While the end of World War II led to drastically reduced numbers of military presence and thus, business in Chinatown, the neighborhood remained a thriving center for entertainment and nightlife through the 1950s.
Live jazz and swing music were especially popular. However, changes in technology and Honolulu’s infrastructure eventually drew business and residents away from Chinatown. The increasing use of cars as a main mode of transportation reduced the need to live, work, shop and socialize in the same area — many people consequently moved to the suburbs. The construction of H-1 made cars to merely pass by Chinatown and instead go to farther places away from the water port, such as connecting Waikīkī to the airport. Fewer people needed to use public modes of transportation that would have otherwise forced them to pass through Chinatown and downtown. Furthermore, the construction of Ala Moana center forced many Chinatown businesses to relocate to the shopping mall in order to stay in business.
Businesses that remained in Chinatown felt the need to shift to adult entertainment more than ever, with the exception of lei and produce stands on Maunakea Street, as well as some Chinese and Filipino restaurants. Theaters, including the Hawaii Theatre, showed X-rated films. Vaudeville shows gave way to strip clubs and sex shops. Retail outlets became dollar stores and bookstores carried adult-oriented inventory. With the severely reduced number of residents living in Chinatown at this time, the number of neighborhood stakeholders dwindled, as well.
More on 1960s Decline
- David Cheever, Honolulu Weekly: What’s up with Today’s Downtown/Chinatown?
- Mike Leidemann, Honolulu Advertiser: Tracking H-1’s path of progress
- Nancy Bannick - A Close Call: Saving Honolulu’s Chinatown