Our Historic Neighborhoods: Hilo’s Christine & David Reed
Historic Hilo town on Hawai‘i Island is rich in history and home to a vibrant and growing small business community. In the interview below, Christine and David Reed, longtime residents, share some memories and perspective on Hilo’s relevance today.
Historic Hawai‘i Foundation: Tell us a little about yourselves, your life as small business owners and any interesting projects you are working on.
Christine & David Reed: It seems that, as small business owners, we live and breathe the business 24/7 but as entrepreneurs we have the opportunity to forge our own way. Basically Books, our retail store, is open 7 days a week and keeps us busy planning events and finding unique new products for our customers. The publishing division, Petroglyph Press, gives us a creative outlet by allowing us to pursue projects that we find interesting. Currently we are working on a reprint of W.D. Westervelt’s Legends of Maui that was originally published in 1910. By marrying his lyrical retelling of the legends with the powerful full color and block print artwork of Dietrich Varez we are able to give a historical publication new life and introduce a new generation to these ancient folktales. Six months ago we released Hawaiian Legends of Volcanoes, also by Westervelt with illustrations by Varez, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the book as well as Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and the National Park Service.
HHF: How long have you lived in Hilo?
The Reeds: David moved to Hilo in 1958 when his father, Stephen Reed, took a position as an engineer with Hilo Sugar and later with C. Brewer Co. His mother, Frances, was the Children’s Librarian at Hilo Library from 1958-68. In 1962 Steve Reed left his corporate job to pursue the American Dream by opening Petroglyph Press as a small commercial printing company, so entrepreneurship is a family affair. Christine came to Hilo in 1972 for an adventure and wascaptivated by the island and its people, environment and culture. Within a year she met David and they have been partners ever since. David took over management of Petroglyph Press in 1974 when his parents retired. In 1985 Basically Books was opened a couple of blocks away from the print shop on Keawe Street and eventually consolidated to the present location on Kamehameha Avenue. We specialize in local gifts and books including a strong selection of oleloHawai‘i books. We’ve also become a gathering place for author talks and music by local entertainers.
HHF: What makes Hilo special?
The Reeds: Hilo has a small town feel and continues to embrace its laid back, local vibe. At the same time, it boasts the seat of county government, a university campus and a rich cultural mix embracing not only the Hawaiian heritage but the many influences contributed by immigrant groups. Physically the beauty of the crescent shaped Hilo Bay with the backdrop of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa make clear early mornings a spectacular sight. The charm of downtown Hilo’s plantation era buildings reminds us of days gone by.
HHF: The Hilo Downtown Improvement Association has recently completed a walking tour map of historic Hilo. Tell us about its predecessor which was created some two decades ago.
The Reeds: Almost twenty years ago we attended a meeting with then harbormaster Ian Birnie who noted that cruise ship visitors were often told there was nothing to do in Hilo. On the drive back to our business we reflected on the many places we take visitors and immediately came up with more than 30 sites of interest, many of them steeped in history. With feedback from a variety of people we came up with Explore Hilo, a brochure that includes a map that extends from the Wailuku River to Hilo Harbor and labels the points of interest that are free to visitors. Initially, using discretionary funds from then councilwoman Bobby Jean Leithead Todd through the Hilo Downtown Improvement District, we were able to print several thousand. When funding ran out we continued to make corrections and provide it as a community service to local organizations like Destination Hilo for placement at the Hilo Harbor and the visitor kiosk downtown. We also continue to distribute to visitors to our store.
HHF: What is your favorite historic site in or around Hilo and why?
The Reeds: Several sites come to mind. Mo‘oheau Bandstand harks back to an earlier time and still provides heart to the downtown area where it is the site of County Band concerts, Hilo Hula Tuesdays, and community gatherings throughout the year. The Naha Stone fronting the Hilo Library is a truly historic place that brings Hawaiian history and tradition to life, as the actual stone that Kamehameha I overturned to fulfill the prophesies that he would unite the islands. Lili‘uokalani Park is nearing its 100th anniversary and pays homage to Hawai‘i’s last queen as well as connecting Hilo to its Japanese heritage.
HHF: Have you been directly involved with any local preservation projects?
The Reeds: We were supporters of the preservation and refurbishment of the Palace Theater that has become a gem in Hilo as the venue for movies, live theatre, concerts and community gatherings. Although it was simply a movie theater for many decades it hosted live performances during its early days and now is the home of an annual Fall musical, summer opera, and seasonal performances such as The Nutcracker performed by Island Dance Academy students. The Palace continues to be the place to see “art house” movies that are out of the mainstream. We are excited to see the long-time efforts of a number of strong advocates has resulted in the improvements at Kaipalaoa Landing, creating a public park at an important historical site at the mouth of the Wailuku River.
HHF: How does Hilo incorporate its history into present day activities and maintain its relevance as a small town?
The Reeds: Historic downtown Hilo is home to museums and galleries that preserve the history of our town and educate our citizens and their children and visitors about our precious environment and the cultures that blend together to make Hawai‘i what it is today. Historic landmarks such as Mo‘oheau Bandstand continues to host regular events. Events such as First Fridays are taking off again encouraging local community and visitors to plan evening visits to downtown Hilo to explore the town and frequent businesses and restaurants.
HHF: What stands out as a key historic event during your time in Hilo?
Christine: David experienced firsthand the eruption that buried the village of Kapoho and the Warm Springs there. He witnessed the eruption of Kilauea Iki in 1959. The following year the destructive tsunami of 1960 changed Hilo’s landscape forever. A strong image remains of seeing the lawn at Kolekole Park covered with bolts of brightly colored fabrics salvaged from the inundation, laying out to dry after being rinsed in the streams. And another of downtown parking meters completely flattened horizontally by the powerful rushing water. David’s boy scout troop planted the palm trees near the canoe shed on Hilo Bay after the tsunami that still stand today. Small town life in those early days included the Mickey Mouse club at the Palace Theater on Saturdays, busy downtown streets during the holidays, hours-long drives along the old Mamalahoa Highway to go to the beach at Hapuna. Those were the days of cane haul trucks and only a handful of stoplights on the island. You never heard a car horn unless you were getting a safety check.
HHF: Why is it important to preserve historic towns like Hilo?
Christine: I love living in a historic town. I love being surrounded by old buildings and reminders of days gone by and the layers of history that unfolded here. It makes life richer and more meaningful and connects us with our past in a very visceral way. I personally want that to be the environment that surrounds me. I’m not a glass and glitter kind of gal.
Reprinted from the Historic Hawaii Foundation January, 2017 newsletter. Newsletters are published three times per year and a member benefit. Not yet a member? Click here to find out more.