Built in the Golden Age of elaborate movie palaces, Honolulu’s Hawaii Theatre is an exquisite example of the gilded glamour that characterized its era. The Hawaii opened its doors in 1922, decades before Hawaiian statehood, making a strong statement that Honolulu was no backwater.
Technically and aesthetically, the neoclassical theater was state-of-the-art, reinforcing the notion of the movie house as a sort of temple to the gods of cinema. Among the innovations that delighted patrons were the double-cantilevered balcony and the cooled-air vents under every seat.
The interior featured scenery created by a leading set designer and was decorated throughout with intricate plaster work created by local artisans. Presenting not only films but also plays, musicals, and vaudeville, “The Pride of the Pacific” was the most elegant public entertainment venue for thousands of miles.
Today, the Hawaii Theatre is as elegant as ever, with an ongoing series of plays, concerts, comedy, dance, and screenings that contributes to the cultural life of Honolulu. It’s a remarkable turnaround for a building whose gradual decline, starting in the 1960s, led to closure and abandonment in 1984.
Local citizens formed a non-profit corporation to save the building from the wrecking ball and, with financial help from the State of Hawaii, convert it into a performing arts center. According to the theater’s official history, “Every inch of the interior was restored and renovated… Art work was restored, gold grill work was refurbished, electrical systems were replaced, all termite-damaged wood structures (e.g. seats, stage) were removed and new ones were installed, and the roof was replaced.”
In 1996 the restored facility re-opened as the Hawaii Theater Center, a 1400-seat, multi-purpose performance venue. The restoration work earned the center an Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Listed on both the Hawaiian and National Registers of Historic Places, the building has also been recognized by the League of Historic American Theatres as an “Outstanding Historic Theatre in America.”
Historic authenticity notwithstanding, the center’s goal of providing a state-of-the-art performance space requires a sound system capable of performing to the highest modern standards. At the time of the mid-1990s restoration that meant a system built around Electro-Voice’s DeltaMax series of loudspeakers. But as sound reinforcement technology advanced over the last decade-and-a-half, it became evident that a new sound system could provide even better sound while meeting the more demanding requirements of today’s touring shows and concerts. The challenge was to upgrade system performance while respecting the preservation requirements of the historic interior. Once again it was determined that Electro-Voice offered the best solution for meeting the Center’s technical, aesthetic, and budgetary needs.