|Royal Hawaiian 1940|
Pre-war Hawaii was, to me, a pure delight. Honolulu was much smaller than San Diego and could be covered on foot except that Waikiki was a twenty-minute bus ride. The Navy busses from Pearl Harbor dropped us off on Peretania Street near the YMCA. From there the Honolulu “tenderloin” of bars, saimen stands, tattoo parlors, souvenir shops, and openly-run “houses of ill repute” stretched down South Hotel Street to Nuuanu Canal beyond which was the Filipino section of town. In the other direction was downtown Honolulu covering the five or six blocks to the Aloha Tower on the waterfront where the steamships of the Matson Lines docked to bring in a relatively small number of moneyed tourists.
In 1941, tourism was not a major source of income for the territory of Hawaii. Island income was from sugar cane, pineapples, and the military—not necessarily in that order. There were no resort hotels on Oahu except the Royal Hawaiian (movie stars and rich people), Moana, and the Halekalani also at Waikiki.
The Territory of Hawaii (statehood was more than a decade in the future) was, a strange new land that soon became familiar and, longing for the wide spaces and climate of “stateside”. No me. I reveled in the unvarying warm, sunny weather interrupted only occasionally by a warm tropic shower of rain that quickly passed. I like the waving coconut palms that abounded, the sights and odors of the myriad tropical flowers, and the laid-back air of the local people as they went serenely about their daily business with no one ever in a hurry.
On liberty, I roamed the streets of Honolulu until they became as familiar as Vancouver—which, like the Ozark hills, was receding into the past. I visited Iolani Palace (not too long in the past the residence of Queen Lilikuolani, the last of the Hawaiian monarch) with the gilt statue of King Kamehameha.
I learned the legends of the islands and quickly picked up a smattering of the Polynesian language. All of us added to our vocabularies some basic and commonly used Hawaiian words. White people were haoles (“howlies”) unless they had been in the islands a long time, then they became “malininis”. A man is a kane (“connie”) and a woman is a wahine (“wah-he-nee”). Many of the Hawaiian words had different meanings depending on the use. For instance, trouble or bad is “pilikia”. Kau-kau (“cow-cow”) can mean either food or eat. (There was a nice drive-in hamburger place in Waikiki called the “Kau Kau Korner”.) A fat stomach is an “opu” and a fat behind is an “okole”.
I did my share of carousing with VP-11 shipmates in the Honolulu tenderloin every other weekend after payday (we were paid on alternate Thursdays); however, Waikiki was my favorite part of Honolulu. There was relatively little traffic on the broad streets of Waikiki. Kalakaua street past the Royal Hawaiian and Moana hotels on the beachfront was wide and lined with palm trees. There was a scattering of better class souvenir shops, a few restaurants (the better known of which was Lau Yee Chai’s on Kapiolani), the first-run Waikiki Theater, and along the sidewalks near the Royal Hawaiian the air was always redolent with the delicious odors of pikake and ginger from the lei stands under the palm trees. Except on the weekend evenings, there was an air of somnolence about the area—indeed, about the entire city.
We quickly learned that there was a caste system in Hawaii even more rigid than that of the military. Enlisted personnel were really not made very welcome in Waikiki. We could use any of the commercial establishments, of course, and the Waikiki Theater, but we were not welcome at either the Royal Hawaiian or Moana hotels. I can recall walking along the beach-walk outside the wrought iron fence of the Banyan Court at the Moana and looking longingly at the candlelit tables of military officers and their wives or dates in evening gowns and jewels. The balance were moneyed tourists.
The dining room and ballroom of the Royal Hawaiian were turf of senior officers, movie stars, and moguls. The Moana Banyan Court, as I mentioned, catered to officers and the mpre affluent tourists. If an enlisted man tried to make a reservation, he always found that they were “fully booked” even though a peek through that fence showed empty tables. The Hawaiian natives, known as “kanakas”, were welcome in Waikiki only as servants, hotel maids and porters, or entertainers.
Enlisted men were not totally excluded from Waikiki night life. We were welcome at the Waikiki Tavern, a good bar just down Kalakaua past the Outrigger Club (which was very verboten to we common swab jockeys), at the Wagon Wheel Café on Kapiolani, at the original Trader Vics, and a coke and dance spot near there called (I believe) simply Jack’s.
Even in the Honolulu tenderloin, discrimination was apparent. This was the turf of the enlisted men into which officers seldom strayed. Two of the better cat houses had discreet entrances for commissioned officer that might wish to avail themselves (The Honolulu Rooms and the New Senator on Hotel Street).