Honolulu is the capital of Hawaii and, unlike many state capitals, also is the state's center for business and finance, as well as population. As the political and economic hub of the state, Honolulu features a large variety of buildings from a full range of historical periods and includes some of the best designs in the Islands. However, the city's built environment dates overwhelmingly from the twentieth century, with only a handful of highly significant nineteenth-century vestiges standing. The downtown area of the city focuses on a fifteen-block high-rise core, which serves as the financial and business center. This is flanked on its Diamond Head (east) and Ewa (west) sides, respectively, by the Capital and Chinatown historic districts with their one- to four-story buildings. The ocean lies to the south of downtown, and to the north is Nuuanu Valley, which developed as a desirable residential district in the nineteenth century due to its proximity to the downtown.
To the west of downtown are Honolulu's Iwilei and Kalihi-Palama districts, which during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were considered the Asiatic part of the city. They remain a mixed-use area, with low-rise stores and business buildings lining King Street, Dillingham Boulevard, and Nimitz Highway. To the east of downtown lies Kakaako. During the course of the twentieth century, this district shifted from a primarily working-class residential area to light industrial use, and is now in the midst of a revitalization process which is bringing high-rise offices and apartments into the area.
Beyond Kakaako, the urban lands which lie between the ocean and Beretania Street are primarily devoted to low-rise business enterprises, with high-rise Waikiki, the engine of Hawaii's visitor industry, being a notable exception. The Makiki, Manoa, and Palolo valleys are almost exclusively dedicated to residential use, with small commercial areas to serve their communities. This is also true of the Kapahulu and Kaimuki districts, historically the eastern edge of the city and the end of the trolley line during the early twentieth century. The mountainsides behind the city are also devoted to single-family houses, gaining widespread popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, when the automobile made them more readily accessible.
To the east of Kaimuki, the oceanfront Kahala district shifted from ranching to housing in the 1930s, and the residential areas from Waialae-Kahala to Niu Valley were subdivided and more intensely developed beginning in the 1950s. By the end of the 1960s, Hawaii Kai was also emerging as a substantial residential area.
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