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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 5, 2003

The shining: City ready to switch on the holiday lights

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

City art specialist Alex Ching adjusts the glasses on Tutu Mele, who has been freshly painted this year.

Photos by Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Curtis Young, a city electrical inspector who is part of the decoration team, checks the positioning of a lighted star on the new Honolulu City Lights logo.

Al Amper deals with rods on the new back-lit Honolulu City Lights sign. Above:

Honolulu City Lights project chief Barney Isaacs prepares the star that tops the city Christmas tree.

Honolulu City Lights

This is Saturday's timetable:

4 p.m. — Afternoon concert at the Skygate

5 p.m. — Service at Kawai'ahao Church

6 p.m. — Tree-lighting ceremony at Honolulu Hale; electric light parade on King Street, from A'ala Park to city hall

6:30 p.m. — Opening of Christmas tree and wreath display in city hall courtyard

7:30 p.m. — Holiday concert at the Skygate, with Jordan Segundo, Five by 5 with Simplisity, Hapa and Henry Kapono; and an appearance by Kikaida

Let there be lights.

Let there be bright lights.

At Honolulu City Lights, opening Saturday, there will be lights a-plenty, including:

  • A new star at the high-rise Honolulu Municipal Building at King and Alapa'i streets.
  • A new twinkling star, atop the city's official Norfolk Island pine Christmas tree in front of Honolulu Hale, at King and Punchbowl streets.
  • A grand new "Honolulu City Lights" sign — lighted at night, but clearly functional during daylight — that will be placed on the municipal grounds near the old City Hall Annex (the brick building on King Street) where the Snow Family used to live.

Don't think that it's all fun and games when the city preps for the holidays. If you think assembling lights for buildings and trees is a snap, think again. Think of your domestic situation of untangling wires and checking on lights on the fritz. Then think hundred-fold in scope.

"The killer is that if one set of lights that you've bundled up doesn't work, you have to go in and undo that one and test again," said Barney Isaacs, line electrician supervisor for the Department of Facility Maintenance.

At Christmas, Isaacs is the Man in Charge who oversees a four-member operation to string up lights for city facilities such as city hall. Their Halawa shop is the hub of activity this time of year, much like Santa's workshop. The "elves" are Al Amper, Department of Facility Maintenance signs and markings supervisor; Curtis Young, Department of Design and Construction electrical inspector; and Keith Hayama, Department of Transportation Services traffic signal inspector.

This year, Isaacs was challenged to bring a new twinkle to the annual holiday favorite, which includes a parade, a display of wreaths and trees, and the Christmas scene centerpiece with Santa and Tutu Mele in front of Honolulu Hale.

"For many years now, we've had requests for some kind of signage that would give visitors a sense of place in the photos they take," said Isaacs. (Read: the city lacked a signature logo.)

"Carol Costa (city spokeswoman) said it would be nice to have a Honolulu City Lights logo sign, so my crew and I brainstormed, and came up with this idea."

The sign had to suit both daylight and nighttime photographers, he said, so a stand-alone creation, about 8 feet wide and 10 feet tall, was built, incorporating painted plywood replicating the city Christmas tree, as well as palm trees, and set with clear plastic and foam, and festooned with lights. Multicolored tape, behind color-corresponding lights, creates the desired effects for day and night.

"I believe Barney has 400 feet of green rope lights with 10,000 gold mini lights for the sign," said Patti Nagao Kimoto, city information specialist. "He had to use (cooling) fans to keep the logo from overheating."

To prevent frustration and provide ease of assembly, Isaac used color-coded ties to bundle wires, to know which goes where.

The tree star, measuring about 3 by 4 to 5 feet, has a diamond-like center housing chasing lights that change colors (red, green, white). And it matches the new star, which measures about 16 by 14 feet, at the Municipal Building.

Mayor Jeremy Harris will flick on the lights Saturday, to formally launch Honolulu's Christmas season.

To City Lights regulars, the centerpiece Santa and Tutu Mele — who sit and oversee the festivities and are always ready for a quick photo — may look shinier than ever. The oversized figures have a fresh coat of paint, giving them a glossy, ornament-like look.

The figures were moved from the Manana warehouse to the city premises earlier this week and likely will be the most photographed couple this Christmas. The Snow Family, by the way, still is part of the celebration — now set near the Municipal Building.

"We're always short-handed but we manage to get the job done," Isaacs said of the unending chores.

Isaacs and his staff also decorate the tree, monitor the exhibits and maintain the lights through the month-long run, through Jan. 4.

Then everything goes back into storage ... till next Christmas, when the process starts up all over again. Dust off, paint, check lights, set up.

Reach Wayne Harada at 525-8067, wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com, or fax 525-8055.

• • •

City Lights at a glance

  • Theme: "Jingle All the Way."
  • Dates: Saturday though Jan. 4
  • Christmas tree height: 65 feet
  • Tree decorations: 130 jingle bells, 400 musical ornaments.
  • Tree nickname: Mele Tree, because it sounds off with holiday tunes; it's a Norfolk Island pine.
  • Opening: Concert from 4 p.m. Saturday at Skygate; food concessions open at 3 p.m., on the Honolulu Hale grounds.
  • Listen for: 'Ukulele stylist Jake Shimabukuro performing Keola Beamer's "Honolulu City Lights" at the 6 p.m. Saturday tree-lighting ceremony.
  • Look for: 35 floats and units in the holiday parade, before the tree-lighting Saturday. Santa will ride on a float sponsored by Cutter Chevrolet; the buzz is that the Hawaiian Electric Co. float (HECO is a parade co-sponsor) will be a wow. City fire engines, refuse collection trucks, an ambulance, a bus, lawn mowers and the Honolulu Zoo train will be part of the procession.
  • Strike up the bands: Marching bands will represent 'Aiea, Baldwin, Castle, Farrington, Iolani, Kahuku, Kailua, Leilehua, Nanakuli and Wai'anae high schools; plus the Royal Hawaiian Band, Holy Family Academy Band and Dole Middle School Band.
  • Visits with Santa: Tell St. Nick what you want for Christmas from about 7:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday, near the Skygate; Fuji Film Hawai'i will take and provide free photos of kids with Santa.

— Wayne Harada, Advertiser entertainment writer

• • •

Merriment may snarl traffic

Saturday's Honolulu City Lights opening will affect downtown traffic with road closures, detours and throngs.

The Honolulu City Lights Public Workers Electric Light Parade will begin at 6 p.m. Saturday, traveling diamondhead on King Street, from A'ala Park to Honolulu Hale, where it is expected to arrive by 6:30 p.m.

Those planning to be at city hall are urged to arrive before 5 p.m. Because of downtown activities, such as the Jim Nabors "A Merry Christmas With Friends and Nabors" that evening, access to parking lots — such as Marks Garage, Macy's and the Chinatown Gateway lots — will be allowed. Last year, those attending the event at the Hawai'i Theatre could not reach their parking destinations.

Parking will be available in the newly opened Smith/Beretania Park garage, too, with access from Beretania Street.

Bus stops on King Street will be temporarily routed to Hotel Street; riders should look for posted signs for TheBus information.

At 5:30 p.m., makai-bound traffic from Beretania Street will be allowed on Maunakea Street and Nu'uanu Avenue. However, traffic on Maunakea Street will be detoured east-bound onto Pauahi Street, and traffic on Nu'uanu Avenue will be detoured to Hotel Street and onto Bethel Street. Bethel Street will be converted into a two-way street between King and Hotel streets. Smith Street will be closed makai of Pauahi Street. Bishop Street will be two-way between Beretania and the 1000 Bishop Street building.

After the parade, the decorated vehicles will remain on King Street in front of Honolulu Hale until 8:15 p.m. so spectators can see them up close.