The town of Lihue is no longer the “Heart of Kauai.” It used to be. But no longer. It has changed dramatically over the years.
I can go way back to memories of Lihue for almost 70 years. Almost 72 if my memory as a baby was possible.
The old Lihue, the “Heart of Kauai,” was the post office, Lihue Store, Tip Top Cafe and Bakery, George’s Service Station and the Lihue Plantation Office, the library, Sharon Sue, the County Building and the courthouse, the large baseball field which is still there and even a Sears store. Dairy Queen, our hang-out on weekends. Kress Store and Hamura’s Saimin. Garden Island Motors and The Garden Island Publishing Company. The Lihue Theater, the bowling alley and Isenberg gym and field where all our Friday night football games were played. Yukimura Store, Yoneji Store, Kawakami Store, Kauai Theatre, and of course Paisano Bar.
At about 3:30 every weekday afternoon, to aid the movement of pau hana traffic (no such thing as traffic signals), a police officer that really knew how to direct traffic, stood in the middle of the main intersection in Lihue and enthusiastically and efficiently kept the traffic moving. That main intersection was where Haleko Road and Rice Street intersect. From there, going straight across Rice Street was the beginning of Kuhio Highway.
Every Christmas season, colored Christmas lights were strung zig-zag across Rice Street and Kuhio Highway. The large Kamani tree that was at the corner of Lihue Store at that main intersection was decorated with colored Christmas lights.
Frequent parades went from the ball field near where Wilcox School now sits, down to Rice Street, then up Rice Street to the main intersection by Lihue Store, then up Kuhio Highway all the way to Isenberg field.
Those were great, colorful parades with great bands playing great music.
That Lihue was the “Heart of Kauai.”
The Lihue Post Office was built in 1939. My parents and my two older sisters moved into a plantation home, literally a stone’s throw from that post office, about 5 years after it was built. We had a PO box there which was our mailing address until we were forced to move out of Lihue Town and left that location in 1962. Our PO Box number was 4. Not sure how my Dad got that number but it was always so easy to remember.
So the first 18 years of my life was growing up in Lihue Town. Rode my bicycle up and down Rice Street and Kuhio Highway. I sold The Garden Island newspapers on the streets of Lihue Town, mowed lawns for 50 cents an hour for a couple of homes along Rice Street. Hung out at Dairy Queen with the gang, did drag racing at track to track, ate saimin at Hamura’s and played down on the railroad track.
Yep. That was a long time ago. And I’m so glad and proud that I grew up in Lihue Town. People were friendly and had a lot more respect and consideration for one another.
As I mentioned above, my Dad worked for Lihue Plantation and the home we lived in was owned by Lihue Plantation. In 1962 my Dad was informed that the plantation was going to move our home (literally) and three of the other four homes in our neighborhood up to German Hill by the Lutheran church. That was done in the summer of 1962. And then and there is where the “economic harm” began in Lihue Town.
The new Lihue Plantation office building was built exactly where our home sat. The First Hawaiian Bank and the Chevron Gas station take up the rest of the area of our old neighborhood. Some years later, Lihue Store and Tip Top were demolished and the buildings that are now occupied by county offices were built. George’s Service station has been a few different restaurants but I believe has now been vacant for a few years. Tip Top Cafe was moved into what used to be a residential neighborhood and is no longer a bakery. The library became the museum, Sharon Sue is gone, Dairy Queen and Kress Store are gone. Where the old bowling alley stood has become a “tourist trap,” and both theaters are still standing but no movies there.
Yukimura Store, Yoneji Store, Kawakami Store, all gone.
Then we had a Big Save supermarket in the middle of Lihue Town. A place for local residents to do their weekly shopping. Many residents could easily walk to Big Save. I think most of us locals know what happened to that.
“Economic harm!” All of it. And who let that happen?
Since 1962, Lihue Town has been slowly changing under the guise of “progress.”
Our civic leaders and planners, many of whom we have put into those positions, have failed.
Some of our current leaders think that they can now save Lihue Town with a $17 million federal grant.
The grant is a TIGER grant (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery). The county plans to revitalize Rice Street by providing more bicycle lanes, more accommodations for pedestrians, one lane of traffic in each direction and a dual left turn lane in the middle. A concept that is quite antiquated and used only in very small towns across America, and seldom used on main thoroughfares through a town such as Lihue. We used to refer to this dual left lane as a “suicide lane.”
This “revitalization” is a very feeble attempt at “Generating Economic Recovery” and will undoubtedly create tremendous inconvenience to those who wish to drive a vehicle through Lihue Town. Drive down Rice Street now. Do you see all the bicycles and pedestrians that have nowhere to go? I guess they’re going on “Build it and they will come.” Nah! That ain’t gonna work.
The Lihue Post Office is one of the few establishments left on Rice Street where people need to go. Of course it’s conveniently located where many can walk to it. However, I think most of those who walk to the Post Office are county employees from across the street.
Personally, I’d like to see the Lihue Post Office stay right where it is. And use part of the TIGER grant to “revitalize” that area by reconstructing and widening Kele Street and addressing the parking situation in that entire area. Then use the rest of the TIGER grant to maintain other existing bicycle lanes around the island. All bicycle lanes are required to be 5 feet wide, unobstructed. Anything less than that is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
This is just my opinion, but my opinion is based on growing up in the middle of Lihue Town and more than 30 years of experience designing, building and maintaining highways.
Larry Arruda is a fourth-generation Kauaiian who lives in Kapaa.