Welcome Home: Honolulu's historic Chinatown

HONOLULU (KHON2) - On Welcome Home Wednesday, we continue our look at neighborhoods on Oahu. Today, we take a closer look at Chinatown, which is filled with rich history. Locations realtor Andrew Leong talked to Kristine Uyeno about what Chinatown was like before.

Honolulu's Chinatown is a bustling, vibrant area.

It's filled with stores selling a variety of goods and produce, but it wasn't always the colorful attraction it is today.

Locations realtor Andrew Leong grew up in the area. He says Honolulu has one of the oldest Chinatowns in the country.

Before it became Chinatown, it was known as the village of Ko.

"It was actually made up of mud flats, raised coral, which had allowed for vegetation to kind of thrive with the native indigenous plants. It actually goes back to, archaeologists date it back to 890 AD," Leong said. "It allowed for foreigners to come here for work, because back in those days, plantation owners were recruiting these foreigners to come and work on the sugarcane fields."

There were a couple of big incidents that helped changed the area. In the late 1800s, a huge fire started at Wo Fat Restaurant, which spread to other buildings.

"That fire actually lasted for three days. That kind of burnt the majority of Chinatown, but they were quick to rebuild," Leong said.

In the 1900s, plague hit the area and devastated the community. Buildings were destroyed on purpose to try to stop the spread of the deadly disease. Residents had to pick up the pieces and start over.

"This Chinatown is unique, because it's in Hawaii, and this is the destination place for many people. It has a mix of cultures -- not just Chinese, but Japanese, you have Koreans, Filipinos, and, of course, the Hawaiians," Leong said.

Recently, an influx of new restaurants has attracted a different crowd to Chinatown, but it's not just about the food.

"You're also seeing some of these new art galleries that are coming up," Leong said. "So the atmosphere is changing. It's not just about these shops and restaurants, but it also opens up to this other venues."

Despite the transformation, Leong believes Chinatown's roots will remain.

He says you can feel the culture and history in the buildings, on the streets, and within the people.

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