Saturday, August 11, 2007

Landmarks of Mo'ili'ili

There are landmarks, real shrines of my childhood, that are about to come crumbling down soon.

Bowl-O-Drome. Varsity Theater. It's sad, it's progress. It surprises me that there are longtime residents of Mo'ili'ili (and Ala Wai) who readily accept change so easily. I don't. The building has been in disrepair for many years, hasn't been occupied just as long.

I already lived through the destruction of adjacent Honolulu Stadium, which has turned out to be a great thing for folks who enjoy walking through its replacement, Old Stadium Park. However, there's a need for a sizable, central and affordable sports facility — particularly for the high schools, small colleges and even winter league baseball. Central and East Honolulu have been devoid of this niche since the old stadium was razed in 1975, which for a kid at the time (like me), is a lost era that hasn't been replaced.

And there's my beloved Varsity Theater, used for art films in recent years. My first film there was "Rokcy" in 1976 and I can never drive past the place without a bit of heartbreak stirring in my heart. The theater closed shop last month and is slated to come down as Bishop Estate, its owner, plans to build student housing for nearby University of Hawaii. I'm not against housing. It's in major shortage and has been since I was a student at UH in the 1980s. However, a little creativity would spare the facade of Varsity Theater — arguably Mo'ili'ili's best known and most handsome landmark. I suggest that the facade be saved and used as the entrance for the housing development's offices. Or better yet, use the facade as the entrance for a restaurant.

The location is in proximity of Manoa Valley, Makiki, even Waikiki, and a trio of new restaurants would be a magnet for the neighborhood economy.

Same can be said of Stadium Bowl-O-Drome, which is in a more residential area of Mo'ili'ili, but would be a fitting spot for a new Big City Diner. Though the popular eatery has another location in Kaimuki, a 10-minute drive away, Bowl-O-Drome is built with retro design all over it. It's just my personal fantasy, I know, but it's close enough to Waikiki that it could offer an alternative for tourists while still catering to local tastes.

Just some rambling thoughts about landmarks of Mo'ili'ili, and how they affect my soul. I don't ever expect to hear the sound of pin action in Bowl-O-Drome again, but that doesn't mean we can't attempt to preserve the grandeur and classic beauty of the place. I'm not so willing to let go of these places.

Look, I know that it can be hard to equate anything from a concrete jungle to anything soul. But it's true. Though the watershed of Ala Wai was virtually destroyed and covered with concrete, the spirit of the people who remained, who arrived, lives on no matter what is constructed and torn down. And it will live on.

I think of the Varsity Theater and how it survived through 70 years of Mo'ili'ili's development — a leg East in the development of then "suburban" Honolulu — and I wonder how much of a miracle it would be to see the memories and beauty of the place live on.

Check out a wonderful ode to Varsity Theater here.

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