The Queen’s Theatre, near the top of Wai‘alae Avenue in Kaimukı, is a survivor from the gold-en age of cinema. Built in 1936, the 850-seat theater hosted everything from traveling vaudeville shows to 25-cent matinées. In later years, it became a second-run theater that hosted midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and then a XXX theater that was eventually raided by the police in the mid-1980s. It’s lain dormant ever since, but its fading art deco façade still tantalizes theater buffs and neighborhood activists. Lowell Angell, a local theater historian, says, “It’s still one of the few, if not the only, remaining theater facilities that could be renovated and put back into use.”
What threatens it?
The reclusive owner of the theater, Narciso Yu. It’s not that he wants to tear it down. Ginny Meade, executive director of the Greater East Honolulu Community Alliance, says, “Ciso used to tell me that he had a dream that it would be a theater again, and so he wouldn’t let it become a car parts store like the Cinerama.” But Yu has proved resistant to any other plans for the theater, including restoration. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to get a hold of him. “Everyone in the world wants to restore or purchase or do something with that place, and they all call me to find out what’s going on,” Meade says. These days, though, even she doesn’t know how to reach him.
What can be done?
Not much, barring a change of heart on Yu’s part. Angell says cracking down on the landowner would probably not be constructive. “All the city and the state can really do now is enforce the building codes, which usually results in things being removed, not replaced,” he says. But people keep trying to get through to Yu. Nadia Ribeiro, owner of the Brazilian Show Room, next door to the theater, says, “People come in three times a day, asking for him.”