Depends on when and where you lived, Aala Park conjures many memories, some pleasant, many not.

I grew up in the Liliha-Palama area and attended school in Kalihi, so back in the day, Aala Park was a hub with a mix of merchants, park users and if memory is correct, served as a major transit point for HRT, the bus service known as Honolulu Rapid Transit.  If you were west bound,  this was the place to transfer – on King Street, which was two-way then — to hop on a Liliha or Kalihi bus.

Aala Park’s east side border is Nuuanu Stream.

Today, it’s a site overtaken by the homeless, with no shops, no legit commuter foot traffic, since its boundary streets – west-bound on Beretania, west-bound on Hotel, and east-bound on King – are all one-way. (Beretania is partially two-way). The three streets converge at Nuuanu Stream.

But what if Aala Park had a different destiny? That it didn’t become a hangout for druggies and the homeless? That it transitioned into a recreation destination?

Shops nearby Aala Park included a saloon and grocery store.

Aala would have evolved into a totally different place.

The retail cluster is long gone. I recall Japanese restaurants and movie theaters back in the day, and though I don’t remember ‘em, Aala boasted two baseball diamonds and at one point became the zone’s defining trademark. Aala Park hosted local baseball games with teams such as the Honolulus, the Kamehamehas, the Punahous, the Maile Ilimas.

Politicos gathered for rallies. Families shopped for gifts, at park bazaars and at merchants across the street.

The park’s old comfort station, built in 1916, was the city’s first public restroom.

Toyo Theatre was inspired by a Japan shrine.

An architectural gem – the Toyo Theatre – was a movie house built in the late 1930s with an ornate Asian motif designed by Charles W. Dickey, inspired by the Toshogu Shrine of Ieyasu Tokugawa in Nikko, Japan. The theater was located on College Walk, a stone’s throw from the River Street drainage canal that still is there. The movie house  was renamed Aala after WWII, and razed years later. And believe it or not, a Las Vegas-bound company of “Hair,” featuring the late James Grant Benton, was staged here.

OR&L diesel train, in Iwilei

Further across the street was the terminal for OR&L (Oahu Rail & Land) railway station,  which operated trains to Kahuku and back, between 1889 and 1971. I recall, as a youngster, we had a family trek to parks and beaches of Haleiwa and the remnants of the Iwilei station, across Aala Park, remain today. (There was a turntable for a turn-around in the city). The train carried passengers as well as transporting sugar cane and pineapple from the Ewa Plain to Kahuku.

But Aala became the spot to avoid and the stigma remains today. A skateboard park on the Beretania side of the park now offers recreational space for nearby tenants. The green space – grassy lawn, shade trees – is nice. But the stigma of a dubious past keeps folks away.

Do you have remembrances to share, about the Aala Park of yesteryear?


Kevin McCollum, an executive producer of the just-released “In the Heights” musical film, brings an island link to the summer’s first hit film.

McCollum, who earlier co-produced “Heights” in its Broadway incarnation, has had a New York career spanning 25 years. He has earned the Tony Award for Best Musical for “In the Heights” (2008), “Avenue Q” (2004) and “Rent” (1996).  In the upcoming Broadway season beginning Sept. 14, McCollum will be represented with “Six” and “Mrs. Doubtfire,” two newbies on Broadway.

He also previously produced “Motown: The Musical,” “Something Rotten,” “Hand to God” and “The Drowsy Chaperone” on Broadway.

Kevin McCollum

His film credit this year will be the new vision of an old favorite, “West Side Story,” directed by Steven Spielberg.

McCollum was born in Hawaii, the son of Sue McCollum Gereben; she  appeared in “Hawaii Five-0” and was active with media groups including the Honolulu Press Club. …

Meaningful numbers

In the aforementioned “In the Heights,”  there’s a bunch of numbers for a hot lottery ticket, and the sum of $96,000 as the amount of the prize.

Jon M. Chu, who directed the film, has a particular interest in figures, so the 96,000 number is the title of the lavish water and swimming pool production number.

But New York Magazine’s Vulture wing also reports the background story on the lottery ticket number: 5-7-16-26-33.

Turns out Chu’s wife Kristin Hodge was hapax with their second son, the film was being shot, and as the director of “Crazy Rich Asians” shared this cooky series of reasons of why those figs were assembled: 5 is his wife’s birthday month; 7-16 is their daughter’s birthday; 7-26 is their anniversary date and also the due date of their son.

“When I showed my wife (the numbers), she was like, ‘You know our anniversary is the 27th, right? And the baby is due on the 27th,” he was quoted. But a few weeks after the shoot, the boy was born … on July 26, “so he had my back,” said Chu. And rightfully, the toddler was named Jonathan Heights Chu. Imagine the story he’ll share when he grows up. …

Fashion focus

Bruno Mars says his fashion muse is Cher.

Bruno Mars

Well, maybe he was kidding when asked whose style inspired him.

InStyle interviewed Mars, the superstar from Hawaii, and Mars credited Cher as his muse. The changed his mind and said he is his own muse.

Amusing? Maybe.

Mars is the inspiration behind his Ricky Regal lifestyle brand, named after his alter ego, and the Lacoste fashion house describes the Mars product thusly: “Inspired by a lust for life and an entrepreneurial Midas touch.”  It’s a luxurious but sporty line. …

The Emmy goes to …

The Honolulu Theatre for Youth, Hawaii News Now, and Ballet Hawaii were bestowed regional Emmy awards recently from the Northern California competition.

HTY’s TV show, “The HI Way,” earned three awards:

  • For Arts/Entertainment – Long Format: “Da Holidays: The HI Way” (NMG Network/HTY), Jason Cutinella, Katie Pickman, exec producers; Eric Johnson, producer.
  • For Arts/Entertainment – Long Format: “Pono: The HI Way.” Same creators.
  • For Informational/Instructional – Long Form content: “Racism: The HI Way,” episode eight. Same creators.

Hawaii News Now won three::

  • For Hard News Report – “On the Frontline: Honolulu EMS,”  KGMB/KHNL Hawaii News Now. Allyson Blair, reporter; Jonathan Suyat, photographer.
  • For Historic/Cultural – Long Format: “Queen Liliuokalani Keiki Hoike,” KGMB/KHNL Hawaii News Now,” Guy Sibilla, Wendy Suite, exec producers; Mary Beth McClelland, producer; Josephine Kristine, director-editor; Kennedy Carson and Lacy Deniz, hosts.
  • For Spot Announcement/Campaign – “Ballet Hawaii’s #Arts Beyond Covid,” KGMB/KHNL Hawaii News Now/Ballet Hawaii. Pamela Taylor Tongg, exec producer; Stasia Droze Jost, producer-director-writer-editor; Deborah Glazer, producer-director-writer-editor…

And that’s “Show Biz.” …


For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic started 16 months ago, I finally had the courage to see a movie in an actual theater last night (June 10).  The coronavirus had been a threat for months.

The lure was “In the Heights,” the highly anticipated film version of the Lin-Manuel Miranda Broadway musical, which I saw at Consolidated’s Ward Centre complex. It was a 5:10 p.m. screening, a day ahead of today’s (June 11) national release date in theaters across America (also streaming on HBO Max).

ANTHONY RAMOS as Usnavi and MELISSA BARRERA as Vanessa in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “IN THE HEIGHTS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Till now, in my opinion, there hasn’t been a bona fide gotta-see-it-in-a-theater-attraction till “Heights” arrived. It’s this summer’s first big hit (it can’t fail), with Anthony Ramos (“Hamilton,” “A Star Is Born”) playing Usnavi, a bodega owner originally portrayed by Miranda on stage. Of course, Miranda co-wrote the musical and the new film in collaboration with Quiara Alegria Hudes.

Advice: Don’t be afraid of “Heights.”  This is a true Hollywood musical, masterfully directed by Jon M. Chu (“Crazy Rich Asians”), with dash and splash and hip-hop songs aplenty. Parallel love stories co-exist with spectacles, and there are many exhilarating moments, like hundreds of agile dancers hip-hopping, popping, boogieing in the streets when they’re not prancing and swimming in a spectacular old-fashioned kaleidoscopic water ballet scene in the Highbridge Pool (shot from overhead, natch). The latter is an homage to the Esther Williams-Busby Berkeley tradition,  and a feel-good, high energy vibe of real people doing real things with real dreams and real pain.

In other words, a worthy and relevant documentation of Washington Heights folks – largely Puerto Rican and Latino, with some blacks and whites — bonding and connecting in New York’s Upper West Side, struggling to make a buck, sort out conflicts in life, worrying about college payments, dreaming of winning the lottery of $96,000, and fearful and deprived of a planned black-out to ease the strain of power providers during a summer of intense heat.

The common denominator in the film and its populace is the keen and continuous dream and gleam of winning the lottery, and what to do, if and when.  Move out of the hood? Invest in a new shop? Pay off college debt?  Fantasy and reality meet head on, in a fusion of hope and the sense of community and culture is steadfast. And whoa, what a sweet dance scene when lovers in a tenement porch suddenly start moving up the walls amid ACs and steps in one of the most endearing moments of romantic fantasy

They key characters are modest icons of folks in any community. Usnavi’s gal Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) wants to exit to downtown, for a new life; Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), the young assistant cousin of Usnavi at the store, wishes for computers to share with his barrio buds; the senoritas at the local beauty salon want to scoot to Atlantic City in pursuit of joy.

Cuba in the ’40s, she delivers a poignant “Paciencia y Fe,” reflecting the hardship of emigration.

And Jimmy Smits appears as Kevin Rosario, a cab service owner caught in a financial bind and his daughter Nina’s (Leslie Grace ) conflicted status as a collegial student or drop out

Two cameos are worth noting. Miranda appears as the piragua (shave ice) peddler; Christopher Jackson (“Hamilton,” “Bull”) is the scene-stealing dude in the Mister Softee van.

The presence of the George Washington Bridge, looming down the street, gives “Heights” an immediate sense of time and place, standing watch over the trials and tribulations of a community pride.

Ramos, with his charming, freckled face, likely will emerge as filmdom’s next big star, and being a Latino will help bridge the gap on diversity issues. His smile is genuine, his heart gigantic, he manages to leap from the crowd scenes to create a warm, convincing leading man.


Just asking…

Pharrell Williams

When you’re feeling down and out, what song will trigger a sunshiny-bright mood that could change a frown into a smile?

I nominate Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” that snappy and cheery ditty that could easily brighten a room.

Part of the lyrics: “Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof, because I’m happy.”

Share and nominate a song – and provide a few lines from a verse, if you can – to add to the list of happy ditties that can shoosh away the stress.


Auli‘i Cravalho, the Kamehameha Schools graduate who voiced Moana in the hit Disney animated film, has had a whirlwind year ever since she came out on Tik Tok in April 2020.

In June 2021, half-smiling in a full page story with photo in Entertainment Weekly, she’s talking about how far she’ll go in the next step of her acting career. The placement of this interview-profile piece is significant: Cravalho is one of the myriad of entertainment stars, current and future, in The Pride Issue of EW.

For the LGBTQ community, June is big time. At the end of the month, gay pride awareness will be front-and-center, with huge parades particularly in San Francisco and New York, hubs of the movement.

Auli’i Cravalho

Cravalho is elated that her decision to go public about her sexuality is resonating with fans, friends and followers. “The fans are only too happy to accept another gay,” she is quoted.

Since “Moana,” she has landed roles big and small, and is currently filming an Amazon Pride Video series, “The Power,” but also has been sought to portray roles written expressly as bisexual or gay, reflecting life.

While she hasn’t been formally asked to revisit Moana in a rumored live-action Disney film beyond the animated original, Cravalho – who is part Hawaiian — is happy to have crossed the intersection of being pigeon-holed into the mass of “racially ambiguous, Latin-esque girl…who sings her way out of poverty.”  Inclusion and awareness are part of the new threshold of Hollywood.

Disney may do “Moana 2” as a cartoon, and yes, Dwayne Johnson will return as Maui the Demigod. Others expected in the sequel: Rachel House as Pools, Temuira Morrison as Tuira, Jemaine Clement as Tamatoa, Alan Tudyk as HeiHei and Nicole Scherzinger as Sina, according to online sources. …

Liliha Bakery in Waikiki

It’s going to be confusing soon, when a Liliha Bakery branch opens at the International Market Place in Waikiki.

Peter Kim

Proprietor Peter Kim is expanding the reach of Liliha’s famous coco puffs, in the heart of the visitor center, when the new outlet opens in the site formerly occupied by Kahu’s Sushi and Seafood Buffet and Yauatcha Waikiki.

Liliha’s original bakery is in Liliha, of course, famous for its always-filled counter service,and larger restaurants at Macy’s in Ala Moana Center and another on Nimitz Highway.

Kim has filed permit applications for his fourth Liliha’s Bakery, the timetable for which has not been announced. But you gotta know that coco puffs will be a take-off champ from the get go, and dining in should bring visitors – and locals who venture to Waikiki – to enjoy local style, breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

Kim, founder of Yummy Korean B-B-Q take-out restaurants, operates a range of other restaurants, including Signature  Streak House atop the Ala Moana Hotel. …

More ‘Mosquito’ on the way

With Apple TV+ winding up the first season of “The Mosquito Coast” on June 4, it’s grand news for series stars Justin Theroux and Melissa George.

Paul Theroux

The word of a second season also is reason to celebrate for Paul Theroux, the author of the book on which the series is based. Paul is the uncle of Justin and has been spending pandemic time at his North Shore pad; he also is one of the executive producers in a hui that also includes Justin.

This TV take on “Mosquito” follows an earlier 1986 feature film starring Harrison Ford.

The series has had mixed reviews from critics and since Apple doesn’t release Nielsen ratings numbers for its project, there’s no yardstick on how popular the show is/was.

Theroux’s latest novel is “Under the Wave at Waimea,” with a surfer protagonist riding the metaphorical waves that reflect life, with a stunning North Shore presence. The perfect book for summer reading, rippling with Theroux’s brilliant and vivid storytelling technique.. …

And that’s “Show Biz.” …