Big cars cruised King Street 50 years ago (and not a bike in sight)

by Jim Kelly | Nov. 7, 2018

Rummaging through the Hawaiian Electric photo archive, I really scored with this discovery: a series of street scenes from 1967–69 on King Street through McCully and Moiliili.

The cars are fantastic, though I still don’t know how people maneuvered their big Chevys and Fords and Oldsmobiles around this town. It probably helped that there was a lot less traffic and street parking seemed ample.

What surprised me is how little the landscape of King Street has changed in 50 years. Sure, it’s one-way now with bike lanes, but going Kokohead from Pensacola Street, a lot of the low-slung two-story buildings are still there, as are some of the gas stations and even some houses. The occupants and signage have changed, but the character of the street is very much the same, unlike Kapiolani Boulevard, which has gone from horizontal to high-rise vertical in just the past few years.

The photos were taken to document utility work that was part of a street-widening project in advance of King and Beretania streets switching to one-way in 1971. Poles were removed and utility lines placed underground, sidewalks were pushed back, sleek new streetlights were added and a new traffic lane was created. The “before” pictures were taken in November 1967 with the “afters” in January 1969, meaning this work was done in a year or less.

Some noteworthy sights:

  • The Honolulu Civic Auditorium, torn down in 1974 and now the site of the Interstate Building.
  • The Cinerama Theatre. The building still stands but today it’s an auto parts store. I like this photo because the marquee features Howard Hughes’s favorite movie, “Ice Station Zebra.” (If that reference is too obscure, look it up).
  • The intersection of King and Keeaumoku, which looks nearly the same today, including the snarled up traffic. King gained another traffic lane after utility poles were removed and the sidewalk was pushed back toward the storefronts. There must have been some pretty frustrating left-turn backups at that intersection.

Jim Kelly is the vice president of corporate relations at Hawaiian Electric Company.