Recalling the Hawaii of an early era is like thumbing through the scrapbook of one's memory and rediscovering the fragile beauty of an old flame.

Innocence. Did it ever really exist? Was it only in the mind, a mere fantasy, a hope, a dream? Or was it truly a part of our lives, a precious, fleeting moment that was gone too soon?

The question arises after the recent newspaper reports of violence in Hawaii. One asks, how could violence occur in a place of such infinite beauty? Violence is expected in a tenement in New York or a Los Angeles ghetto. But on a beach in Hawaii?

Although tourism promoters are angered over negative publicity appearing in the mainland press, they would do well to heed the warning. For continued crime surely would affect tourism. And without tourism the state can bid aloha to its major earning power.

Police Chief Francis Keala insists that Honolulu is safer than any other tourist-oriented city in the United States, and he ticked off the names of Las Vegas, Miami, San Diego, San Francisco, Washington and New Orleans.

"I'm not saying that we don't have problems," Keala said, "but as far as the tourists are concered, they're a lot safer here than they are on the mainland."

Still, violence isn't expected in places such as Hawaii -- reported gang rapes on remote beaches, the senseless murder of a young intern on the Big Island, the muggings of campers by roving punks.

Even so, Keala argues that visitors will be safe if they take the same precautions in Hawaii as they do at home. He's talking about locking up valuables and avoiding isolated beaches.

"Go where there are other people," he cautions.

A girl who works in public relations in Honolulu said flat out, "I never go camping on a deserted beach in Hawaii."

And Hobe Duncan, press secretary to Gov. George Ariyoshi, responded to the question of violence by declaring, "Hawaii never has been a total paradise. There are bars on the leeward side of Oahu I wouldn't have gone to 27 years ago. There have always been certain problems. It's always been depressed area over there."

On Maui a few weeks ago, Jack Millar watched with disbelief as a gang of thieves systematically burglarized cars parked outside of a fashionable new hotel. With screwdrivers they popped open trunk lids and removed cameras and other valuables. Afterward they fled in a van. In broad daylight. Because of the recession, rising air fares -- and the poor publicity -- Hawaii's tourism fell sharply this year. It was down 14 percent in January, 1 percent in February and 9 percent in March.

The tourist revolution began on Oahu with the development of Waikiki. After that it spread to the neighbor islands: to Kaanapali on Maui, to Kona on the Big Island and to the beaches of Kauai. Even long-somnolent Molokai -- one of the last holdouts -- has awakened.

Now fear perists that Hawaii could eventually perish from its own prosperity. Greedy developers -- seeking the fast buck -- are building abominations. No one has forgiven one hotel-man who built his high-rise to the very sidewalk of Kalakaua Avenue Height limitations have been estiblished on the neighbor islands: four stories on Kaual, 10 on the Big Island and a dozen on Maui. In the high-density districts of Oahu the builders can go as high as 350 feet.

As tourism grew year after year, Hawaii made the mistake of becoming complacent. Meanwhile, the mainland exported its pimps, prostitutes, thieves and panhandlers. It was our bequest to the storied islands. Other Haoles arrived to develop hotels and condominiums on the neighbor island -- on the very beaches where the locals used to swim and surf. Unfortunately, we exported a questionable style that has eroded the the once sincere and friendly aloha spirit. Now money matters. And it is Hawaii's tragedy that great numbers of its youth have neither the education nor the will to work. The result is an increase in crime.

The first passenger ship dropped anchor in Hawaii in 1927. After that, for many years to follow, "boat day" was a joyous occasion. The Royal Hawaiian band played its haunting melodies. Beach boys dived for coins. The aloha spirit was as sweet as the scent of plumeria.

Even aftr Pan Am's first clipper plane arrived from San Francisco, boat day remained a tradition. Only after the introduction of the jet did the scene shift. A once-small caricature of an airport grew untill now it is one of the biggest, most impressive in the nation.

So boat day is only a memory. The big jets arrive constantly, depositing new tourists who do discover Hawaii was created by those with soul as well as the fast-buck artists.

The old Hawaii.

Kauai is said to be the loveliest of the Hawaiian Islands. It was here that Hollywood came to film "South Pacific" beside a valley choked with rainbows. The sea washes against lava and white sand beaches, and the birds sing from their jungle settings, their voices carried by the soft trade winds. And while the sea is ever as blue, there's an awakening on Bloody Mary's island.

New hotels have risen from Kapaa to Poipu. Poipu has always been a special place. It was here that vacationers were drawn to the popular low-rise Waiohai Hotel facing one of Hawaii's finest beaches. Now it is gone; soon to take its place is a 458-room, four-story resort hotel.

It was on Kauai that I was dropped by helicopter several years ago to a deserted beach, one that's as safe from violence now as it was then. The reason it is safe is because it remains all but inaccessible. The Na Pali cliffs fall sharply behind it, and the sea in this particular place churns with cross tides too dangerous for boats.

I spent the night there, alone in a world unchanged through the centuries. Except for the wind and the waves and the muted thunder of the waterfall, it was as silent as the stars that shone by the millions overhead. Holopu is possibly the loveliest beach on earth, totally deserted, miles from civilization, the perfect hideaway. As day ended and the sun ignited clouds on the horizon, the sea turned the palest of blues and then darkness came. Not a single light shone anywhere. Only the stars overhead.

I recall not violence the first time I visited Maui. Kaanapali Beach was deserted -- without so much as a single hotel. And this was only 18 year ago. At the old whaling village of Lahaina, salty young sailors and tourists in from the mainland siped run and listened to Nelson Waikiki, Hawaii's then-unkulele virtuoso. Someone had to persuade Nelson to leave Hawaii for for a career on the mainland.

"You could earn a fortune," he was told.

Nelson (he drove a bus during the daytime and had a wife and six kids) smiled, shook his head and replied earnestly, "But why should I leave Hawaii when everything I want is right here?"

One can't help but wonder if it still is. Innocence. Did it ever really exist -- or is it only in the mind of the beholder?