Chinatown Honolulu



890 AD - 1810

The area was probably used by fishermen in ancient Hawaii but little evidence of this remains.


Approx. 1760 - Approx. 1810

Kealiʻimaikaʻi, the brother of Kamehameha I lived in the area at the end of the 18th century.



Two major fires destroyed many buildings in 1886 and 1900.

Bubonic Plague

Oct 20, 1899

From witnesses a wave of bubonic plague was introduced to Honolulu on October 20, 1899 by an off loaded shipment of rice which had been carrying rats from the America Maru. At that time, Chinese immigration to Hawaii resulted in a crowded residential area called Chinatown with poor living conditions and sewage disposal. Plague infected 11 people.



The 1900 fire was started in an attempt to destroy a building infected with bubonic Plague, which had been confirmed December 12, 1899. Schools were closed and 7000 residents of the area were put under quarantine. After 13 people died, the Board of Health ordered structures suspected of being infected to be burned. Residents were evacuated, and a few buildings were successfully destroyed while the Honolulu Fire Department stood by. However, on January 20, 1900 the fire got out of control after winds shifted, and destroyed most of the neighborhood instead.[5][6]

Chinatown Fires

Jan 20, 1900

The response by the Board of Health included incinerating garbage, renovating the sewer system, putting Chinatown under quarantine, and most of all burning infected buildings. 41 fires were set, but on January 20, 1900 winds picked up and the fire spread to other buildings which was undesired.[9] The runaway fire burned for seventeen days and scorched 38 acres (15 Ha) of Honolulu. The fire campaign continued for another 31 controlled burns after the incident. The 7,000 homeless residents were housed in detention camps to maintain the quarantine until April 30. A total of 40 people died of the plague.
Critics accused the government of being driven by Sinophobia; regardless of the fire most likely being an accident, an exodus occurred. While the people rebuilt, they began to live in suburbs while continuing to work in Chinatown, to avoid going homeless if another disaster occurred. In addition the post-fire architecture began using masonry rather than wood, since the stone and brick buildings proved much more fire resistant during the fire.

Oahu Market


In 1904 the Oahu Market was opened by Tuck Young at the corner of King and Kekaulike streets, coordinates 21°18′45″N 157°51′51″W. The simply designed functional construction (a large open-air but covered space divided into stalls) remains in use today for selling fresh fish and produce.[8]

Red Light District

1919 - Approx. 1973

After World War II the area fell into disrepair and became a red-light district.[11]

Hawaii National Bank


The Hawaii National Bank was founded in the district in 1960, and has its headquarters there.[13]

Added to National Register

Jan 17, 1973

About 36 acres (15 ha) of the district was added to the National Register of Historic Places listings in Oahu on January 17, 1973 as site 73000658.[1] During the administrations of mayors Frank Fasi and Jeremy Harris the area was targeted for revitalization. Restrictions on lighting and signs were relaxed to promote nightlife.[11] Special zoning rules were adopted for the area.[12]

Hawaii Theater


On the eastern edge of the district, the Hawaii Theatre was restored and re-opened in 1996.[14] The area around the theatre is called the Arts District.

Downtown Police Substation

Sept 18 1998

The Downtown Police Substation of the Honolulu Police Department is located in Chinatown.[18] Officials broke ground for the substation on Friday September 18, 1998. Mayor Jeremy Harris said that he wanted a police station built at that location because of crime had been occurring in that area, and the presence of a police station would deter crime.[19]

Chinatown Gateway Park


In 2005 a small park near the theatre at the corner of Hotel and Bethel streets was opened and called Chinatown Gateway Park.[15]

Dr Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park


In November 2007 the park was named in honor of Sun Yat-Sen who came to Chinatown in 1879 where he was educated and planned the Chinese Revolution of 1911.[16] Honolulu Chinatown was included in the Preserve America program.[17]


First Early Settlers

Approx. 1790 - 1810

One of the first early settlers from outside was Isaac Davis and lived there until 1810.[2] Spaniard Don Francisco de Paula Marín lived in the southern end of the area in the early 19th century, and planted a vineyard in the northern end, for which Vineyard Boulevard is named.[3]

Plantation Era

Approx. 1800 - Approx. 1900

During the 19th century laborers were imported from China to work on sugar plantations in Hawaii. Many became merchants after their contracts expired and moved to this area. The ethnic makeup has alway been diverse, peaking at about 56% Chinese people in the 1900 census, and then declining.[4] Honolulu is traditionally known in Chinese as 檀香山 (Tánxiāngshān), meaning Sandalwood Mountain.

Sun Yat Sen visits

1879 - Approx. 1900

In November 2007 the park was named in honor of Sun Yat-Sen who came to Chinatown in 1879 where he was educated and planned the Chinese Revolution of 1911.[16]

pearl harbor


Housing Crash


Population Surge



Chinese Revolution [1911 - 1912 CE]

1911 - 1912

World War I

1914 - 1918

After World War II the area fell into disrepair and became a red-light district.[11]

world war 2

1939 - 1945

World War II had a tremendous impact on the history of Hawaii, particularly in Honolulu. As the headquarters of the Pacific Fleet, hundreds of thousands of servicemen transitioned through the tropical capital on the way to war. There are still many reminders of this time period around the islands, but one of the most interesting is Hotel Street.

During the Second World War, Hotel Street was the most popular destination for servicemen thanks to a collection of bars and brothels. There are amazing photos from the era showing servicemen lined up for blocks, waiting their turn for, um, massages with happy endings. Today Hotel Street isn’t the seedy spot it used to be, but it’s great fun to walk amongst the cafes and galleries and imagine what it must have been like more than sixty years ago.