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Where You Live: Pearl City

By Moanike'ala Nabarro
Published On: Nov 21 2013 06:45:00 PM HST

KITV4's Moanike'ala Nabarro takes us inside the history of Pearl City.  Click here to read the story.

PEARL CITY, Hawaii -

Welcome to Pearl City, a thriving town home to 47,000 people.  Among them, Ruby Kaho'opi'i, who has lived here close to 50 years.

"Oh, it really changed a lot.  When we moved here, there was just a small portion," said Kaho'opi'i.  "My husband was a veteran so we got the veteran rights to pick up lots."

Click here to watch Moanikeala Nabarro's report.

Suburban development kickstarted here in the 1890s when O'ahu Railway and Land Company added a Pearl City station to their bustling train line.

Councilman Breene Harimoto was born here in 1954.  He remembers when all of this was sugar cane fields.

"We would see these huge trucks come by and hauling all the sugar cane to the factory," said Harimoto.

Down the hill, a repair shop where the Pearl City theater once stood.  For nine cents, you could catch a double feature!

This is a big, small town.  It's easy to find familiar faces, like restaurant owner Harry Balatico.  Ask him about Pearl City and he thinks of just one place.

"Pearl City Tavern, now everybody knows Pearl City Tavern," said Balatico.  "And they had the Monkey Bar there and the Banzai showing there.  It was one of the places local people would go and eat."

For others, Pearl City is about winners, especially in baseball.  Pearl City has won so many titles, some still think of it as a baseball town.

But what about the name?

The traditional name for Pearl City is Manana.  An old map shows Manana as one of 12 ahupua'a, or subdivisions, within the Ewa district.  It sits right next to the ahupua'a of Waiawa, Waimano and Wai'au.

Through the years, the lines have been mostly forgotten and this entire area is now known as simply Pearl City.

The Manana ahupua'a runs from the Ko'olau mountains and into the Pearl Harbor lochs.

In ancient times, the floodplains were strictly taro, but not the irrigated type.  Instead, it was a ditch bed form-filled with water from the streams and surrounding springs.

The watercress farm in Aiea gives us a glimpse of what those floodplains might have looked like.

Standing across the street from the Wai'au Power Plant, you'll find an overgrown fresh pool of water, where some believed a mermaid lived.

The legend speaks of a worried mother who goes searching for her missing daughter at Honokawailani.

"As she walks toward the daughter, the daughter tells her to stop and she doesn't know why," said Lahela Igarta, the kumu at Wai'au Elementary.  "She asked the daughter to come with her and as [the daughter] dives down she sees a mermaid tail.  So, the mother cries because she knows the daughter can never come home with her."

Long before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the waters here were known for their beautiful pearls.  But, by the 1880s, deforestation caused major runoff suffocating the oysters.  By 1901, there were hardly any left.

Today, the water is still here, but so much has changed.

In the early 2000s, big box retailers like Walmart and Home Depot started to move in, but not without a fight.

"The community was clear that they didn't want the big boxes coming in.  We wanted to keep it kinda local," said Harimoto.  "We got the big boxes and all the traffic."

Soon, a train will change this town again.  These empty homes sit on an area known as the Banana Patch.  Eventually it will be transformed into a rail station and parking garage.

But, despite the ever-changing surroundings, people who live here still embody that old school Aloha.

"It's a wonderful community, even though we've grown into a big city," said Harimoto.  "I think we still cherish that in our hearts -- local style.  I live up the street now.  I still feel that."

Give the size of Pearl City there so much more history that we didn't have time to get to -- the old Pearl City bowling alley, the peninsula in the 1920s and 1930s that was Hawaii's version of the Hamptons.

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