HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – The Great Outdoor Circle


By Kelly Moran

The Great Outdoor Circle

In my last blog
I mentioned Hawaii’s billboard laws in passing. But they deserve a blog of their own . . . and a round of applause.

They may be unique in the United States in that they forbid the erection of billboards, not just in some places but everywhere in the Islands. And the idea of banning billboards didn’t come from “green” politicians in the 1990s, nor from hippies in the 1960s. The movers-and-shakers who successfully lobbied the government to ban billboards were women – housewives, mainly – and they did it more than 80 years ago!

They were members of a club called The Outdoor Circle, that had been formed in 1912 with the goal of keeping Hawaii green and beautiful. Some were descended from Hawaiian royalty, but many were the (mostly haole) wives of Hawaii’s mostly haole) richest and most politically influential men. Like “women’s clubs” elsewhere, the Outdoor Circle had gotten trees planted along streets and avenues. But for the women of Hawaii, that was not enough.

Despite the revenues that billboard advertising would generate, and the likelihood that billboards would draw customers to their enterprises, the businessmen of Hawaii agreed with their women-folk that, to preserve the Islands’ unique beauty, they would support laws forbidding large outdoor advertisements and severely limiting other kinds of signage.

The first of these laws was passed in 1927, and more were added as new technologies, such as neon lighting, became available. Additional laws were enacted in 1948 to prohibit aerial advertising, such as sky-writing and the towing of banners by aircraft.

Today, there are no billboards even in the densest commercial or industrial zones; and strict regulations limit the size of signs on a building that proclaim what businesses are inside. The Outdoor Circle has also taken a stand against “Admobile” trucks that don’t haul anything except a rotating set of billboard-size ads on their flanks.

Laws covering other fields comply with the billboard laws here, too. There are size limits on electioneering signs for candidates and issues; and as I noted in my last blog, after an election has been held, those signs have to come down. Under real estate law, the “For Sale” sign in front of a house or property must be removed after escrow closes.

The Outdoor Circle’s current mission statement is: “To protect Hawaii’s scenic environment by advocating for the planting and protection of trees, burying of utility lines, promoting recycling, and fighting for a billboard-free Hawaii, among other issues.” The Big Island branch of the Outdoor Circle is headquartered in Waimea.

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