dean Ho says his father’s rise through Hawaii at a time when there was a fair amount of hardship for Asians taught him to respect other people’s ideas. Dean Ho says, “I think he rose through that very difficult environment and he did it with great charm and a lot of forgiveness, because there were a lot of people who wanted to crush him who since became friends. That takes guts, for him to step back and say, ‘These people see things one way and I see them another way. I think I’m going to win, but let’s be gracious in victory.'” -KAT
Les Keiter remembers his very first broadcast at Aloha Stadium. It was April 9, 1976, and the Hawaii Islanders Triple-A baseball team was hosting the Spokane Indians.
“I’ll never forget opening night. Looking out at the field from the press box, the players looked like ants!” he recalls. “I had to use binoculars to identify them.”
Today, the 86-year-old Keiter – now retired after more than 50 years of sports announcing and eight years as an Aloha Stadium spokesperson – laughs at the memory. “When I came home that night, my wife asked me how many people were there, and I said there were about 5,000,” he says. “She said, ‘Oh, that’s good,’ and I said, ‘No, that’s bad. There were 45,000 empty seats!'”
Built by the state at a cost of $37 million, the 50,000-seat Aloha Stadium opened its turnstiles to the public in the fall of 1975. The first event was a University of Hawaii football game against Texas A&I – 32,247 fans watched the home team get drubbed, 43-9. At the time, the stadium was considered state of the art. The stands could be moved (via air cushions) into different configurations for football, baseball and concerts, making the stadium the first of its kind in the United States.
The stadium has had its share of memorable moments, from 18,345 fans watching Derek Tatsuno pitch his final home game in a UH uniform to Hawaii’s at-long-last 56-14 football victory over rival Brigham Young University. In its 30-year history, Aloha Stadium has welcomed the famous (soccer legend Pele, Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones and the Eagles all performed there) and the forgettable (does anybody remember the WFL’s Honolulu Hawaiians?).
Today, the stadium is showing its age. The state spent $88 million on stadium repair and maintenance from 1989 to 1995, with another $23 million anticipated over the next three years. Last year, House lawmakers approved a resolution to study the longevity of the stadium. Some are speculating that building a new stadium might save the state money in the long run.
“I think the future of Aloha Stadium is questionable, because of its age,” admits Keiter, with resignation. “Life will go on, and we’ll move forward. But the stadium really turned out to be a showcase for all kinds of events in Hawaii. It will be a sad day if and when they tear that thing down.” -LT