A Honokaa landmark is getting a facelift that will hopefully bring new life to a much loved community landmark. The Honokaa People’s Theatre was built in 1930 by the Tanimoto family who owned several theaters throughout the island. The 525-seat movie house was a popular attraction that brought Hollywood glamour and international films to entertain the multicultural audience of the Hamakua Coast.
According to the theater’s website, the theater operated until 1988, when Kikue “Peggy” Tanimoto encountered health problems and was no longer able to run the theater. It was eventually purchased by Dr. Tawn Keeney, a friend of Taniomoto, and local plantation physician, who often helped Tanimoto with theater duties.
Struggling to keep its doors open in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the theater closed for several years for major renovations and reopened for the community as a source for affordable entertainment in a struggling economy.
Earlier his month, the Honokaa People’s Theatre temporarily closed its doors for another smaller refurbishment of the community’s “Grande Dame” of venues.
“We did have several major milestones recently,” said theater manager, Phaethon Keeney. “We shut down for two weeks in order to fix some lighting, pull apart and reorganize the concessions, and do some general spring cleaning, sanding of doors, fixing leaks, and work on the garden area.”
She explained how the garden area is being designed with native species of plants and informational plaques as well as a space for seating and outdoor dining. Keeney said that the new outdoor dining area will come in handy with the expansion of the theater’s café options and concession stand.
“We are looking towards expanding our regular café menu of local fruit smoothies, Hamakua coffee, eggs, sandwiches, and salads — all with an organic emphasis,” said Keeney. “We are looking towards making a larger variety of salads, daily soups, hot dishes, and dessert treats. We currently offer for our special events and concerts, an expanded menu that usually includes the Hawaiian plate with kalo and breadfruit, luau leaf in coconut milk and sea salt, and seared ahi or ahi curry.”
With the help of various teachers and local patrons, the theater is bringing new life to their venue by adding more films, classes and events. Local musicians frequent the theater café on weekends to perform for the community, often turning them into spontaneous full productions.
“It’s fun to feel the building energy in Honokaa,” Keeney said. “From the opening of several new stores, to the building of entirely new buildings downtown, to the launch of First Fridays by the Honokaa Business Association, along with annual events such as Western Weekend and Peace Day, which really get everyone and their ohana out having fun.”
Keeney acknowledges that there are future obstacles in store for the theater with the rapid advancement of technology. “We’re up against a big hurdle with the end of the era of film,” she said. “In the next month or so, we will have to make the $50K conversion from 35 mm film to digital, as the film prints are no longer available. We are also looking at ways to become more energy efficient and expand our solar production to keep up with the theater use, as we like the place full of people as much as possible.”
This cost is a major burden on the Keeney family, who recently suffered a financial setback when the patriarch of the family, Tawn Keeney, lost his position at Hamakua Health Center. This was the income the family used to supplement the needs of the theater.
“We’re hoping to push past this obstacle and keep the theater open for film,” said Keeney. “We’ll happily accept any help the community has to offer, or even just business advice. Currently the theater is not a non-profit — more like a no-profit. We’d love help with the formation of a non-profit geared towards this end, or help in general of any type. We’re here at the theater all the time — just swing by!”
With a love for their community and an innovative eye to the future, the Honokaa People’s Theatre will continue to be a popular venue for an broad variety of events and a welcoming meeting place that showcases a wealth of local, national and international talent.
For more information and a schedule of events, visit www.honokaapeople.com.