When it first opened its doors in 1922, the Hawaii Theatre was considered the prize jewel of downtown Honolulu—local residents, in fact, proclaimed the 1,400-seat house the “Pride of the Pacific.”
Built by Consolidated Amusement of Honolulu, the theater carried an elegant neo-classical theme with stately Corinthian columns, marble statues, plush carpeting and drapery, and a domed ceiling that changed colors. The theater’s double cantilever balcony, with no pillars blocking the view of the main floor, was considered an architectural marvel at the time. And then there was perhaps the theater’s most breathtaking feature: Lionel Walden’s mural, Glorification of the Drama, which presided over the proscenium arch.
A booklet produced for the theater’s debut hailed the facility as “the perfect theatre insofar as a man as yet achieved perfection.”
In its heyday, it hosted numerous theatrical, film and Vaudeville-type events.
As the years turned to decades, however, the Hawaii Theatre became debilitated, neglected and practically forgotten. From the 1950s, it was used strictly as a movie palace, playing B-films such as Outlaw Samurai and The Five Naked Beauties. In 1984, it took a group of concerned citizens to rescue the theater from being demolished. Just five years later, in the fall of 1989, the entire facility was closed for a $30-million renovation.
Finally, in April 1996, the Hawaii Theatre reopened to rave reviews. Even Lionel Walden’s mural was faithfully restored. Since then, the theater staged hundreds of special concerts and major events—Stomp!, the Shanghai Circus and Slava’s Snowshow, to name just a few—and has been a leading catalyst in the revitalization of downtown Honolulu.
Once again, Honolulu’s denizens have their beloved “Pride of the Pacific.” Said one theater official, “The community needed to see how beautiful and functional the theater could be. Once we were able to restore it and make it work as a performance hall, people fell in love with it all over again.”
Note: The Hawaii Theatre is listed on both the State and National Register of Historic Places.