Mike Nelson, AFP/Getty Images
Mike Nelson, AFP/Getty Images

How 9 Honolulu Neighborhoods Got Their Names

Mike Nelson, AFP/Getty Images
Mike Nelson, AFP/Getty Images

The Aloha State’s largest city, Honolulu, is one of the most distinctive capitals in the United States, thanks to its colorful Polynesian history, World War II sites and museums, and melting-pot ethnic diversity. It’s also one of the few U.S. cities with a volcano looming over it—the iconic Diamond Head, known in Hawaiian as Lēʻahi. Honolulu is also unusual for a state capital in that most of its neighborhood names aren’t in English. Instead, almost every single district’s name comes from the Hawaiian language—one of the state’s two official languages—and they almost all have interesting backstories. (Honolulu itself means “calm harbor.”) Here are a few more.

1. WAIKIKI

Waikiki
Nicholas Kamm, AFP/Getty Images

Once a seat of governmental power for the island of Oahu (likely due in no small part to the excellent surfing conditions), Waikiki became a popular tourist destination with the explosion of surf culture in Hollywood films in the late 1950s and early ’60s. The village itself, though, dates back to at least the 13th century, when it was mostly swampland—the word Waikiki means spouting water, after the springs and rivers that abounded in the area.

2. KAIMUKI

Located mauka (on the mountain side) of Diamond Head, Kaimuki is more down-to-earth than its glitzy neighbor Waikiki, with a reputation for eclectic boutiques, book stores, and affordable restaurants, but it has a legendary past. The word ka-imu-ki likely translates to “the oven,” referring to the (also known as ki, or Cordyline fruticosa) plant, a member of the asparagus family. It’s said that the mythical Menehune people steamed the plants in underground ovens on the hillside in the Kaimuki area.

3. ʻĀINA HAINA

A community east of Waikiki, ʻĀina Haina was for centuries called Wailupe, which means “kite water,” for the kite flying that was popular in the area. It was also the last outpost of the city, where the residential blocks turned into pig and dairy farms. It was one such dairy farm, in fact, that brought about its name change—the Hind-Clarke Dairy was once a leading local dairy best known for its ice cream parlor on Kalanianaole Highway, which runs through the area. When owner Robert Hind sold the dairy in 1946, the neighborhood was named after him: ʻĀina Haina means “Hind’s Land” in Hawaiian.

4. KAKAʻAKO

Kaka'ako Street Art
jj-walsh, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kakaʻako has seen a lot of change throughout the years. The neighborhood was originally home to agricultural terraces, fishponds, and salt ponds, which were considered highly valuable. In the 1880s, immigrant camps were built in Kakaʻako, which later became quarantine zones as smallpox, bubonic plague, and Hansen’s disease (more commonly known as leprosy) hit the island. By the ’40s, there were around 5000 working class people living in the area who came from as far away as Portugal and China. Around the same time, the area was becoming increasingly industrialized, with many of those people working at the Honolulu Iron Works. Today, Kakaʻako is known as a hip commercial area with craft cocktail bars and expensive condo buildings. But the word kakaʻako harkens back to its humble roots: It has been translated to mean a place to "chop, beat or prepare thatching," a reference to the local salt marshes where Hawaiians once gathered the grass for their roofs.

5. MAKIKI

Connecting downtown Honolulu and the Mānoa neighborhood, Makiki is a mix of blue-collar and well-to-do Honolulans, partially stemming from its past as a plantation district—both rich plantation owners and workers once lived there. It will probably always best be known as the childhood home of Barack Obama, however, who spent most of his youth living in his maternal grandparents’ apartment on Beretania Street. But long before the future president lived there, the valley was home to a basalt quarry, where the stone was specifically used to fashion octopus lures. This explains the name makiki—it’s the Hawaiian word for the weights in the lures.

6. MĀNOA

Just inland from downtown Honolulu, the neighborhood of Mānoa consists of an entire valley, stretching roughly between the Koʻolau Mountain Range and Lunalilo Freeway. Many Hawaiian myths are set in Mānoa; it’s said to be the home of the Menehune [PDF], who controlled the valley from a fort on Rocky Hill, near where Punahou School now sits. As for the name itself, mānoa is a Hawaiian word that translates to “thick,” “depth,” or “vast,” which certainly describes the valley itself.

7. MŌʻILIʻILI

The neighborhood of Mōʻiliʻili lies just across the freeway from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, sandwiched between it and Waikiki. King William Lunalilo owned the land in the mid-19th century, and before that, Queen Kamamalu's summer cottages stood on the site where The Willows restaurant now stands. Mōʻiliʻili’s name comes from an old Hawaiian myth wherein three characters are teased by a moʻo, a mischievous lizard totem god, who then gets zapped by a lightning bolt and transformed into a pile of rocks, now a specific hill in the neighborhood of the old Hawaiian Church. Kamo'ili'ili means “pebble lizard” or “place of the pebble lizards,” and the name was later abbreviated to Mō’ili’ili. The neighborhood is also known as McCully-Mōʻiliʻili, after Lawrence McCully (1831-1892) of the Hawaiian Supreme Court.

8. KAPĀLAMA

The phrase “ka pā lama” translates to “the enclosure of lama wood,” and lama is the word for the Hawaiian ebony tree, which once heavily forested the area. Also called the Hawaiian persimmon for its astringent persimmon-like fruit, the lama tree is found on every Hawaiian island except Ni‘ihau and and Kaho'olawe. It was used by native Hawaiians for food, medicine, frames for fishing nets, and religious purposes, such as the construction of temples. The tree itself represented Laka, the goddess of hula dance, and the trees are used in the hula performances. While lama usually refers to the tree, the word itself literally translates as “light” in Hawaiian, and by extension enlightenment—because that’s what you attain when you learn the hula. These days, Kāpalama is often combined with the adjacent Liliha neighborhood and referred to as a conglomerate district, Liliha-Kāpalama.

9. PĀLOLO

View of Palolo Valley from Mu-Rang-Sa Buddhist Temple
Patricia Barden, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Like nearby Mānoa, Pālolo takes up an entire, very picturesque valley. Snuggled between Kaimuki and the mountains, the valley’s mauka (mountain side) is mostly agricultural land, home to orchid nurseries and grass farms, while the makai (ocean side) is densely residential, populated mostly by simple plantation-style cottages. Although it’s only four miles from downtown Honolulu and well within the city limits, Pālolo maintains a small-town, rural aesthetic, and as such, its name is appropriate: The word pālolo means “clay” and pertains to the type of the soil in the valley.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Nolan Nitschke
arrow
travel
A Historic Ghost Town in California Is Up for Sale
Nolan Nitschke
Nolan Nitschke

For just shy of $1 million, a ghost town in California’s majestic Inyo Mountains could be yours. Cerro Gordo, a 19th-century mining town that served as the “silver thread” to Los Angeles, is now up for sale via Bishop Real Estate in Bishop, California.

Located in Owens Valley near the town of Lone Pine, the $925,000 property comes with over 300 acres of land, mineral rights, and no shortage of peace and quiet. There are 22 structures on site, including a historic hotel, bunkhouse, saloon, chapel, and museum—plus all of the artifacts that come with it. 

“The site has been extremely well protected from diggers, artifact looters, and Mother Nature herself,” reads the listing, posted on a website specially created for the property that's aptly named ghosttownforsale.com. “Restoration has been undertaken on most of the buildings, and the rest are in a state of protected arrested decay.”

The town of Cerro Gordo has been privately owned for decades, but the family who owns it “felt it was the right time to sell it,” real estate agent Jake Rasmuson tells Mental Floss. No conditions are attached to the purchase of the property, but Rasmuson says “one would hope that some of the history would be maintained and that it would still be open to the public.”

Walking tours of the property can be booked via Cerro Gordo’s website, and those will continue to be offered until the property is sold. The listing was just posted online a week ago, but Rasmuson said the property has already received “quite a bit of interest,” mostly from history lovers who have visited the site before.

Cerro Gordo, meaning “Fat Hill,” received its name from Mexican miners who combed through the area in search of silver before it became a commercial mine, according to the town's website. In 1865, a prospector named Pablo Flores started a mining operation at the nearby Buena Vista Peak. It didn’t take long for word to spread, and within two years prospectors were flocking to Cerro Gordo.

A businessman named Mortimer Belshaw is the man who really put the town on the map, though. In 1868, he brought the first batch of silver to Los Angeles and later built a toll road to supply the burgeoning industry. Within a year, the mine was the largest producer of silver and lead in California. 

“If you look at the history of Cerro Gordo, it was really instrumental in the expansion of Los Angeles,” Rasmuson says. One of structures on the Cerro Gordo property—the Belshaw bunkhouse—still carries on his legacy.

It wasn’t until the 1880s that the mine was finally abandoned after being hit by a fire and falling silver prices. (However, mining operations were revived in 1905 and continued for a couple of decades.) 

The town may be peaceful now, but it wasn’t always so. In the 1860s and ’70s, the town saw a murder per week, according to a Los Angeles Times article from 2006 about the restoration of the property. The property’s late owner, Michael Patterson, told the newspaper that the only sound for miles around “is the whistle of the wind blowing through all the bullet holes in every building up here."

For those who aren't afraid of ghosts, this little slice of Wild West paradise might just be the perfect place to live. Keep scrolling to see more photos and a video of the property.

The Cerro Gordo property
Nolan Nitschke

The Cerro Gordo property
Nolan Nitschke

A former church
Nolan Nitschke

Inside the saloon
Nolan Nitschke
nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Neighborhoods
How 8 Phoenix Neighborhoods Got Their Names
iStock
iStock

Inhabited by native people for thousands of years and colonized by white settlers in the 1860s, Phoenix has developed a booming economy based around “the Five Cs”: cotton, citrus, cattle, climate, and copper. It's grown from a once-dusty desert town to the state capital, as well as the nation's fifth-largest city, with a population of 1.6 million and counting. Here’s the story of how eight of the city's neighborhoods ended up with their current names.

1. ALHAMBRA

Best known as the founder of Glendale, Arizona, William John Murphy was a pioneer, contractor, and the impresario of the Arizona Improvement Company, created in 1887 to sell land and water rights south of the Arizona Canal. Murphy also greatly contributed to the early development of Scottsdale and Phoenix, and he was responsible for splitting a large chunk of his land along the western border of Phoenix, next to Glendale, into smaller subdivisions [PDF]. He also came up with the subdivision's names; Alhambra stemmed from the 13th-century palace and fortress of the same name in Granada, Spain. Today, the neighborhood is known for large homes and its Murphy Bridle Path, named after its former landowner.

2. AHWATUKEE

The word Ahwatukee—an “urban village” in the East Valley region of Phoenix—has roots in the Crow language, but theories about its translation differ. Before it was a village, the name referred to a single estate built in 1920 that sat at the modern-day streets of Sequoia Trails and Appaloosa Drive. The original builder, William Ames, first named it Casa de Sueños ("house of dreams"), but he died three months after moving in. His widow, Virginia Ames, owned the house until her death in 1932, and it was eventually sold to a rich Midwesterner named Helen Brinton, who had an interest in the Crow tribe. Her attempt to translate “house of dreams” into Crow was Ahwatukee, but the tribe says there’s no such word in their language. The name caught on regardless, being used to refer to the house as well as the area that developed around it.

3. SUNNYSLOPE

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Southwest was a place where sick people would travel from all across the U.S. to recuperate from pulmonary illnesses—especially pulmonary tuberculosis. The hot, arid climate was thought to dry out one's lungs, while the year-round sunshine was believed to have healing properties in general. In the early 20th century, Sunnyslope—and Sunnyslope Mountain, marked by a 150-foot-tall white S near its peak—became known as an area where ill people could get well. California architect William Norton built a subdivision in the area in 1911, and it was his daughter who came up with the name Sunnyslope after admiring the sun glinting off the slope of the mountain.

4. F. Q. STORY HISTORIC DISTRICT

The F.Q. Story district is named after Francis Quarles Story, who purchased the land it’s on back in 1887. Formerly a wool merchant, Story moved to Los Angeles County for health reasons and became a citrus farmer before investing in land in Arizona’s Salt River Valley and promoting agricultural development there. He never lived in Phoenix, but he did have a hand in the development of its major thoroughfare, Grand Avenue, as well as its subsequent streetcar line. The F.Q. Story neighborhood was built as a “streetcar suburb,” with newspaper ads in 1920 calling the grand opening "one of the big real estate events of the season." (Unfortunately, a flood at nearby Cave Creek caused a temporary halt in construction the following year, but the area rebounded after a dam was constructed in 1923.)

5. WILLO

Willo started out as a planned community, an idyllic suburb on the outskirts of Phoenix, although today it lies near downtown. A man named J. P. Holcomb acquired the southern part of the neighborhood in 1878 and then the northern part in 1886, using the land mostly for farming for the next 20 years. In the early 1900s, several homes were built on long, narrow lots, and 41 more were added in the '20s, but the area was still isolated from the city and it was difficult to attract buyers. Developers decided it needed a snappy name, and came up with Willonot from the willow tree, but from combining the two nearest voting districts: Wilshire and Los Olivos.

6. LAVEEN

As early as 1884, Mexican and Mormon settlers were living in what’s now called Laveen Village, in the Southwestern part of Phoenix. The school district was called the Harovitz District, but the community itself had no name for more than 30 years, until Roger Laveen was appointed as its first postmaster in 1913 [PDF]. The post office was located in the back of Laveen’s brother's new general store, which became a cornerstone of the town. Roger only worked in the post office for about two years, although both brothers continued living in the area that now bears their name for decades more.

7. MEDLOCK PLACE

Medlock Place was named after prominent residential developer Floyd W. Medlock, who created the community in 1926 with the idea of giving it a rural aesthetic despite being only a few miles from downtown Phoenix. The precocious Medlock—he was only in his early 20s—planned palm tree-lined roads in the new community and sold pre-built houses, a ground-breaking move in 1920s Phoenix. (In an ad, Medlock called his community "the Subdivision Extraordinary.") For his subsequent South Medlock Place addition, he began selling vacant lots instead, with buyers permitted to hire their own builders.

8. ARCADIA

Located at the foot of Camelback Mountain and one of the wealthiest areas of Phoenix, Arcadia started out like a lot of the city’s neighborhoods: as citrus orchards. The first grove was planted in 1899, and by 1920, the foothills were covered in citrus trees—thanks in large part to the Arcadia Water Company, which set up a widespread irrigation system starting in 1919. Soon, farmers and developers began investing in the region and building homes. The neighborhood took its name from the water company, which in turn got its name from Greek mythology: Arcadia was where Pan, the goat god, originated—a region supposedly named for its king, Arcas, the hunter. The association with nature is still apt, since fruit trees abound in the neighborhood even today.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER