Pearl City, Waimalu, and Aiea Neighborhoods – Sugar, Sports and Military

Pearl City Aiea WaimaluMost visitors to Oahu end up making at least one trip into the Pearl City, Waimalu, and Aiea neighborhoods – they do so when they visit Pearl Harbor. Another reason to visit might be to go to the Aloha Stadium Swapmeet. Beyond those two major draws however, there isn’t much to draw visitors to these three neighborhoods. All three are mostly local redisential demographics with slightly higher than Oahu median age and considerably lower median income than Oahu median. Those demographics shift if you include military families and personnel in the criteria – as all three areas have large military populations – more than a few entire neighborhoods in this area are military housing. The total non-military population of the three combined comes to about 75,000 people.

Pearl City Aiea WaimaluPearl City is the area east of Waipahu and streching down from Waipio and Millilani to the North. Bordering Pearl City are Waimalu and then Aiea. East of Aiea is the Salt Lake/Moanalua Neighborhood (West Honolulu). Pearl City, Aiea, and Waimalu are lumped together on many neighborhood maps as Pearl City. Residents of Aiea though, take issue with this, as Aiea has it’s own attractions, history, and zipcode.

Pearl City is essentially, a city built around a sprawling military base. Aiea on the other hand is a city that grew around a sugar cane plantation. Waimalu is caught between the two. In ancient times, the whole area was part of the Aiea ahupua’a – the Hawaiian way of designating chief controlled land – essentially a pie slice going from the ocean to the mountains.

Pearl City Aiea WaimaluFrom the late 1800s to World War II, it was the sugar industry that was the main driver of the economy in this area. When the U.S. moved the Pacific Fleet to Pearl Harbor at the dawn of WWII, the economy of the area shifted to that of military dependency. The closing of the sugar mill and plantation after WWII accelerated this process. Much of the former sugar cane lands are now military owned neighborhoods. C & H Sugar closed the last mill in the area in 1996 and it was torn down in 1999.

Today, Aiea is home to the Aloha Stadium where the University of Hawaii Warriors play their home games. It is also home to the largest enclosed mall in the state, Pearl Ridge, and the Sumida Farm – Hawaii’s largest watercress farm – located in wetland fields between highways and the Pearl Ridge Mall – which creates an interesting contrast. There are several nice hikes in the hills around this area but no beaches due to the waterfront land being controlled mostly by the military.

Pearl City Aiea WaimaluThe current Governor of Hawaii, David Ige comes from Waimalu. Former Lieutenant Governor, Duke Aiona is from Pearl City, and Bette Midler, the actress and singer was born and raised in Aiea.

The major US Military bases in the area are Camp Smith, Pearl Harbor, Hickam, and Fort Shafter.

The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii

There are few places that can inspire awe and contemplation as those where important historical events – and thousands of human deaths – took place. Pearl Harbor, once the jewel of the Hawaiian Islands – a protected harbor with many streams flowing into it and oyster beds that some say produced the most beautiful pearls in the world – then the catalyst for the overthrow of an ally and eventually a different jewel – the showplace of American military power in the Pacific Ocean – ships and planes lined up on display to deter an enemy from thinking they could attack – and then – the unthinkable – on the morning of December 7th, 1941 – the United States learned never to underestimate an enemy, to never forget to look upwards, and the cost was so high that the nation still bears the scars.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a triumph for the Japanese – a total success with the exception of two factors – the aircraft carriers were not there by a lucky quirk of fate and the Japanese did not destroy the fuel reserves on the hillsides – which would have crippled American naval power. The United States was brought into World War II by this attack – awakened from a nationalist and isolationist period of navel gazing while the world fell into chaos. The warnings were there, but the USA never saw it coming. There are many lessons that could be taken from this with direct relevance today…but the beauty and power of the memorial are such that the only way to truly feel it – is to visit.

The Pearl Harbor Visitors Center is open from 7 am to 5pm every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. Admission is free to the visitor center and also to the USS Arizona Memorial which involves watching a powerful film and then a US Navy launch to the memorial itself.  With 4000 daily visitors, tickets go fast – so it’s not a bad idea to reserve them online through recreation.gov. Any other site you reserve through online is a private tour company. Recreation.gov will charge you $1.

The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center was opened to the public in 2010 as part of the newly-designated World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. The new visitor center has welcomed millions of tourists from all over the world just as the old visitor center did for decades.. The center was built to further enhance the visitors’ Pearl Harbor Tour experience.
Admission to the visitor center is free and within the grounds you will find two free museums, a comtemplation garden, and the Remembrance Circle along with the anchor of the USS Arizona, the statue of the Lone Sailor, and the other Valor in the Pacific Attractions – the USS Missouri Tour, The Pacific Aviation Museum, and the USS Bowfin Submarine and Submarine Museum.  The free museums on site are named ‘Road to War’ and ‘Attack’ and detail the events leading to the war and then the attack itself. The Attack museum has a twenty-three minute documentary as well as artifacts, memorabilia, and historic timelines.
The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center works in partnership with the National Park Services and Pacific Historic Parks as well as the United States Navy. The memorial itself was built in 1962 by Honolulu Architect Alfred Preis over the top of the sunken USS Arizona Battleship where 1177 sailors lost their lives on that fateful morning.

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