Kaka‘ako has a rich history steeped in Native Hawaiian values, entrepreneurship, industry and cultural diversity. The region was once comprised of fishing villages, fishponds, and salt flats. To Hawaiians, pa‘akai (salt) was valued like gold for its uses as a seasoning, preservative, medicine, and ceremonial purifier.
Historically, the area was outside the two most intensely populated and cultivated areas of southeastern O‘ahu: Waikīkī and Kou (an early name for Honolulu). The modern urban Kaka‘ako district is comprised of what was once the ‘ili (small land division) of Ka‘ākaukukui, Kūkuluae‘o, and the ma kai (ocean) portion of Kewalo, as well as portions of ‘ili called Kawaiaha‘o, Honuakaha, Ka‘ala‘a, ‘Āpua, ‘Auwaiolimu, Pualoalo, Pu‘unui, and Kolowalu.
The Kamehameha Schools parcels ma kai of Ala Moana Boulevard were created from former reef areas off the Ka‘ākaukukui shore, while the ma uka (inland) parcels were within the ‘ili of Ka‘ākaukukui and Pu‘unui. Kūkuluaeʻo and Kewalo are the traditional ʻili names for the lands in and around Ward Village.
In the 1800s, residential construction began, and diverse immigrant camps emerged. Kaka‘ako’s industrial roots started with the establishment of the Honolulu Iron Works, a metal foundry and machine shop. Small stores, churches, schools, and parks were built, including Pohukaina School, which sat next to Mother Waldron Park. Kaka‘ako grew and became a community built on a strong blue-collar work ethic, social activism, and a sense of ‘ohana (family).
In the mid-1900s, the zoning laws for Kaka‘ako changed from residential to commercial. Small businesses and entrepreneurship grew as wholesaling, warehousing, and other industrial businesses established themselves in the district, leading to the urban Kaka‘ako we are familiar with today.
Bridging the Past and Present
Kamehameha Schools honors Kaka‘ako’s history while moving forward with the development of the Our Kaka‘ako master planned community. From a cultural perspective, the process of naming properties is a matter of significance. The naming process looks at traditional place names, geography, surrounding environment, and moʻolelo (stories). The cultural principle of aloha ‘āina (love of the land) is expressed through the naming process to honor the personality, individuality, and inherent rights of the land itself.
Keauhou Place and Keauhou Lane are named after a street that once bisected the parcel. Keauhou can be translated as “the new time or era” or “the new current” and hints at the transformations that have occured in the area as time has passed.
The mid-block roadway still remains and takes the pedestrian into the Flats at Puʻunui. This name refers to the traditional place name of the area, Puʻunui, which appears on historical maps and documents. Puʻunui translates to “large hill” or “large pile” and may be related to the large heaps of salt generated there or Pūowaina (Punchbowl). Flats allude to a “self-contained housing unit that occupies only part of a building” and the salt flats that once existed in the area.
Another feature of the Puʻunui site is the Kalokoʻeli Courtyard, which is named after a prominent fishpond that existed in the ma kai portion of the block. Puʻunui is an ʻili lele (a detached part or lot of land belonging to one ʻili and located in another), with its associated parcel located ma uka, inland in the ahupuaʻa of Pauoa.
As for SALT, the name itself recalls the major industry of the area at one time: salt production.
The evolution of Kaka‘ako continues. On the streets of Auahi, Keawe, and Coral, where colorful murals greet residents and visitors alike, a dynamic urban village is flourishing, built on the hardworking, entrepreneurial spirit of today’s small business owners. Local shops, restaurants, creative studio workspaces, and gathering places serve as catalysts for exciting new ideas and innovation.
Rooted in the historical and cultural values of the generations who have come before, Our Kaka‘ako continues to honor the spirit of the past while looking ahead to the future. Come discover why so many residents and businesses call this special community home.