Chinatown History

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Address 15 blocks in downtown Honolulu , Honolulu, HI 96817
Get a feel for where your feet land while in the historic Chinatown.

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• General: Educational • General: History

Jewel A's Take
Chinatown has never been the cleanest place, but it is rich in history and traditions. They had two major fires that destroyed their town due to problems with gambling, prostitution, opium dens, rat infestation, and unsanitary conditions. The first fire occurred in 1886, the other in 1900.

The Board of Health put the town under strict quarantine before making residents evacuate. Residents were thrown into “Pest Houses” and their clothing was burned.

The Board of Health, then, actually lit the fire to just burn down the buildings infested with plague, that got out of control. This killed many. Later the bodies were thrown into an Iron works oven.

The red brick look of Chinatown was not the intentional, it was due to a shortage of materials after the two devastating fires caused by unclean behavior.

The trade ships brought the red bricks, which the ship men used as ballast and threw into the harbor, and the granite stones that some sidewalks are made of. The reason the buildings have overhangs was to protect the wooden sidewalks.

Concrete became popular (showing you had money and prestige). Stucco was a cheaper alternative that was also used in construction. Most foundations were built on steel, but it's believed that many of the old buildings are supported by railroad track ties.

Low rents, better variety, and no middlemen allowed farmers to bring their fresh produce and sell it for low prices at the open air markets surrounding Chinatown.

The most unique and beneficial thing that Chinatown offers is ancient Chinese herbal medicine shops. Other than that, you will find a surplus of Chinese restaurants and import shops that open around the same time as the open air markets.

Information from, and a big Mahalo to, Uncle Lary Zablan who dedicated his life to learning and sharing Hawaii.
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