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A whisper from the past - The Hale'iwa Hotel and Theater

by Shelly Awaya, editor


Hawai‘i has many scenic spots for visitors, many made famous in film, television, even music videos. One particular city, Hale‘iwa, is well known because of its proximity to the North Shore of O‘ahu, where giant waves are surfed and filmed for 10 months of the year.

What many people don’t know is that in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Hale‘iwa was a frequent destination for Honolulu residents. Its nostalgic beauty and quaint charm attracted people who wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city—Honolulu.

Click on image for more photos


Two historic Hale‘iwa destinations were the Hale‘iwa Hotel and the Hale‘iwa Theatre.
The properties were built about 40 years apart, yet each had elements of a unique style that can only be described as rural elegance and grandeur. They helped make Hale‘iwa a sought-after getaway.

Hale‘iwa Hotel

The Hale‘iwa Hotel opened in 1889 as a stopover or retreat for passengers riding on the O‘ahu Railroad, owned and operated by the O‘ahu Railway and Land Company, Benjamin Dillingham CEO.

According to a 1999 Honolulu Star Bulletin article, a roundtrip fare on the O‘ahu Railroad train was $10. This fare included a one-night stay at the Hale‘iwa Hotel, a tour of the Waialua Sugar Mill, and a carriage ride into the central O‘ahu town of Wahiawa, the home of vast pineapple plantations.

The 56-mile trip from Honolulu to Hale‘iwa circled around the west side of O‘ahu, passing through Wai‘anae and rounding Ka‘ena Point. To complete the 19-degree turn at Ka‘ena, the train had to stop and be rotated on a giant turntable. This allowed passengers to take photographs of the Wai‘anae Range before the last leg of the trip through Waialua to Hale‘iwa Town.

An 18-room property designed by O.G. Traphagen, the Hale‘iwa Hotel was resplendent with lavish amenities and gorgeous interiors. Built with koa, mahogany, and other rich hard woods, it boasted a two-story lanai, a 30-by-40 foot parlor, a luxurious dining room, a check-in desk and lobby, and other perquisites such as a billiard room, a separate hunting lodge, and private cottages on the beach.

The hotel did quite well in the beginning, but when the O‘ahu Railroad’s passengers began purchasing their own private vehicles, traffic to the hotel died down tremendously. Since most of the passengers no longer rode the train to take tours of the North Shore or to stay at the hotel, the railroad, to stay in business, had to become a commercial commodity carrier transporting goods and produce to and from the sugar and pineapple plantations.

When efforts to revive the business were unsuccessful, the Hale‘iwa Hotel was converted to a club for U.S. Army officers in January of 1943.

After World War II, the hotel was in desperate need of renovation and repairs due to lack of maintenance, but no one wanted to spend the money needed to restore it to its original glory.

Sadly, the Hale‘iwa Hotel was demolished in 1952. In its place, a restaurant called the Sea View Inn was built. This was renovated in the mid 1980s and is currently Hale‘iwa Joe’s.

Hale‘iwa Theatre

According to the North Shore Surf Museum, Hego Fuchino designed the Hale’iwa Theatre in 1931. It was built for live stage performances, with seating for 900 people. Upper balcony seats were cushioned, and the lower-level solid seats were situated on the main floor of the theatre. According to the North Shore Surf Museum’s Web site, there was an orchestra pit in front of the stage, and the theatre’s acoustics were excellent.

Once the cost of live performances made them too expensive, the Hale‘iwa Theatre began showing movies that locals would go to watch on a weekly basis.

Alan Segawa, a former Waialua resident, remembered that the Hale‘iwa Theatre would show samurai films several nights of the week, and Filipino movies on Thursday nights during the 1980s.
Unfortunately, most Hale‘iwa residents’ memories of the theatre’s last days overshadow their happier memories of watching movies there.

In September 1983, the theatre was torn down after the land it occupied was sold to Southland Corporation, the parent company of 7-11. According to the Surf Museum Web site, residents tried to halt the demolition by seeking a restraining order, but failed because 7-11 owned the land. So on Nov. 10, 1983, Hale‘iwa residents awoke to see the Hale‘iwa Theatre completely destroyed. A tall pile of rubble was leftover, and the theatre’s stage was all that remained standing.

A 7-11 store was built on that spot, and McDonald’s opened next door a short time later. The 7-11 has since moved to a new location, but a surf shop called Wave Riding Vehicles occupies the old building.

Although the Hale‘iwa Hotel and Theatre are gone, you can still find photos of them and learn about each structure’s history. The Hale‘iwa Family Health Center, in the Hale‘iwa Shopping Center, has a large photo in its waiting room of Hale‘iwa Town when the Hale‘iwa Hotel was actually open. And the North Shore Surf Museum, in the North Shore Marketplace, has photos of the Hale‘iwa Theatre.

Next issue: Hale‘iwa today.



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