Once Important Places in Hilo

In a moment of nostalgia I found myself thinking of some of the true go to places that Hilo once could not do without. While these places have either been transformed or completely demolished, they will always be a part of the rich history of Hilo. And while young people today may have never heard of these places, they were key to the growth of our little town. Read, enjoy and share.

1. Kress Store (Downtown Hilo) – Sweet, colored popcorn. The aroma was unmistakable. You were at Kress Downtown. The little restaurant in the back was highlighted by a little fountain of water. You could get everything from Kress: toys, clothes, household goods and electronics (no smart phones or tablets, of course)

What Took Its Place:
The building itself is still there though it no longer houses the merchandise that we once relied so heavily upon. Ben Franklin was a big player at the time and it’s location in the hub of Hilo, Kaiko’o Mall, took much of their traffic and their revenue. The Kress chain closed nationally in 1981.

2. Kaiko’o Mall – Kaiko’o Mall was the island’s first enclosed Shopping Center. Some great memories come from that place as it was the center of the world for people living on the island. Kurohara’s, JC Penny, Pick and Pay, Pete’s model craft, House of Music and more. It was all there. Everyone has a memory of the Kaiko’o Mall. I’m thinking tofutti ice cream and the dream of being a Kurohara’s model. 😉

What Took Its Place: The larger, better located and more modern Prince Kuhio Plaza came to Hilo in 1985. The old Kaiko’o mall was converted into office buildings and now stands as the Hilo Courthouse.

3. Mamo Theater – Originally named the Yura Kwan Theater, it opened in 1921. The name was changed to Mamo Theater in 1937 and continued showing movies until 1983. In 1995, the roof collapsed from termite damage and the theater was demolished just a few weeks later. Movie titles included Gone With The Wind, Tora! Tora! Tora! and Hang’em High.

What Took Its Place: The age and lack of updating eventually did the Mamo Theater in. And while the Palace theater seemed to be the more preferred option for most, it was really the TriPlex Waiakea Kai Theaters that took the place of both Mamo and Palace theaters. Remember the Thursday night $1 movies at the Waiakea Theater?

4. Old Hilo Airport Terminal – Pan Am, United Airlines, Continental, Northwest, Braniff, & Western were all the major airlines that flew into the original “2nd gateway” to Hawaii. Hilo International Airport at the old terminal is now today’s cargo facility. Back then there was hardly any security at the airport and live Hawaiian music could be heard playing throughout the terminal.

What Took Its Place: The Hilo Airport Advisory Committee, appointed by Governor John Burns in 1970, decided to relocate the main terminal to be closer to the newly lengthened runway known as Runway 8-26.

5. Suisan Fish Auction – The Suisan fish auction ran for almost 95 years before it finally closed in 2001. It played a huge role in the fishing community for a very long time as the place that fishermen could sell their fish as soon as they got off of their boats. Fish prices were often times set at the auction as the local supply and demand was determined there. According to Suisan Officials, the well-known fish auction closed because FDA regulations would create a “tremendous recordkeeping burden that unreasonably increased the cost of operating the Fish Auction Market.”

What Took Its Place: Fishermen were forced to cooler their catches and sell them to wholesalers or sell them on the side of the road. Another Fish Auction was never established.

6. Woolworth’s Downtown – Located in the same Downtown area as Kress, Woolworth was a mecca of old Hilo Town. It boasted two stories of everything and anything you needed as well as the best fried chicken in town. They carried the best vinyl records of the day and even gave some away through contests with KPUA, one of only three radio stations in town.

What Took Its Place: With discount retail giants Kmart, Walmart and Target taking center stage in 1962, Woolworth unsuccessfully attempted to change their concept from being a five and dime store to becoming a discount retailer as well. Increased competition led to its decline in the 1980’s and the chain went out of business in 1997. As expected, Walmart took it’s place in Hilo town and fried chicken has never been the same.
Here are a few others that may have provided significant moments in the lives of Big Island residents everywhere.

7. Hilo Hatties
8. First McDonald’s Downtown
9. Waiakea Theaters $1 movie Thursday
10. Sun Sun Lau/ Mun Cheung Lau
11. Original Manono Mini Mart
12. Zoo at Onekahakaha Beach Park
13. Hilo Lanes
14. Kawate Seed Shop

Thanks for taking a stroll down memory lane with me. Even though these places are no longer a part of our lives, they are still very much alive in our thoughts. Do you have a favorite memory about these places? Please share in the comment section.

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