The Bigger Picture

Kahiau Beamer SALT mural

At SALT at Our Kaka‘ako, artists Kahiau Beamer, Matt and Roxy Ortiz, Kamea Hadar, Santiago Otani, and Matthew James pay homage to the past while looking to the future.

Text by Harrison Patino | Images by Jonas Maon

As the future of Kaka‘ako approaches with every passing day, a select group of artists invite onlookers into the neighborhood’s past with vibrant murals inspired by its rich cultural history. After these painters, graffiti artists, and graphic designers are done sketching, printing, spraying, and painting at SALT, the 85,000-square-foot gathering place will be adorned with artworks that celebrate Hawaiian culture and the artistry of the people who have called Kaka‘ako home, painting a picture of Kaka‘ako’s past, present, and future.

Kahiau Beamer SALT mural

As an alumnus of Kamehameha Schools, Kahiau Beamer has always had a particular reverence for its founder, Bernice Pauahi Bishop. With his courtyard mural at SALT, the artist celebrates this strong woman of history with a series of portraits of Bishop, alongside symbols of Hawaiian culture then and now, such as kalo, poke, and ‘ukulele. “Over the course of her lifetime, she held a strong and hopeful vision for her people,” Beamer says. For the artist, this mural also represents a balance between the commercial growth of Kaka‘ako and the largely young, creatively driven demographic that lives and works alongside it. (Beamer has a studio at Lana Lane Studios.) “It helps open up a dialogue with the community and the developers,” he says. “It shows both sides.”

Wooden Wave SALT Mural

Chances are you’ve seen the whimsical, treehouse-inspired murals of husband and wife duo Matt and Roxy Ortiz around town. Together, the two artists make up creative company Wooden Wave, specializing in a combination of hand-drawn illustrations and large-scale mural work. For SALT, their contributions are the signage wall next to Bevy and the artwork that will be printed on stretched-canvas eaves shading a nearby seating area. “We’re hoping that in putting our artwork in this public space, we’re reminding people that art should be a part of your visual landscape,” Matt says.

Both of these creations emphasize Our Kaka‘ako not only as a place for artistry and creativity, but also as a bridge between mountain and ocean. As Matt puts it, “We were really drawn to the idea that this is going to be a gathering place, that we will be laying out where Kaka‘ako stands in relation to an ahupua‘a system.” By evoking the ocean, mountains, and sky in watercolor hues, the duo encourage people to embrace sustainability, and remind passersby that the modern city can, and should, coexist with nature.

“My paintings deal with what I believe are basic principles of the universe: fluid dynamics, particle dispersion, gravity, and heat,” says Matthew James, an artist who grew up in Mānoa and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. For his resin painting that will be affixed to a wall at SALT Our Kaka‘ako, he is manipulating these principles to create an aesthetic that is rustic yet elegant, abstract yet galactic, influenced by scientific photographs from the Hubble Telescope and topographic imagery. The process for it involves painting layers of resin and colors, then finishing with a top layer of acrylic and metal powders that will continue to corrode, revealing the layers beneath, and interacting with the salty breeze coming in off the ocean, resulting in a patina that will shift over time. “Kaka‘ako is not an ocean neighborhood, yet is right near the water. This piece brings a bit of the imagery of the ocean into the neighborhood,” he explains. “The metals and rust aesthetic used in the painting is reminiscent of the rough and industrial roots of Kaka‘ako.”

Kamea Hadar SALT Mural

Kamea Hadar is a busy man. As the co-lead director of the POW! WOW! arist network, he’s often traveling the globe overseeing projects or working on creations for clients like Hawaiian Airlines, Hurley, and OluKai. Hadar, who studied art at The Sorbonne in Paris, boasts a body of street art that has covered walls the world over, reaching audiences in Honolulu, San Francisco, and Taiwan, among others. His two murals at SALT are inspired by the legend of the naupaka flower, which resembles a half-flower and grows on shrubs in the mountains and by the ocean; the legend tells of lovers separated forever, one mauka and the other makai.The first mural, on the makai-facing wall, will feature a female figure and makai blues; the other, on the mauka-facing wall, will feature a male figure paired with mauka greens. “I enjoy the human form because of how much one can convey with an image of a face or body,” Hadar says. “From the moment we are born we are programmed to see and read faces, bodies, and body language. This makes it one of the most challenging subjects to paint as anyone and everyone can easily spot mistakes, but on the other hand allows me as an artist to convey emotion, tell complex stories, and more easily connect with my audience.”

“Art has been something I’ve been into ever since I was a little kid,” says Santiago Otani. His work, which draws heavily from the style of comic books and Saturday-morning cartoons he absorbed as a child growing up in Los Angeles, often portrays whimsical, color-drenched landscapes and idyllic scenes.

Although Otani was raised in California, he has close ties with Kaka‘ako—his grandfather grew up and worked in the industrial Honolulu neighborhood. With his mural, Otani hopes to celebrate the everyday people, including his family, who have called the area home, as well as the talent that has come from it. The mural will resemble a scrapbook, featuring ordinary residents of Kaka‘ako’s past based on Otani’s mother’s collection of old photographs of the area, alongside portraits of musicians also hailing from Kaka‘ako, like Gabby Pahinui and Danny Lopes. Says Otani, “The art is basically what I would call a celebration of some of the local heroes of the area.”


The Merry Man’s Kitchen

Monkeypod Kitchen Salt Kakaako

The story of chef and restaurateur Peter Merriman, who is debuting Moku’s Kitchen at SALT at Our Kaka‘ako this fall.

Text by Kelli Gratz | Images by John Hook

At age 14, as a Boy Scout living in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, Peter Merriman could execute a perfect eggs Benedict over a campfire. This skill was a sign of things to come—merely a year later, he realized he wanted to be a chef, partly because of his mother’s influence as a food writer for the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, but mostly because of his great love for food. “Growing up, my mother was a good cook and we ate a lot of ethnic food,” he says. “I would test a few of her recipes, simple things, but it worked out because I always had a huge appetite.”

Through his mother’s culinary connections, at age 16, Merriman got a job doing prep work for master chef Ferdinand Metz, the senior research and development manager at H.J. Heinz Company. After graduating from University of Pennsylvania with a degree in political science in 1978, he enrolled in a three-year chef’s apprentice program with RockResorts, working under chef Hans Schadler, who got him a job at the Intercontinental Hotel in Germany. When Merriman moved back to the United States, he took a job with the Four Seasons in Washington, D.C.

“I didn’t like the job, so I quit, and went home to my sister’s place in D.C.,” he says. “Within 15 minutes, the phone rang, and it’s Hans-Peter Hager from Mauna Lani Bay Hotel saying, ‘Hey, would you like to come out here and be a cook?’ It took me like 10 seconds to figure that out.”


So, in 1983, Merriman arrived on Hawai‘i Island to begin his new job, bringing with him only one bag and $75. He instantly fell in love with the islands’ cultures, intrigued by local dishes like laulau, pork adobo, and chicken long rice. But when he saw what was being served in the hotels, Merriman realized there was something very wrong: The ingredients were imported and frozen, and the cuisine didn’t accurately reflect the society. Determined to improve the quality of restaurant food in the islands, Merriman ended up creating regional cuisine, which later became known as Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine, alongside a handful of other local island chefs.

“We’re talking about the ’80s,” he says. “There weren’t a lot of ingredients, and so we talked to farmers, we advertised, we grew our own. I would actually dive for sea urchin. Whatever it took. We called it ‘guerilla purchasing’ … because it just took every skill you had to figure out how to get something going.”


Since then, Merriman’s accomplishments have come to include being a three-time James Beard Award finalist, and running seven highly acclaimed restaurants throughout the islands. His latest concept, Moku Kitchen, opening in late October at SALT at Our Kaka‘ako, is another homage to Hawai‘i, offering comfort food within a high-energy atmosphere. This 7,000-square-foot eatery will serve the same handcrafted cocktails and 36 beers on tap that can be found at his Monkeypod Kitchen restaurants, with the addition of a rotisserie and casual offerings like hand-tossed pizzas and burgers. “Moku Kitchen is really geared toward the residents of Hawai‘i, who may look for a slightly different fare,” he says. “‘Upcountry downtown’ is our theme, and I think it fits into the ahupua‘a concept of land division.” The kitchen will be utilizing fresh ingredients from local farmers that encompass what is harvested from the mountains to the ocean.

Perpetuating time-honored traditions in food cultivation, Merriman’s mission is to create opportunities to connect with the history of the community. “It’s more interesting for me to go into somebody’s home, of whatever ethnicity, and see what mama’s cooking,” he says. “Because so often, that’s the clues to where great things start, from what has been done in families for generations.”

Moku Kitchen will be located at SALT at Our Kaka‘ako, and is slated to open in late October 2016.


The Riches of Kaka‘ako

Dale 1845 sketch_Kakaako Salt Pans

This neighborhood was once the fertile crossroads of ali‘i, where necessities like salt and fish were cultivated.

Text by Anna Harmon

Pictured above: “Native Church [Kawaiaha‘o Church], Oahu, from the Old Salt Pans,” 1845. Sketch by John B. Dale.

Our Kaka‘ako’s shoreline once ended at what is now Ala Moana Boulevard. Along this original coastline were bountiful fisheries, and on the nearby land were marshy mud flats where pili grass grew, canals that brought freshwater to loko i‘a, or fishponds, and salt pans—filled with ocean water at high tide and empty when low—where the crystalized mineral was harvested.

Before contact, the broader place name for Our Kaka‘ako was Ka‘ākaukukui—a designation that actually encompassed four parts of land, including a parcel at the back of Pauoa Valley, and another where the Zippy’s on Vineyard Boulevard is now. But this moniker was far from the only name used for the oceanfront area—in fact, the more names that were tied to a location, the more valued it was, and this region was known by a plethora. Take the neighborhood’s modern-day title of Kaka‘ako, which in the past was used for a more specific area near Ka‘ākaukukui and was thought to have referenced cutting pili grass to use to thatch huts. Another name, which referred to a small area near where SALT stands now, was kaloko‘eli. “Ka loko is just a pond, really an impression in the ground, and ‘eli is to dig,” explains Kamehameha Schools director of natural and cultural resources, Jason Jeremiah. “It makes sense because they would have dug these ponds, salt or fishponds. That place name may have been the name because of the actions that were happening.”

As this name implies, what is now a bustling neighborhood with eateries, apartment buildings, and creative spaces was once the quiet stop on the way to and from neighboring Hawaiian hubs, as well as the place to procure two of the most essential staples of Hawaiian life: fish and salt. While Waikīkī and the land surrounding Honolulu Harbor were bustling areas where ali‘i lived, Kaka‘ako was where the necessities were cultivated.

“From the Hawaiian perspective, salt is very important for the culture,” says Jeremiah. “It was used to preserve our food; it was used in ceremonies as a cleanser or purifier. So the availability and ability to procure those resources was very important.”

Farming salt was a complex task that utilized several features of the land, including ālia, or salt beds; drains feeding smaller channels lined with clay or leaves; and poho kai, or depressions in rocks. As saltwater ebbed and flowed with the tide, traveled through passages, or transferred to such depressions, its evaporation left behind crystals that could then be harvested. Such husbandry was in harmony with the other uses of the land, including farming fish in brackish ponds, and gathering the pili grass that grew on the marshy land.

The arrival of Western merchants, missionaries, and travelers changed these traditions irrevocably over time, first by turning Hawaiian salt into an export, and then by importing cheaper alternatives. Even still, salt was produced commercially in Kaka‘ako into the early 1930s at Kaka‘ako Saltworks, a company helmed by industrious Chinese entrepreneurs.

Time has changed the face of the place. Dredging extended the neighborhood’s shoreline, and its growing industries and community have made Kaka‘ako into its own bustling neighborhood. But the land’s bounty continues to thrive, albeit in new forms. To Jeremiah, Hawaiians have never left the area; rather, their contributions have shifted from farming salt to creating music and art. This is embodied by Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i, a festival that brings together artists to paint public murals in Kaka‘ako every year, and which has grown to global heights.

While history is still in the making here, remembering Kaka‘ako’s rich past is equally as important. Jeremiah aspires to perpetuate it through storytelling and newly chosen place names, such as that of Our Kaka‘ako’s main commercial hub, SALT. “Our ali‘i, in the historic period, they built buildings and developed Honolulu,” Jeremiah says. “I think the important thing to preserve is the knowledge of these places and the history, and continue to tell the story that way and incorporate it into the urban design today.”


Crafting a Digital Our Kaka‘ako

Our Kakaako Minecraft

Kamehameha Schools students use a video game to recreate a neighborhood.

Text by Brad Dell | Images by Jonas Maon

At the end of the school year, most high school students are creating science project poster boards or filling in the bubbles for final exams. But at the close of the spring 2016 semester at Kamehameha Schools Kapālama campus, former teacher Nathan Javellana’s biology classes were playing the video game Minecraft. Together, almost 100 ninth- and tenth-grade students worked to create a scaled model of SALT and its surrounding block in Our Kaka‘ako using the free-roaming construction game in which gamers build dramatically different pixelated worlds by placing multi-colored cubes across a landscape.

Released in 2011, Minecraft has made its way into many classrooms across the nation. Javellana first introduced the game to his students in 2015 to engage those with short attention spans. “The most awesome question I ever got from a student was, ‘Why do I need to learn this if I can just Google it?’” Javellana says. “In doing projects like this, my thought is, you can’t Google something that hasn’t been created yet.”

It’s not merely fun and games, though. Math classes use Minecraft to learn scaling, while history classes use it to recreate historical architecture. In Javellana’s biology classes, the game helps students learn about the changing environment via both research and in-game visualizing, with learning materials including maps that date as far back as 1887. “The whole of Ala Moana Boulevard used to be the shoreline. The kids had no idea of it. ‘Wow really, there was no land there?’” Javellana says, recalling his past students’ surprise. “The science comes in understanding that these changes can affect the environment, and that as we move forward in the development of Hawai‘i, we should consider the environment and find environmentally friendly solutions to our cities’ growth.”

Our Kakaako Minecraft

To further this awareness, students built signs throughout the Minecraft world that explain what existed historically in certain areas, or why places were given their specific names. Their goal in doing so was to prompt those with access to this virtual world, including staff, faculty, and fellow students at Kamehameha Schools, to reflect on how much the changing environment and urbanization have transformed Kaka‘ako, and to learn about its history, forming a new appreciation for the area.

This wasn’t the first time Javellana used Minecraft in his classroom. Last year, the teacher piloted the program by having his class build a lo‘i kalo (taro patch) at Punalu‘u Ahupua‘a Farms, also located on Kamehameha Schools lands, to learn about its biological aspects, and about Hawaiian traditions related to it. Because of that project, four students were offered summer internships with architects and real estate agencies. Javellana says that these results, and the opportunities to better connect with his students, have been his favorite parts of the Minecraft projects.

With the Our Kaka‘ako assignment, Javellana aspired to create members of society who are mindful of what is both added and removed in the process of building a neighborhood. “Employers don’t need the person with the degree,” he says. “They need the person that has the skillset to network, to be innovative and create a product that helps people, changes the world, that helps society, that changes communities.”


Getting Smart

donation station our kakaako

At the donation station in Our Kakaʻako, educational materials donated by Kamehameha Schools affiliates are free for all.

Text by Anna Harmon | Images by John Hook

“Kamehameha Schools’ mission is to support and promote education as well as to cultivate a culture of sustainability throughout the organization. The Donation Station reflects how those core values harmoniously come together,” says Amy “Kālai” Brinker, sustainability manager at Kamehameha Schools. As she stands at the center of the Donation Station in Our Kaka‘ako surrounded by binders, backpacks, and books. The station, which is open until December, takes donated items in good condition from Kamehameha Schools properties and makes them available to educators and students within Kamehameha Schools and the broader community.

Brinker estimates this project will divert more than 10,000 pounds of materials that would be in landfills otherwise. “We want to make sure an admin person over here isn’t buying a binder, while another is throwing one away,” she explains.

But it is more than merely an exchange of goods and a way to save resources. “For Kamehameha Schools, landfills are especially important, because often, landfills are located near Native Hawaiian communities,” Brinker says. “This is another way we are having an indirect impact right in the community.”

Anyone can stop in at the Kamehameha Schools Donation Station to select free supplies, as long as the items are to be used for educational purposes. It is located in Our Kaka‘ako at 401 Cooke St. on the mauka and Diamond Head corner. Hours are Thursday and Friday, 2 to 6 p.m. (2 to 4 p.m. for Kamehameha Schools affiliates, 4 to 6 p.m. open for the public); Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (10 a.m. to noon for Kamehameha Schools affiliates, noon to 2 p.m. open for the public).

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