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International Marketplace sits on historic ground

by Yvonne Lozano, staff writer


If you’re strolling through Waikiki, it’s nearly impossible to walk past its heart and not hear it beating. No matter what time of day, tourists and locals alike flow through the International Marketplace pumping the life blood of the economy into its many shops and kiosks. It’s a must stop for last-minute-souvenir seekers and bargain hunters. Authentic Hawaiian CDs, fresh, handmade Plumeria leis, and 9-for-$20 t-shirts are just some of the reasons thousands of visitors and savvy local shoppers each year make their way through the Marketplace’s maze of shops.


But inexpensive souvenirs and quaint shops aren’t the only things that breathe life into Waikiki. The land on which the Marketplace sits has a rich history, much older even than the Marketplace’s famed Banyan tree, and its roots run even deeper.

The land where the Marketplace stands was previously known as Ka lua O kau, which literally means “the pit of kau.” The word kau has many meanings, and although no one is sure of its meaning in this situation, historians speculate that the name refers to either ownership by a low-ranking chief or to the location’s use as a celestial observatory or a forum foropen discussion.

Before the Marketplace was created, the land passed through many different owners- from locals to foreigners to royalty. Princess Kai’ulani and Queen Lili’uokalani once lived close by, and King Lunalilo kept a summer residence on the grounds during his brief reign.

Under the land division of 1848, foreigners were allowed to purchase land for individual ownership. According to the International Marketplace’s website, a New Zealand couple, Henry and Eliza Macfarlane, purchased the land and planted the large banyan tree that still greets those who enter the Marketplace. The Macfarlanes already owned a successful hotel in downtown Honolulu, and their children also made an impact in Waikiki history. The Park Beach Hotel near Kapi’olani Park, and the now defunct Honolulu Seaside Hotel (where the Royal Hawaiian Hotel now stands), were built by their son, George Macfarlane. He was credited with building one of the first hotels in Waikiki. Not to be outdone, his brother Clarence Macfarlane is known as one of the first “haoles” to master surfing and outrigger canoeing. In the early 1900s it was nearly unheard of for a foreigner to master the local “sport of kings.”

The land eventually passed into the hands of King William Lunalilo, “the kind king,” as Hawaiians called him. He reigned for a little over a year before dying of tuberculosis.

Lunalilo left Ka lua o kau to Queen Emma. Along with her husband, King Kamehameha IV, Queen Emma sought to keep Hawaiian traditions and folklore alive. Among her humanitarian efforts, she funded the construction of Queen’s Hospital and helped establish St. Andrew’s Priory School and St. Cross School on Maui. After she passed lua o kau and her other lands were put into trust, with the profits supporting Queen’s Hospital.

The land, which is managed by the Queen Emma Foundation, became a parking lot for the Outrigger Canoe Club until one man’s vision made it what it is today. In 1955, Don “The Beachcomber” Beach leased the property for a “Waikiki Village” that would serve as the crossroads where visiting tourists to enjoy the diversity Hawai ‘i has to offer. It called for the building of various villages including Hawaiian, Japanese, South Sea Islander, Chinese, Filipino and Indian. In these, people could enjoy small slices of Hawai’i’s different cultures. He named it “The International Marketplace.”

The $1.5 million project officially opened for business in 1957. Beach had the premier restaurant in the Marketplace and also overbanyan tree.

Over the years, the Marketplace has had its own problems. In 1988, a near-riot broke out at the State Capitol after vendors found out the Marketplace was being considered as a possible site for the Convention Center. In 1996, according to the Pacific Business News, WDC Venture, a Dallas-based group that had leased the Marketplace in 1968, filed for bankruptcy when the Queen Emma Foundation asked for $7.75 million in back rent.

A commercial real estate firm, Graham Murata Russell, took over management and stayed until the Queen Emma Foundation re-gained complete control in 1999. At that time, Foundation spokespersons hinted to vendors that it was considering redeveloping the property as part of the on-going Waikiki Renaissance that has seen street widening and tree planting. The renovation was formally announced in September 2003.



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