By Sal Maccarone
History would prove that 1927 was a great year for the opening of hotels! While the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park was being built, another future icon was also breaking ground some 2500 miles to the west. Thanks to the Matson Ship Lines, who had just started providing steamer travel from California to Honolulu, there would need to be a place for travelers to stay. So, why not make a hotel that is luxurious, and all inclusive?
The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, or “Pink Palace” as it is affectionately known, has stood guard on Waikiki Beach for 95 years, first opening February 1, 1927. No expense was spared on the six-story, four hundred room Spanish/Moorish style hotel. Designed by the New York architectural firm of Warren and Wetmore, the finished price of the project would top out at $4,107,411.14 in 1927 dollars (over $65 million today). A 15-acre site on Waikiki Beach that still belongs to the descendants of Hawaiian royalty was leased for the hotel. Hence the name “Royal Hawaiian!”
The entire site was lavishly landscaped, and included one of the first public golf courses in America. With its pink stucco façade the building is unmistakable, but at the same time, very unusual for the South Pacific. The design was heavily influenced by the popularity of the silent film star, Rudolph Valentino, and his Arabian adventure movies. There are also traces of the California Mission Style to be found in the building’s bell tower and cupolas.
Several hundred workers were hired at the start of the project in 1925. Sixty tons of stucco, thirty-seven thousand barrels of cement, one hundred miles of wire and ten thousand gallons of pink paint were used just on the exterior of the block walled structure. While work was still in progress it was discovered that the weight of the structure was causing it to sink into the former marshland. The architects quickly took evasive action, and designed an ingenious adjustable foundation. That did complicate the time line for the grand opening by extending the project another six months.
From the beginning the hotel has played host to an astonishing list of dignitaries, celebrities and vacationers of all kinds. Going back almost a century now, it would be hard to list all of the names. But a few firsts are hard not to mention. For instance, a bubbly children’s “adult style” beverage was invented at the Royal Hawaiian for none other than Shirley Temple herself during her visit in 1935.
A few years after that, Bing Crosby first sang the Christmas favorite, “Mele Klikimaka,” which translates as “from the land where palm trees sway.” While filming a movie at the hotel, Elvis Presley, and his entourage visited the hotel more than once. In 1961 before he filmed Blue Hawaii on the island of Kauai, he stayed at the Royal Hawaiian and filmed two scenes there. Elvis visited the hotel once again in 1973 right after his “Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite Concert.” It is estimated that between 1-1.5 billion people from around the world tuned in to see “The King” perform that day.
Very much like the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel was also privileged to be able to serve our country during WWII. The U.S. Navy leased the hotel, and its grounds during those years. The entire property served as a respite for exhausted submarine crews, and other weary military personnel with a typical stay of twelve days. They deserved it!
The people of Hawaii also welcomed President Franklin Roosevelt in front of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in 1934. He was the first U.S. president to visit the then territory of Hawaii. Upon first greeting the fifteen thousand people that came to see the president he said “Aloha from the bottom of my heart.” He was then cheered for more than ten minutes.