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Lahaina’s Historic Walking Trail App: Where Lahaina’s history and culture come alive

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | Aug 6, 2021

The I. Imamoto Store, a well-known Front Street business from 1919 to 1951, was memorialized with a plaque at the old location (in front of the Lahaina Loft) and was added to the new Lahaina Historic Trail app. Judy (left) and Coco Masters, daughter and granddaughter of the Imamotos, attended the ceremony. PHOTO BY CINDY SCHUMACHER.

LAHAINA — The Lahaina Historic Walking Trail has a new phone app. The extensive app, designed by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation (LRF) and funded by the Maui County Office of Economic Development, was developed to enable an interactive, interpretive experience of historic Lahaina Town.

It contains three walking trails and 68 points of interest, highlighting cultural and historical sites, a chronological timeline of major events in Lahaina’s history and a live view of augmented-reality features.

While a paper map is still available and can be purchased during open hours at the Lahaina Visitor Center and from staffed LRF museums, the historically important sites in Lahaina are now on a phone app that enhances the experience.

“We developed the Lahaina Historic Trail in 2000 to showcase the numerous historic sites around town,” said Theo Morrison, LRF executive director.

“Over the years, buildings crumbled, sites were abandoned or outgrew their previous use, and new businesses developed. Interpretive plaques were installed at these locations so that their history could be shared even though only stories of the previous use remained. Did you know that Kimo’s Restaurant used to be the Fuji Service Station? Tommy Bahama’s Marlin Bar was the location of the Pioneer Mill Hospital, and Holle Fine Art Gallery is the site of the former Kawaguchi Fish Market?

“Today, the Lahaina Historic Trail can be accessed by an app that showcases and enhances the cultural and historical significance of the sites. The app provides multimedia content such as text, maps, photographs and artist renditions of historical moments in time. These elements enrich the historical experience through a device that everyone owns, trusts and has in their pocket. That device is their smart phone.”

The significant sites, museums and buildings represent the history and culture of the town over a period of more than 500 years. To locate these sites and learn their stories, the free Lahaina Walking Tour App can be downloaded from an online app store or from the LRF website.

The trail is easy to follow with the app, and there are also large informative map kiosks and explanatory bronze plaques installed along the route throughout Lahaina. The self-guided tour is a blend of influences, covering Hawaiian history, the whaling era, the missionaries, immigrant plantation life and more.

“Lahaina is a town filled with historic sites from every era, yet those sites are not always obvious or even visible,” said Kimberly Flook, LRF deputy executive director. “The Lahaina Historic Trail App brings the stories of Lahaina Town to life through a series of historic images highlighting the 68 sites. “Unlike a print-based guide, the app allows us to share information and multiple images for every site, using GPS to tie this information to very specific locations. The app has the added benefit of being infinitely expandable with new photos, videos and audio that can be added in real time, automatically updating across all platforms with the press of a button.”

On Monday, July 26, another historic site on Front Street received a plaque and was added to the app. Established in 1919, I. Imamoto Store on Front Street was run by the Imamoto family until its closure in 1951. A staple of the community, the Imamotos offered kama’aina fresh local produce, fish and groceries along with a quick laugh and a lot of talk-story with customers.

The first-born son of an Issei fisherman, Isami “Barney” Imamoto returned to Lahaina fresh out of Hilo High School to build his business and a house on Wahikuli Road, a home he would later share with wife Toshiko and daughters Lily Yurie and Judy Ai.

Built in 1916, the Imamoto Store building was in what was known at the time as the finest building in Lahaina. It is now home to Fleetwood’s, the Lahaina Loft and other shops. In fact, Front Street is lined with buildings dating back to the 1820s that are now home to stores and restaurants.

“This is such an honor to my dad!” said Judy Masters, Toshiko and Isami’s daughter. “It marks a time and place in which a 16-year-old could actually start a store in Lahaina. It took a lot of guts. While I was growing up, the store became a big influence on my own eating and eventual cooking habits. The importance my parents placed on nutrition and healthy eating is now multi-generational.”

Coco Masters, the Imamotos’ granddaughter, added, “I was delighted at the ceremony. Having the plaque made was an act of love and remembrance. It is a true gift for my mother in honor of our heritage. I hope it helps to shed light on the historical significance of my grandfather’s place in the Lahaina community. It was a role he fought to maintain, and one that survived the persecution of our Nisei community during WWII. It is a time that is often forgotten, buried beneath what we see today. Nonetheless, it is a time and community that deserves to be remembered. I am extremely grateful to Theo Morrison and LRF for this small act that means so much to me and to my family.”

Denise Black, Lahaina Loft event manager, reflected, “It was wonderful to meet Judy and Coco Masters and to have the plaque with the history of their family business placed outside of Lahaina Loft. I became very emotional at the ceremony because being part of this community, and a historic site on the LRF app, is very special to me.”

Although at present Lahaina may be better known for its more modern shops and cafes, the trail app yields an educational glimpse into Hawaii’s past.

Designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1962, Lahaina was recognized for its well-preserved character as a 19th-century port, and for its social and economic importance in the 19th century. It was a major reprovisioning port for whaling ships in the Pacific.

Lahaina was a popular residential center for the kings of Maui prior to the arrival of European explorers in the late 18th century. Kamehameha I made his landing here when he began the conquest of Maui in 1795, and Kamehameha II established a residence here in 1819.

That same year, the first whaling ships arrived, beginning the community’s rise in economic importance.

There is much to learn about Lahaina by strolling down its historic trail, which is a real treasure for history buffs. The LRF has done an admirable job preserving landmarks throughout the town and is interested in adding more historic plaques or information to their new app.

Visit info@lahainarestoration.org. to share stories.