Billboards in Hawaii? Nope, Not One!

Most Americans have become accustomed to the visual blight that is outdoor advertising, and that’s really a pity. When we travel to the mainland U.S., many of us who live in Hawaii are jolted by all the billboards and huge signs on the side of buildings. That’s because billboards are outlawed here in these islands, and have been for some 90 years.
Most everyone agrees the strict control of outdoor advertising here is a good thing. After all, Hawaii’s economy is almost wholly dependent on tourism and, for the most part, it’s the natural beauty of these islands that brings people here. What if it were legal to erect a big billboard in the middle of this scene?
 In fact, our sign ordinances extend to more than just what we think of as billboards. Signs advertising a business are only permitted on buildings in which that business is actually located. The size of the sign is limited according to the size of the building and no signs are permitted above the first floor of a building.
Business people chafe about the sign ordinance all the time. Years ago, when I worked for the Mayor of Honolulu, I was contacted by the wife of actor James MacArthur, who starred for years as Danno in the original Hawaii Five-O series. Melody owned a shop in Kilohana Square, a small boutique shopping center that had trouble attracting customers because of its location. The merchants there thought they needed a larger sign that was more prominently located and Melody was asked to call me for advice on how to make that happen.
I asked one of the city’s building inspectors to go out to Kilohana Square, visit with Melody, and give her some direction as to what they might do to improve their signage and still stay within the law. Several days later, Melody called to say the inspector had indeed paid them a visit. She said he not only had declined to offer any suggestions, but while there had cited three of the shop owner for having illegal signs.
I was embarrassed, of course … especially when Melody told me that the following night at the quarterly meeting of the Kilohana Square Merchants Association, the members had voted 9-0 “to never, ever again ask Jim Loomis for help.” We all laughed about it later.
Still, it’s a fact that to this day, Hawaii remains billboard free and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Come and see for yourself.