Chinatown, more formally known as the Chinatown Historic District, is a 15-block neighborhood in Honolulu, Hawaii known for its markets, hole-in-the-wall eateries and art galleries. It is one of the earliest Chinatowns in the United States, boasting of a colorful but tragic past.
Sugar plantation workers imported from China moved in the area and started to build their small businesses in the 19th century after their labor contracts expired. Soon, it became a thriving commercial district in Honolulu.
However, the area was burned to the ground in 1886 when an out-of-control fire struck the area and destroyed most of the original buildings. After 13 years, another massive fire engulfed the area, bringing in more devastation. The second fire was intentional and was supposed to bring down buildings that were believed to be infected by the Bubonic Plague. Unfortunately, the wind shifted and the fire spread, devouring a total of 38 acres and leaving thousands homeless. Nowadays, those living in the houses and in a condominium in the area can get home insurance so they can at least rebuild if such a disaster happened again. Back then? Not so much.
The area was rebuilt but mainly for business and commerce. People opted to build homes in the suburbs and work in Chinatown just in case another disaster occurs. The Second World War brought in new misfortune. The area fell into disrepair and eventually became a red-light district. Crime also became a serious problem.
In 1973, about 36 acres of the district was added to the National Register of Historic Places listings in Oahu. Local businessmen eventually started revitalizing the area. On the eastern edge of the district, the Hawaii Theatre was restored and re-opened in 1996. The area around the theatre is called the Arts District. In 2005 a small park near the theatre at the corner of Hotel and Bethel streets was opened and called Chinatown Gateway Park. It was later renamed to Sun Yat-Sen Park in honor of the Chinese historical figure who came to Chinatown in 1879 where he was educated and planned the Chinese Revolution of 1911.
At present, efforts to preserve Chinatown are on way. Markets, mom-and-pop shops, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and art galleries make this colorful 140-year-old neighborhood one of the most popular tourist destination in Honolulu today.
Some of the most popular places in Honolulu Chinatown are the colorful Oahu Market, Maunakea Marketplace and Kekaulike Market. These markets sell a variety of fresh produce, sea foods and an ecclectic assortment of Southeast Asian merchandise. Apart from Chinese merchants, shops selling Vietnamese, Laotian, Japanese, Thai, Filipino, Hawaiian, Korean and Caucasian goods are also present here.
Chinatown, Honolulu is located between Nuuanu Stream and Nuuanu Avenue in downtown Honolulu.