These prime pieces of Americana pose interesting questions. They are the legacy of Hawaii’s colonial history, its admission to the union as the 50th U.S. state in 1959, and the new affluence of midcentury America’s booming middle class. These hotels speak to the environmental and cultural impact of real estate development in the world’s most naturally beautiful places, while making it possible for people from all over the world to appreciate that very natural beauty and culture.
The first hotel in Waikiki. It’s first guests were a Shriner society. The Shriners paid $1.50 for each room.
The Moana’s hallways are extra wide to accommodate steamer trunks. From the beginning, some of the guest rooms had telephones and private bathrooms–very posh. It also has the first electric-powered elevator on the Hawaiian islands, which is still in use. A seven year-old, seven foot tall banyan tree was planted in the hotel’s courtyard in 1904. Today it is 75 feet tall, and spans 150 feet across the courtyard.
In 1905, Jane Stanford, widow of California Governor Leland Stanford and co-founder of Stanford University, came to stay at the Moana Hotel. There she died of strychnine poisoning. The culprit remains unknown.
The Moana was an especially exciting place in the 1920s. Guests included the trendsetting Prince of Wales (soon to be–but not for long–King Edward VIII) and Agatha Christie. Olympic swimmer and surf legend Duke Kahanamoku and his friends, known as the Waikiki Beach Boys, made the Moana’s beachfront and restaurants their stomping ground.
In 1952, the company that owned the Moana built another hotel, the SurfRider, nearby. (See postcard below.) In 1969, the next company owner built another hotel nearby, confusingly named the Surfrider. Since 2007, the three hotels–the Moana, the SurfRider, and the Surfrider–have been packaged as Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa. At Christmastime, 24 White House staffers set up base at the Moana Surfrider while President Obama visits his hometown. SurfRider Hotel, Waikiki, Honolulu, Oahu. Established 1952.“Hawaiian flag raising ceremony.” Coco Palms Resort Hotel, Lihue, Kauai. Established 1953.
The coconut grove where the hotel sits was the ancestral home of Kauai royalty dating back to the 13th century. Kauai’s last reigning queen, Queen Deborah Kapule, lived there in the mid-19th century.
When it opened, Coco Palms was a small hotel of 24 rooms. It was a major location in 1961’s Blue Hawaii with Elvis Presley. The film’s wedding scene created great demand for weddings at the hotel which hosted about 500 every year. (MGM donated the film’s wedding chapel to the hotel.) Blue Hawaiialso features the hotel’s Nightly Ceremony.“Native boys sounding “The Call to Dinner” with the blowing of the Conch Shell, the Beating of Drums, and the Lighting of Torches, makes dinner at the Coco Palms an unforgettable experience.”
“When shadows fall, the torches are lit and the flames rise along Coco Palms Tropical Lagoon following the Nightly Ceremony.”
Even though I know the context is corny, I think this postcard is so beautiful. It’s one of my favorites. It’s from Uncle and Aunt Snail’s honeymoon in 1977. (The other Coco Palms postcards were Grandma and Grandpa Snail’s from the ’50s or ’60s.)
Manager Grace Guslander promoted all these ceremonies, embellishing local traditions and history. Important visitors such as Duke Kahanamoku, the von Trapp family, and Bing Crosby planted new coconut trees in the grove in replenishing ceremonies. Guslander encouraged the belief that the hotel’s fishponds had belonged to the ancient Kauai royals.
The Coco Palms expanded to 400 rooms in the 1970s, becoming the resort of Kauai. It has been closed since 1992 when it was hit by Hurrican Iniki, but is scheduled to reopen in 2017 as a Hyatt resort.
Aloha for now! Come back soon for hotel postcards from around the world!