History of Chinatown

“Chinatown is, nevertheless, the one and only district in Honolulu which reflects vividly in its buildings, institutions, and people, the full impact of the city’s role as a center of attraction for many diverse races and cultures.” (p7)

Honolulu's historic Chinatown developed in the mid-1800s after the influx of immigrants from overseas. The development of this area was due to the proximity of the harbor and the ease of trade. Chinatown is approximately 36 acres with boundaries existing along the Nuuanu Stream, Beretania Street, Nuuanu Avenue, and Honolulu Harbor. The area served as the first center for trade and commerce for Hawaii’s residents.

After completing their contracts with the sugar plantation, many Chinese immigrants bought parcels of land along the harbor and opened restaurants, shops, and specialized services with residential accommodations built in or near the same building. Immigrants of other races also built businesses, but majority of the establishments were owned and operated by the Chinese population, hence the area became known as “Chinatown.”

In 1886 and 1900, Chinatown experienced two fires that devastated the community, and nearly the entire area had to be rebuilt. Wooden structures that were untouched eventually fell into disrepair, and were replaced with buildings made out of brick, stone, and concrete. Most of the structures in Chinatown are dated from 1901 and on.

Adjacent buildings share a common wall because the lots in Chinatown are very small. To make the most of the space, buildings are up to three and sometimes four stories high, and owners utilize the wide sidewalk just outside their storefront. The outer façade of every building has been preserved, while many owners have renovated and updated the inside. Since its development, Chinatown has been, and always will be, a gathering place filled with rich culture and history.

The above information is based off information compiled and collected by the National Parks Service. We encourage you to take the time to delve further into the rich history of Honolulu's Chinatown.