Honolulu’s Historic Aloha Tower
The Story of Honolulu’s Historic Harbor
Since 1926, the 184 feet tall Aloha Tower in Honolulu Harbor has been one of Hawaii’s most famous landmarks. Honolulu’s historic Aloha Tower is what tourists first saw when their passenger ships sailed into Honolulu Harbor. Like New York’s Statue of Liberty, this Gothic structure offered a symbolic welcome to tourists and immigrants.
Honolulu originally built the Aloha Tower to serve two purposes. The first was to help local residents establish exact time through a loud siren which was played 3 times daily. But as one can imagine, hearing a disturbing sound 3 times a day was not appreciated by many residents. So the city ultimately discontinued the practice. Its second function was to serve as a light house. It did this until the 1970s when another lighthouse took over this function.
Japanese planes during the December 7, 1942 attack on Pearl Harbor actually strafed the tower with machine gun fire. The tower offered commanding views of the harbor and coastlines. As a result, the tower played a significant role in planning maritime operations during World War II. The military even camouflaged it in green and brown to make it more difficult to see.
The tower prominently displays a seven ton weight-driven clock. It also flies maritime signal flags on a mast on the top of its roof. At one time, the Aloha Tower was the tallest structure in Hawaii. Also, its clock was once one of the largest of its type in the entire country United States. The Aloha Tower has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976. It also became one of Hawaii’s Historic Landmarks in 1981.
The Aloha Tower Today
In 1994, developers created an esplanade complex below the tower with shops and restaurants and called it the Aloha Tower Marketplace. It was being initially successful. But overall business in the complex began to wane. So in 2013, Hawaii Pacific University, a privately run local college, took over the management of the complex. It began transforming it to now provide student dorms for its nearby downtown campus, classrooms and meeting rooms as well as to continue to offer retail space for shops and restaurants.
The tower has undergone a lot of upturns and downturns. Despite that, the Aloha Tower’s 10th floor observatory continues to function as the Honolulu Harbor Master’s traffic control center. Visitors can visit the observation deck of Aloha Tower without any charge. The deck area is open from 9:30 am to 5 pm daily. You can access it through a somewhat cramped and slow elevator ride to the tenth floor. As you reach the four-sided observation deck, you will be rewarded with one of the best panoramic views of Honolulu Harbor and of the surrounding downtown area.