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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 4, 2010

Idyll and a bit of inferiority unfold in 1963 road map


By Jim Kelly

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

NORMAN SHAPIRO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Artifact from a more prosperous time: an Official 1963 Hawai'i State Highway Map, the first ever distributed free by the state Department of Transportation.

It's hard to imagine such largesse from the same agency that's so strapped for cash today that it can't even afford to fix the lights on the H-2 Freeway.

But there it was, musty in the bottom of a cardboard box in an antique store. What was free 47 years ago cost me $8 today.

A sucker for cheap nostalgia, I thought it was a fair price for a glimpse into the frenzied time just after statehood when Hawai'i practically burst a blood vessel trying to prove it was as hip, modern and American as any other state.

On the cover, check out that six-lane concrete ditch that became the H-1 Freeway. (You can tell the cover photograph was chosen by highway engineers and not the tourism bureau since it may be the only map in existence that shows road construction and not Waikīkī Beach in the foreground of Diamond Head).

Slowly plowing across Honolulu, that road divided neighborhoods, altered topography and decimated hundreds of homes and businesses with hardly a peep from the people. It symbolized speed and progress and Mainland-style modernization, all seen as good things in 1963. So take that, all of you rail whiners.

Unfold the map and it turns out the actual Rand McNally charts of the Islands are more decorative than helpful, with colorful drawings of flowers, landmarks, local characters and sea life filling in the margins. There's even a smiling mermaid she appears to be topless but it's hard to tell holding the scale of miles.

Without the wide blue lines that would come to mark the interstates and divided highways, Hawai'i's biggest roads in 1963 were skinny and red. Spindly black lines trace the narrow routes between rural towns and plantation settlements noted in tiny type, with names like Tenney Village and Kemoo Camp.

Salt Lake is still a lake. Hawai'i Kai and Mililani don't exist. Kolekole Pass looks open and passable, as does the road around Ka'ena Point. Wai'alae Avenue is the only way to get out to East Honolulu, though a dotted line labeled "Lunalilo Frwy. Prop." runs parallel.

Some large military bases are vaguely labeled, a concession to Cold War paranoia. The Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kaua'i is Bonham Air Force Base.

Fun facts: Maui has 17 hotels and a total of 371 rooms. O'ahu has three pineapple canneries, four sugar mills, one oil refinery, two cement plants, a steel mill and 64 apparel manufacturers. Kaua'i has two golf courses.

Flip the map and you come to a greeting from Gov. John Burns, whose stern countenance is matched by the bloodless text some functionary must have thought was appropriately grave for inclusion in the state's first official highway map.

After saluting the "motoring public," the governor explains how highways are funded and appears to apologize for the condition of the road system, explaining that "we did not begin to receive our full share of the federal-aid highway allotments until after statehood." Who knew that the subtle inferiority of spirit applied to pavement, too?

And in a bit of insider advice that reveals how little things have changed in a half century, Burns wrote: "The visitor will find it to his advantage to avoid the major routes leading to and from the Honolulu-Pearl Harbor area during hours when most of O'ahu's working population is traveling to and from jobs. These same routes provide safe, efficient service when they are not overloaded."

(This was when there was one car for every 2.5 people on O'ahu. Today, it's one car for every 1.2 people).

The rest of the map is filled with the sort of boosterish boilerplate that tourism bureaus and chambers of commerce used to crank out by the ton. Among the superlatives about Hawai'i is this gem, especially amusing (or sobering) in an era of furlough Fridays and unlit freeways:

"Hawai'i's state government is one of the most streamlined in the United States. There are only 18 departments in the state's executive branch. There are no municipalities, only four counties, with no municipal taxes and no direct school taxes. The school system is financed through general revenue funds."

I don't know the last time Hawai'i gave out state highway maps but it seems like just the thing to get axed the first time budgets got tight. From what I could tell online, a few state highway departments, including Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and Montana, still give out free maps, mostly at visitor centers.

But I'm not even sure how many people use paper maps anymore. The ones that are left, like the one from 1963, may be more valuable charting where we've been than where we're going.