Curbing it in Hawai’i: Historic Lava Curbstones and Their Significance

April 24, 2019

Maybe you’ve never noticed them -the rectangular shaped stones that mark the boundary between the street and the sidewalk. Curbstones. Nowadays, they’re relatively uniform in length and width—all made of concrete and not particularly noteworthy. But, if you walk through Downtown Honolulu and in other old neighborhoods in Honolulu, you can see a different kind of curbstone, a relic of the past cultural landscape of Honolulu, each one slightly different than the next, all hand-hewn from our local quarries.

 

This is what we call lava rock curbstones, made from a dense basalt sometimes called “bluestone” because of its bluish tint. Rough lava rock blocks were hand-cut from quarries such as the Mo‘ili‘ili Quarry (now part of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa campus). The first documented use of the lava rock curbstones was at Thomas Square in 1893 and these locally-made stones became a ubiquitous part of Honolulu’s streetscapes in the early 1900s. With the technological advances of precast and poured-in-place concrete materials following World War II, lava rock curbstones fell out of favor until they were completely replaced in the 1960s.

 

While Honolulu’s streets have been repaved many times, and the original sidewalk materials have been replaced over time, the lava rock curbstones are sometimes the only vestige of the historic streetscape. They have proven to be durable and strong, some withstanding over 100 years of use. Lava rock curbstones represent a time when Honolulu was growing and beautifying its streets. They also reflect the creativity and industry of our people who adapted a foreign street organizing feature to the locally available basalt. Best of all, they are HAWAI‘I’s lava rock curbstones.

 

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