The area now called Chinatown was settled as far back as the 1700’s as a safe harbor for sailing vessels.
The modern Chinese community was founded by laborers brought to Hawaii in the 1900’s to work on sugar plantations. After their contracts expired, many of the laborers became merchants, or opened restaurants or other businesses. Unlike many “Chinatowns,” the area always had a mix of people from throughout Asia and the Pacific. In the 1900 census, the area was 56% Chinese.
The community was devastated by two large fires, in 1886, and 1900. The 1900 fire was started when officials attempted to burn a building infested with bubonic plague, and the fire got out of control. The fire burned for 17 days, and burned 38 acres.
To fight the plague, a new sewer system was installed; controlled burns of infected buildings continued for several years.
Many of the buildings in Chinatown date to 1901, evidence of an attempt to rebuild the community as quickly as possible after the great fire. The new buildings were built of brick or masonry, rather than wood, making future fires less likely.
The Chinatown Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 17, 1973.