Prince Hanalei/Archive photo courtesy Connie Florez

Remembering the Glades

Gary Chun

For a couple of nights in mid-November of last year, the intersection of Hotel and Maunakea Streets was transported back to the late 1960s-early 1970s, a much livelier time in Chinatown nightlife when drag queens and transgendered prostitutes were the main attraction in and around the Glade Show Lounge.

Better known amongst locals as “The Glades,” documentary filmmaker and producer Connie Florez has been patiently developing, over a decade’s time, her passion project about this colorful venue that was an integral part of Hawaii’s LGBT history. She’s accumulated over 7,000 photos and some rare film footage about the Glades’ “We are All Boys” floorshows. Now, on these two evenings, she, director- editor Tom Schneider and their production team are re-enacting scenes involving the lounge’s star performer, the butt-shakin’ fire dancer Prince Hanalei, and a scene that typified any given night back in the day when vehicles would drive up-and-down Hotel Street to gawk at and harass the groups of “mahus” out plying their trade.

Mark Jensen has opened up his corner hot-dog storefront, Farkles, to the production crew as a temporary equipment storage space-slash-makeup room-slash film location for these nights. A “rumble” between Prince Hanalei (played by actor JD Tanuvasa) and extras dressed as sailors will be later restaged in the small restaurant.

One of the old-time mahus who is helping Florez and company on location is Linda Brown, bedecked this evening in full-on makeup, a sight in a red stretch mini, platinum blonde wig and gold hoop earrings.

“During that era, I was still a juvenile,” Brown said. “By law, we had to wear these ‘I am a Boy’ buttons when we were out and about. All these cars filled with families and tour buses would go into Chinatown at night to cruise Nu‘uanu and Hotel to look and take pictures of us.

“Other than that, I was a very discreet child,” she said, punctuated by a loud laugh.

Amongst the hustling and occasional brawls with pimps and johns, to say those Chinatown streets were lively would be an understatement. But Brown said, amidst it all, was the Glades, “a mahu-friendly club. It would be open until 4 in the morning, and during the ‘70s when disco was popular, it was nothing but neon lights and queens.” Before then, drag performers at the Glades would were comparably less makeup and wouldn’t use wigs. Later, “some were popping hormones to change their bodies and coming out like full-on showgirls.”

Brown and her fellow mahus would find shelter in houses run by “queen mothers” that were known on the scene. “The young ones could find a home and sleep in these shelters, and help each other out. It was there you learned to be a lady and sometimes Mother would get you out of jail. During the ‘50s through ‘70s, there were houses on streets like Date and Kapiolani Boulevard. ... The only jobs outside of the house were usually working on the street or being strippers and showgirls at places like the Glades and Club Hubba Hubba.”

While watching a scene being shot of a parade of mahus walking down Nu‘uanu near the River of Life mission, Florez said that, beneath the layers of these “queens having a birth name, a street name and a stage name,” wearing the ‘I am a boy’ button made them a target of terrible violence and even death. “During the height of this time, around 30 girls were murdered. There was one notorious case where a john cut open a girl named Sugar, whose body was found at the end of River Street. In retrospect, these were hate crimes being committed that not only affected queens, but effeminate men as well. Hearing the phrase ‘kill a mahu’ was not uncommon.”

But the Glade Show Lounge on Hotel Street was a club of sanctuary, where straight crowds could enjoy the show’s production numbers. “In a short dress, high heels and high hairdos, the ‘boys will be girls’ found that they could pass and do it beautifully.” Star performers like Hanalei — who “was built like a shit brickhouse and could fight any man” — singer Brandy Lee and burlesque dancer Tammy Kay made the Glades a must-stop in Honolulu’s nightlife back in its heyday.

Buoyed after attending the first reunion in 2005 of former Glades performers in Las Vegas, Florez felt impelled to make a documentary about their stories after her film, released in ‘ll, titled “Ke Kulana He Mahu: Remembering a Sense of Place.”

“I knew it was going to be a big, daunting task,” Florez said. “Nothing had be done about the Glades and I was going to start from scratch. Luckily, I had help from DeSoto Brown, the Hawaiian historian and Bishop Museum archivist, who helped research ‘Ke Kulana,’ and Jack Cione, the famous impressario who came to Hawaii from Phoenix in the late ‘50s, and at one time had 14 nightclubs on Oahu through the ‘70s.”

During her research and interviews that took her to the mainland, Florez realized that the Glades project was essentially “a civil rights piece,” much like the issue of same-sex marriage, a topic that will serve as its epilogue after the demonstrations at the State Capitol last year.

“Even after the law repealed having to wear the ‘I am a Boy’ button, there was still a stigma towards mahus after 20 years. While some moved elsewhere to lead quiet, hidden lives, others remember wearing the button as their badge of courage, proudly saying that they survived the harassment and discrimination. Around the young mahus and ‘butchies’ of today, they’re heroes because they still hold themselves with dignity.

“I feel it’s my destiny in life to tell these girls’ stories with grace and honesty, and to honor them,” Florez said.

An Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign has recently been started to raise post-production costs, with all monies going towards a cumulative goal of $25,000. Click here to find out more. Florez’s Glades project can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and