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.
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
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
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
Over the years, the Marketplace has had its own problems.
In 1988, a near-riot broke out at the State Capitol after
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.
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
as part of the on-going Waikiki Renaissance that has seen
street widening and tree planting. The renovation was
in September 2003.