By Rich Figel
Before I resume my story about the Honolulu Exposed Red Light Tour, I wanted to share this comment on Part 1 from reader John Reid:
I hope the folks doing the Chinatown tour can find someone who can tell them about the strip bars next to and across the street from the Hawaii Theatre back in the 1980's (Club Darling which was next door on property that is now the park, and The Harbor Lounge located across the street that is now a French restaurant). Both of these were frequented often by a couple of local motorcycle clubs and have colorful histories. In addition, there was another straight bar down a small alley next to the theatre owned by Bill Mederios called the Alley Cat. They also don't want to leave out the site of the oldest bar in Honolulu, called the Pantheon over on Nuuanu and Bill Lederer's on Hotel Street where HPD has their Chinatown office. Visitors will also be interested in learning that live sex acts were performed in the basement of a building on the short street connecting Bethel Street to the Fort Street Mall called the Theatre of Venus. The then-president of the Devils Breed Motorcycle Club and his wife performed live sex in front of large crowds of Japanese visitors who were brought down in tour buses. This one was shut down by a prude prosecutor of the City and County of Honolulu. I was the owner and operator of Club Darling and the Harbor Lounge during most of the 1980's.
Interesting, huh? The current Honolulu Exposed tour focuses more on older history, but I'm going to pass along this info to the tour owners, Carter and Clinton. When I left off in the last installment, my wife had just returned from her search for a public restroom in Chinatown, and said: "Look who's here!"
I turn and see two guys I know -- local inventor, marketing maven, serial entrepreneur Mark Bell, who I've featured on my show three times (including his adaptation of the Scooter Cooler, which has had thousands of views on the CCTV YouTube Channel); and Kenny Kaminaka (also goes by Kurt or KK) who turned his house into the ArtZone, where aerial performances, plays and other works of art/entertainment have been staged. We did a segment on him way back in 2010, and KK is planning on building ArtZone 2 now. (Note: those are two older clips that were posted before YouTube allowed high def uploads, so they're kind of blurry.) Mark and Kenny were there with Alan Arato, who has been working with local concert producer/promoter Tom Moffatt for a long time and is a well-known entertainment producer in his own right.
The reason Mark bought the tour Groupons was those three are starting their own unique tour experience called Saving Paradise (here's their Facebook link) which, from what I understand, will be an interactive experience combining actors who portray characters, fun facts about Hawaii, food and drink. In effect, they were checking out the competition. But by the end of our tour, we were all talking about working together on one thing or another. That's what I love about living here. Being on a small island, where everybody knows each other or knows somebody who knows the person you don't know, there's a lot of collaboration. As I told Clinton and Carter, to succeed in Hawaii, you need to form partnerships with like-minded people.
Getting back to the homeless situation in Chinatown, I think we need that same kind of cooperation between private businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. For the past three years, through the federally-funded Rescue & Restore program, I've been involved with the 808HALT.com coalition to address human trafficking in Hawaii. I've seen what can be accomplished when stakeholders from the private and public sectors, along with NGOs (non-government organizations) are brought together to share ideas, as well as resources. Homelessness is a social problem, but it's also an economic issue that needs to be tackled head on. It takes creativity too, and thinking outside the box -- or traditional public restroom model, for that matter.
For instance, in Europe I saw pay-for toilets with attendants who made sure the facilities were clean. Their presence also deterred vandalism. Why not build restrooms, staff them with unemployed homeless people who have been living in those areas, charge small fees for use of the facilities and put that money toward housing for the attendants, who are homeless? I've seen prototypes for housing trafficking victims that converts shipping containers into decent living quarters -- could that be part of the solution? I think it's going to take a variety of approaches, and some of those will fail. But we have to do something besides complain about it.
As for the tour itself, even though I've lived here since 1985, there were a lot of stories about Downtown Honolulu I had never heard before. Just walking along, looking up at the building facades while listening to Carter's entertaining talk, I noticed details I've missed all these years while hustling around to meetings (or bars back in my drinking days). Despite the lack of restrooms and the homeless problem, it's still worth taking the trip -- if nothing else, to remind ourselves what it's like seeing Chinatown through the eyes of visitors, who drive our economy for better or worse. What I saw was great potential amid the dirty faces and littered streets. There are new restaurants, shops, businesses springing up even as older ones shut down or move out after giving up the battle against crime and constant hassling by drug dealers/addicts/mentally-ill people. Ironically, things like tours and documentaries that recall Chinatown's darker side, could rally residents to save and preserve the best parts of the past while moving forward.
Oh, one more coincidence: my wife and I were watching Pawn Stars on the History Channel last month, and who do we see walking into the Vegas shop with an item to sell -- Mark Bell! He offered them a test piece from Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose, the mammoth wooden airplane that barely got off the ground before it was grounded for good. Asking price: $10,000. As it happens, Mark's dad worked for the famously reclusive tycoon, which is how he obtained the unusual wooden structural sample (click here for the Pawn Stars link or check out Oceanic Time Warner's entertainment on demand channel for that episode). In the end though, they only offered $200 so Mark took a walk. Still, it was cool to see him on one of the weird shows I regularly watch.
But wait, there's more! In Part 3, I'll tell you about what happened right after the tour and how the guy on this month's Hawaii Business magazine cover -- Small Business Person of the Year, Dave Erdman -- was responsible for introducing me to my wife, Isabel.
For daily viewing times and more info about my Career Changers TV show, which airs daily on OC16, please visit our website and click on the YouTube link to check out segments from past episodes.