Where You Live: Remembering Hawaii's historical theatres

By Pamela Young
Published On: Feb 04 2014 08:50:00 PM HST

Before television, before Netflix, the only venue for cinematic entertainment was the neighborhood movie theatre. KITV4's Pamela Young takes a look at Honolulu theatres of the past.


Before television, before Netflix, the only venue for cinematic entertainment was the neighborhood movie theatre.

Click here to watch Pamela Young's story.

Now, many of them are gone, but they are fondly remembered.

A digital artist has embarked on creative venture to recreate them from memory.

It's a parking lot now at the corner of University Avenue and Coyne Street.  But, 75 years ago, the Wizard of Oz was on the marquee.

Like so many movie palaces of the past, the Varsity eventually succumbed to the bulldozer.  It's an office building now, but 92 years ago, Director F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu filled the big screen.

The Kaimuki crumbled after a bad storm, and never recovered.  Even today, it's difficult to pass through these intersections without remembering.

"It's where we gathered. Everybody can remember this theatre and that theatre. Everybody's got a great story," said Digital Artist Patrick Gallagher.

Gallagher is resurrecting the old movie houses in his digital art by using a combination of apps he developed himself. With a little computer graphic magic, Gallagher fills the lobbies with light once more.

"You start with a general idea and look at the neighborhood, your own memories -- what does this theatre mean to me," said Gallagher. "You get on your computer and do different things and get lost in them."

A theatre Gallagher recalls very well is the Waikiki 3.

"If you were taking a date out, you would go to the Waikiki 3 and get your tickets – go up to that beautiful little fountain up there," Gallagher remembered. "When you walked inside, and you saw how the coconut tree and papaya trees were on either side -- you looked up you saw the stars. That was just great stuff."

Gallagher says there is one theatre that stood out in the minds of many people who saw his early artwork.

"When I started doing these pictures about theatres, everybody talked about the Princess. Everybody talked about their memories – air conditioning," he said.

Not only did movie goers have a love for the theatres, but the workers themselves.

"It was a big thing. We considered it an honor to work there," said Former Usherette Florence Lum. "We were considered the nicest Chinese girls in town."

Lum and her fellow coworkers organized a softball league. At first base was Grace Chinn Young, my mother.

"When you told me your mom worked there. I knew I had to do something, "said Gallagher.

But growing up in Hauula made the Haleiwa Gallagher's favorite theatre.

"Everybody would show up at the Haleiwa to see the surf movies. It was a great, great theatre," he said.

Sad that these palaces are gone, and sadder still are the ones still standing and abandoned.

"When you see something like the Queen Theatre – falling apart – you feel very bad. One of the things I try to do with my work is to dream how it was."

And through his imagination, Gallagher has recreated how it was for the Cinerama, the Kuhio, and the Kailua Drive In too.

"When you show them [people] a memory, that triggers something – a moment – something they remember," he said.

If you love movies and the theatres you saw them in, those memories are golden.

In pre-war Honolulu, Chinatown was the entertainment district with more than two dozen theatres. Some theatres neighbored each other. Those entertainment landmarks will be explored when "Where You Live" goes to Chinatown.

Waikiki 3 movie theatre

Old Hawaii theatre renderings

Click here to see more recreations of Hawaii's old movie theatres.


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