Oahu's Haleiwa Town Is Facing Change...Again


Reed Travel Features

HONOLULU -- By the turn of the century, Hawaii had its first resort development outside Waikiki.

The wealthy could escape Honolulu city life, staying at the fancy new Haleiwa Hotel on Oahu's north shore.

Families, too, would take the new Oahu Railway & Land Co. train from downtown Honolulu to Haleiwa for a day at the seaside.

Haleiwa remains and is promoted as Oahu's "last historic town."

The elite no longer shoot game birds and pigs in the hills or row on the town's Anahulu River.

With the Depression, the hotel became a private club, then a World War II officers' club, before its demolition in the early 1950s.

The railway closed in 1947.

Before 1899, Haleiwa did not exist.

Both the hotel and Waialua Sugar Co., its mill a few miles west, were established that year, beginning the area's development.

Now, Haleiwa again is confronting change.

Not only has sugar gone, but a new bypass road means that tourists must watch for signs saying how to reach it.

Previously, they had to drive through town.

Last October, Waialua Sugar Co., with a mill employing 174 people, closed, marking the end of the sugar industry on Oahu.

In its heyday, long ago, the plantation employed 2,000; in the 1980s, about 350.

Owner Dole Food Co. is experimenting with alternative crops for the 12,000 acres of cane.

In October 1995, the 2.3-mile Haleiwa bypass, built way beyond budget, for $32 million, was completed.

Today, Haleiwa is a mix of boutiques, gift stores and art galleries, in old frame buildings or new ones built in a similar plantation design, with 120 businesses in all.

Sprawling along several miles of Kamehameha Highway, it also is Oahu's surfing capital, gateway to the famous Waimea Bay, the Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach and home to more than a dozen surf shops.

The population swells in winter, when pros from around the world compete, beginning with the Triple Crown of Surfing in late November.

Vacation rental prices jump (there are no hotels here; the only one, Turtle Bay Hilton, is down the coast).

Before the bypass, visitors drove through Haleiwa (35 miles from Waikiki) on the 90-mile circle-island route.

The route, along the H2 freeway through the pineapple fields of central Oahu and around the east coast, provides Oahu with one of its most popular sightseeing itineraries.

For months after the bypass opened, Honolulu papers reported Haleiwa's plight, merchants lamenting lost business.

"I'd say Haleiwa's business is still down a little," said Joe Lazar, president of Haleiwa Main Street.

Tour buses continue to stop, and the mill's closure, he said, so far has had no real impact.

However, North Shore residents, particularly those who might have stopped for gas, fast food or a beer, now are more inclined to bypass the town.

Lazar added, though, that because of the bypass, "I like the town a lot better. Long term, we have a brighter future.

"It was congested, crowded and noisy, particularly on weekends."

Lazar, manager of the Chart House restaurant, has seen a drop in his breakfast business.

He should know about congestion.

The Chart House is on the old hotel site, by the narrow Anahulu River bridge, built in 1921. This is the town's big bottleneck.

The bridge also provides picturesque views toward the mountains, popular with painters, although the rustic wooden homes along the riverbank went a decade ago.

Haleiwa was designated a special historic design district by the City and County of Honolulu in the mid-'80s, with 34 buildings singled out.

The move came after its old theater was demolished, galvanizing public opinion toward preservation.

Haleiwa Main Street, formed seven years ago, lost its full-time director early in 1996 after the state eliminated funding for Main Street programs.

The all-volunteer group is planning to beautify and improve signage at the town's entryway.

It spearheaded the restoration of the courthouse (built in 1912), on which the state spent $500,000, and it has yet to choose a tenant.

Haleiwa has seen new businesses move in.

The North Shore Marketplace, one of several shopping centers, underwent expansion.

It also has donated space for a new attraction, the nonprofit North Shore Surfing and Cultural Museum, which will open soon and will be run by a community group, the Wai-alua/North Shore Historical Society.

For the visitor, Haleiwa must have the biggest choice of restaurants in rural Oahu, drawing on visitors and a north shore population of 15,000 (4,000 of them in the Haleiwa and Waialua area).

The latest to open is Porto-fino, at the Marketplace, offering northern Italian and Mediterranean cuisine.

Haleiwa has two Mexican restaurants, Rosie's Cantina and Cholo's, and two seafood eateries, Jameson's and the Chart House.

It has Pizza Bob's and China Chop Suey and, for fast food, several drive-ins as well as McDonald's, Pizza Hut and KFC.

Ralston Antiques and Collectibles is a new addition to the stores.

The seven or so art galleries include Wyland; Thomas Dier (in a converted gas station), and the newest, the Art Plantation, which displays the work of more than 20 local artists.

Matsumoto's Shave Ice is probably Haleiwa's best-known store, and Fujioka's Supermarket is noted for its extensive wine list.

Haleiwa also has the two beach parks -- Haleiwa and Alii -- and a small boat harbor.

Ocean activities offered include gamefishing, catamaran rides and jet skis.

Windsurfing, surfing and snorkeling lessons and equipment also are available.

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