Nestled beneath the green West Maui Mountains – Mauna Kahalawai (“holding house of water”), Wailuku Town boasts a rich, historic past and an exciting, prosperous future. Historic buildings, stylish boutiques, popular eateries and local mom and pop stores mingle with the government buildings that form the hub of Maui’s County seat. Wailuku has played an important role in Maui’s culture and history. It was a thriving population center under the island’s rulers, Pi’ilani and Kahekili before 1790, when Kamehameha scored a decisive victory at ‘Iao Valley, in the battle of Kepaniwai, leading to the unification of the Hawaiian islands. The influx of Christian missionaries and the development of sugar plantations in the mid-1800s changed the face of Maui, and the Wailuku Sugar Company, owned by C. Brewer & Co., brought new ditches and irrigation from the adjacent mountains.
That's what I love about Wailuku... It's that old charm of the community that still has a voice, that reflects the beauty of this land.
“We’re seeing a whole new renaissance of Wailuku with the (art) murals that is making sense of Wailuku to the larger community. Before, only Wailuku people loved Wailuku, but now the world loves it.”
The plantations brought thousands of workers from many countries – China, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Okinawa, Portugal and the Azores, as well as from Europe and mainland America. Wailuku was home to many of these immigrant groups who brought their cultures, religions, foods and traditions with them. From the mid-1800s, new homes sprung up alongside churches, temples, stores and markets, schools, and hotels as the town buzzed with commerce and purpose. In 1905, Wailuku was named Maui’s County seat, and government offices continued the town’s expansion. At the time, Wailuku was considered a mercantile center, and long-time residents recall the entertainment venues that included a bowling center and movie theaters, ice and soda works, family stores and bars that contributed to Wailuku’s flourishing economy. The town was an eclectic mix of art deco, colonial and plantation styles, and even New England influences set against a uniquely Hawaiian backdrop, with the cultural significance of the ‘Iao and Wailuku valleys close and ever-present.
Between 2000 and 2018, the community came together through a revitalization program called reWailuku to remember and reimagine what the town was and could be. Their input and vision for this neighborhood has helped to inject energy and life back into downtown Wailuku. Today, Wailuku offers a myriad of small businesses, shops, restaurants, theaters, galleries, churches and events attracting residents and visitors year-round. Amidst the background for all these experiences is a creative canvas that one can’t help but notice and be inspired. Exciting efforts are underway to designate portions of the town as an official Arts District. Hele mai!
“Our hope is that we always preserve Wailuku’s unique sense of place and that it continues to be a community where locals can gather, spend time, shop, dine, and enjoy everything this town has to offer.”