In the days after Pearl Harbor, it seemed possible that Honolulu could be invaded and conquered by the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy.
Instead, it was victory and the passage of time that have erased much of the World War II-era city.
The attack that launched the United States into World War II led to a massive military buildup on the islands, then jet-age tourism and statehood. It was Florida without the bus, California without the winter, Mexico and the Caribbean without the need to know a word of the native tongue. The tourism boom made and remade the landscape.
Few businesses have survived the wrecking ball or retained the afterglow of the World War II era. Among them, here are some of my favorites:
The original luxury hotel on the beach at Waikiki, the white wedding-cake Victorian hotel celebrated its 110th birthday this year. It was given a recent refurbishing that keeps its essential turn-of-the-last-century feel while giving it the amenities - flat-screen television, Wi-Fi and fluffy new beds in every room. The original wings of the hotel form a deep courtyard facing the beach, with most of the area shaded by the broad canopy of the historic banyan tree. More than anywhere else in Waikiki, it is possible to feel like you are in an older, quieter time. The hotel is a favorite for Japanese couples who come to the islands to get married. Brides are frequently photographed in the white lobby and hotel front. 2365 Kalakaua Ave. Details: www.moana-surfrider.com.
The Royal Hawaiian
The Moana's neighbor up the beach is known as the "Pink Palace of the Pacific." It's the younger sister - having opened in 1927. Like the Moana, it was owned for a long time by the Matson shipping line. It served as a recreational facility for service members during World War II. Like the Moana, it found its beach front strung with barbed wire in anticipation for a Japanese invasion that never came. And like the Moana (and the nearby Sheraton), it's now owned by Kyo-ya, a Japanese conglomerate (that in turn is now owned by the Cerberus Capital Management firm from New York - finance truly is global). 2259 Kalakaua Ave. Details: www.royal-hawaiian.com.
For generations who sailed into Honolulu, the small skyscraper at the port with the word ALOHA on the side was a symbol of arrival in the islands. The 184-foot-tall building was a landmark, the tallest building in Honolulu from when it opened in 1926 until the early 1960s. Once used by shipping companies and businesses at the nearby port, it fell on hard times as business moved to other parts of town. The tower was placed on the National Register of Historic Sites in 1976, and several attempts have been made to revitalize the building and surrounding area as the Aloha Tower Marketplace, a shopping and restaurant center. The project has struggled to remain in the black. Cruise ships still pull up to the nearby docks, though not as frequently as during its heyday. 1 Aloha Tower Drive. Details: www.alohatower.com.
: The hotels that once lined this street in Chinatown were houses of prostitution that operated with the knowledge, if not consent, of U.S. military leaders. It was the center of much of the off-base action in the book and movie "From Here to Eternity," set at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. Today the area has a more sedate atmosphere, with restaurants and stores that cater to locals and tourists. Vietnamese and Filipino businesses have moved into some of the Chinatown district. There are lots of bakeries and lei shops in the area. Check out the pagoda-like building of the legendary (but now closed) Wo Fat, long the oldest restaurant in Hawaii. The producers of the original "Hawaii Five-0" series named their arch villain after the restaurant as an inside joke. One of the few remnants of the era is the neon sign for the Club Hubba Hubba (no longer in business). The historic area is between Bethel Street and Aala Triangle Park. Details: www.chinatownhi.com.
La Mariana Sailing Club
. Tucked away in a distant part of industrial Sand Island between Pearl Harbor and Waikiki, the sailing club's tiki-themed bar didn't open until 1957, 16 years after Pearl Harbor. But it's the best surviving example of classic South Seas watering holes that flourished in Hawaii before, during and just after the war. Many attempts have been made around the tourist areas of Waikiki to re-create the look and feel of the bamboo-and-rum ambience of La Mariana, but its longevity and decidedly non-touristy location give it an authenticity that the others can't touch. 50 Sand Island Access Road. Details: www.lamarianasailingclub.com.