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Chinatown fire of 1886
By the 1870s
, Honolulu's well-heeled families were leaving their homes and estates in the downtown and harbor areas to relocate on the city outskirts. The depressed city blocks around Nu`uanu Avenue and Maunakea Streets were left to Chinese laborers wanting to exchange plantation work for urban living.
Chinatown - never planned or laid out in an organized way - was a dense matrix of wooden buildings, narrow dirt streets and hidden alleyways. In 1886, a fire began at a restaurant and quickly burned out of control, spreading to buildings nearby:
A Chinese lottery was supposedly being conducted, and one of the gamblers, claiming that cheating was going on, snatched the raffle tickets and thrust them into the fire. Another pulled them out, and in the scramble that ensued the wall-paper became ignited, and due to its flimsy construction, the building was soon a mass of flames. Buildings were erected extremely close together, and the fire quickly spread in all directions.
The flames burned for three days and many in the community - including King Kalakaua - worked to fight the blaze. By the time it was put out, the fire had destroyed eight blocks, including 7,000 Chinese and 350 Hawaiian homes, and causing $1,500,000 in damage (most suffered by Chinese residents and businesses).
Chinatown quickly rebuilt itself but unfortunately much of the rebuilding ignored new regulations designed to prevent future fires. The area remained cramped and congested.
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