The history of Chinatown Historic District in Honolulu, Hawaii, where Chinese gathered and established their own dwelling, dates back to 1788 when two ships, Felice and Iphigenia, set sail from Southern China and arrived in Hawaii in December. The ship stayed in Hawaii for three months and left in March of 1789, and Chinese historians believed that during these three months all crewmen came ashore at one time or another.
There were stories saying that the now Chinatown was possibly used by fishermen during the early days of Hawaii but only a few evidence can prove such belief. The community was not made purely of Chinese people; there were also outsiders, so to speak. One of the early settlers there was Isaac Davis who died in 1810. The person who inspired the creation of the Vineyard Boulevard in the northern end of Chinatown was the Spaniard Don Francisco de Paula Marin who lived in the southern end of the district in the early 19th century and planted a vineyard in the opposite end. By the 1900s, 56% of the population in Chinatown was Chinese but soon declined.
The influx of Chinese in the islands of Hawaii was augmented when laborers were needed to work in the growing sugar plantation industry. It was in the 19th century that the local government decided to import laborers from China since this was the best source of immediate cheap labor because of its proximity and the interest of the Chinese in coming to Hawaii to work. The first batch of laborers imported totaled 293 who were paid $3 per month with a contract of five years. As the years gone by, more and more Chinese workers were imported, that between 1852 and 1876, 3908 have come to Hawaii to work.
By 1884, there were around 5,000 Chinese in Honolulu, however, the number of Chinese plantation workers decreased. When their contracts ended, these Chinese laborers stayed in Hawaii and opted to become self-employed. Soon after, this group of Chinese entrepreneurs became very important in business in Hawaii. 75% of them formed the 25-acre downtown Chinatown. Clubhouses, herb shops, restaurants, temples and retail stores soon rose in Chinatown totaling to 72 stores out of 153 operating in Honolulu.
While the Chinatown was starting to prosper, two major fires in 1886 and 1900 destroyed many buildings there. The 1886 fire, which lasted for three days, burnt down almost the entire Chinatown including homes of Chinese and Native Hawaiians. Nevertheless, the Legislative Assembly enacted laws to regulate the rebuilding of Chinatown in accordance with fire precautions. Despite the regulations, many new building were constructed in violation of the government rules. This contributed to the even larger fire in 1900. A bubonic plague infected Chinatown and after 13 people died, the Board of Health ordered the burning of suspected infected structures. However, the fire got out of control and despite the presence of the Honolulu Fire Department, most of the neighborhood got destroyed.
The Chinatown faced another rebuilding but this time masonry rather than wood was implemented making structures in the community more fire resistant. On January 17, 1973, about 36 acres of the Chinatown district was added to the National Register of Historic Places listings in Oahu.