Hiding in Plain Sight: Hawai‘i's History is All Around Us

Posted in: Culture & History, Editor's Blog

By Richard Melendez, Digital Editor

Downtown Hilo
Downtown Hilo wears its history on its sleeve, and that's part of its charm.

Hawai‘i’s rich history is all around us, even if we’re not looking for it. From landmark tourist attractions to innocuous, yet suspiciously mainland-sounding street names, our day-to-day interactions are steeped in the past.

When tourists and locals conceptualize Hawai‘i’s history, there are some obvious touchstones that may come to mind: culturally significant sites like Mauna Kea or an ancient heiau (shrine), ‘Iolani Palace, Pearl Harbor or the older parts of towns like Maui’s Lāhaina, Honolulu’s Chinatown or the sleepy seaside town of Hilo on the Big Island. Here the history is obvious, clearly seen in the architecture and often highlighted with placards and write-ups in visitor mags (*cough* This Week *cough*).

Then there’s the history that’s hiding in plain sight. In my neighborhood alone, I can find manhole covers dating back to 1901, a large stone along a relatively quiet street memorializing Honolulu’s first artesian well, and an unassuming baseball field erected by the “father of modern baseball.”

Artesian Well
If I blinked, I might have missed this historical curiosity.

What’s even more fascinating to me is the history that’s still walking and talking among us. There are World War II vets who were stationed at Pearl Harbor, entertainers who performed at long-gone venues, people who worked on the plantations, some still living in what was once workforce housing. Ask around, and you may find someone who spent their teenage summers working at the cannery.

For better or worse, the plantation era of Hawai‘i’s history had a huge impact on the island’s culture and development, and it still lives with us today. Not only in the people who lived it and the institutions that still stand, but it’s present in the plate lunch you ate today or the pidgin that’s widely spoken by the local community.

Dole shuttered their Honolulu cannery long ago, with the property (and name) evolving into a mixed-use commercial facility complete with an office building, ballroom, food and retail shops, multiplex theater and a Costco, among other popular destinations. This Week Magazines recently completed a move into our new digs in the Dole Office Building, adjacent to the repurposed Dole Cannery. Despite its modern trappings, hints of the propertyʻs industrial days remain. Every day that I’m here I am made acutely aware that we are walking through the history of the not-so-distant past. That’s the case virtually anywhere you go in Hawai‘i, and it’s a pretty cool sensation.

Keep your eyes open for the hidden histories around you. If you blink, you might miss something.


Downtown Hilo wears its history on its sleeve, and that's part of its charm.


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