Capitalists are often vilified in modern times, but the story of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach, on the beautiful island of Oahu is one example of how creative capitalism can benefit the masses.
In the early 20th century, a group of executives with substantial interests in Hawaii had the foresight to envision a burgeoning tourism future for the Hawaiian Islands – Oahu in particular.
The first luxury hotel, the Moana, had been successfully catering to the carriage trade for over 25 years, and it was evident that with the right combination of transportation and accommodations the Hawaiian luxury travel market could be profitably expanded.
King Kamehameha I conquered Oahu in 1795 and built a residence on the pristine oceanfront that was destined to become Waikiki Beach. During the prosperous 1920s, that same prime land was acquired by the Matson Navigation Company from the Royal Family of Hawaii and was to become the future site of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
The development of tourism in the area was arrested until 1920 when the Ala Wai Canal was built to drain the wetlands and swamps that were just inland from the unspoiled beach. The construction of the canal, which runs parallel to the ocean and the main street of Waikiki Beach, opened the door to rapid expansion.
Construction on the Royal Hawaiian started in 1925. She was built of sandstone block covered in stucco. Her contemporary Spanish-Moorish architecture was fashionable in California at the time, and fit quite nicely into the coconut palm groves at Waikiki. Pink was a popular color on the mainland, and again, it too was well suited for Hawaii.
One thousand and two hundred celebrants greeted the opening of the Royal Hawaiian to island high society on February 1, 1927. She quickly attained the nickname, “The Pink Palace of the Pacific.”
How they came
Rich tourists from North America first came by ordinary steamship. Then in the mid-20s, the Matson Navigation Company built the Malolo – a luxury cruise ship with 650 1st class cabins. She could do 21 knots and made the crossing from San Francisco to Honolulu in 4.5 days. The Malolo was built specifically to cater to the affluent guests that would occupy the new Royal Hawaiian Hotel. None of the other luxury hotels in Oahu was considered opulent enough for the passengers of the elegant Malolo.
The Great Depression
Business was brisk at the Pink Palace until the advent of the Great Depression, then like the mainland, hard times hit the islands.
The silver lining
Counterbalancing the ill effects of the Depression, air travel in the mid-30s was making access to the Hawaiian Islands faster. No longer tethered to lengthy steam ship journeys, the working rich began taking the weekly flight to Hawaii – that led to more flights and cheaper fares for everyone.
It soon became possible for tourists of limited means to reach Oahu for short vacations. A boom of ‘everyday’ hotel construction on Waikiki was followed by more services for all.
The luxury hotels, especially the Royal Hawaiian and Moana ultimately did very well during the travel renaissance.
World War II
In January 1942, the US Navy leased the Royal Hawaiian and transformed it into a Rest and Recuperation Center for sailors. The famous Coconut Grove Cocktail Bar was made over into a soda fountain, the tennis court became a basketball court, and a new baseball diamond was built on the property.
The hotel was turned back to its owners almost four years later in November of 1945, at which time a major renovation ensued. Twenty years to the day the Royal opened, she re-opened with a gala celebration on February 1, 1947. It was the end of war, and the beginning of great times for Hawaii and the Pink Palace of the Pacific.
Matson takes a bow
With less demand for steamship travel, Matson officials decided to concentrate on their core competency of shipping goods and materials, and subsequently sold their hotel interests in Hawaii. It was an end of an era, and Matson can be credited with a commendable job of developing the tourist industry on Oahu.
The Royal Hawaiian today
The Royal Hawaiian is now a Luxury Collection Resort that regularly undergoes changes to keep her competitive with other luxury hotels in Hawaii, but she will never lose her main advantages of location and historic charm. The Royal Hawaiian is a truly extraordinary hotel in every sense of the word ‘hospitality.’
If you have an opportunity to stay at the Royal Hawaiian, take it. You will find that the experience cannot be duplicated. There is no other luxury hotel quite like it anywhere in the world.
The Royal Hawaiian Luau
Aha’aina – is a Royal Celebration. We were anxious to experience this renowned oceanfront luau on Waikiki Beach with its spectacular views, excellent food, and top-notch entertainment. We were not disappointed.
During our luau celebration, we were treated to a few minutes of Hawaii’s famous liquid-sunshine. It did not dampen the spirits of guests, servers, or entertainers. The show must go on and it did.
A great time was had by all the temporarily napkin-headed guests. Fortunately, the concluding fire dancer was not in the least bit hampered by the passing shower.
The rainbow after the Aha’aina was breathtaking. See the photo in the slideshow.
Also, be sure to view the excellent video about the Aha’aina that accompanies this story.
If you go
The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort, is located just off fashionable Kalakaua Avenue on Waikiki Beach and nine miles from Honolulu International Airport. For more information check out their website at www.royal-hawaiian.com.
For event planners
Walking around the premises, we were surprised to learn that the Royal had 11,800 square feet of inside meeting space, and 15,500 feet of available outside event space. It is capable of accommodating a large company meeting or convention in an elegant Hawaiian style.
If you are in charge of planning events for your organization, this venue can’t lose.
While you are there
Experience an unusual thrill by taking the short drive up the Pali (Cliff) Highway to one of Hawaii’s most scenic points – the Nuuanu Pali Lookout. This vantage point oversees Oahu’s lush and panoramic windward coast.
The location was the site of the historic Battle of Nuuanu, after which, victorious King Kamehameha I was able to unite Hawaii under one ruler.
The famous battle claimed the lives of hundreds of warriors from both sides. It is recorded that many of the combatants were forced over the edge of the mountain and fell a thousand feet to their death.
Legend has it that the spirits of the fallen have created the almost constant wind at the site. The howling gale is frequently so strong and consistent that it is literally possible to lean against it without falling. Add it to your list of one-of-a-kind travel experiences!
Like this story? Click on the “Subscribe” box near the byline photo and you will receive an email alert and link to the next Travels with Wayne and Judy article.
A special thank you to Marcia Wienert and Diana Su of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Hawaii, without whose knowledge and assistance this article would not have been possible.
You might also enjoy our stories about Pearl Harbor and the inimitable Moana Surfrider Hotel.
We flew to Oahu for this story on Hawaiian Airlines.
© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff
Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff – Vintage photos are from the gallery at The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort.
You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/