Historical Perspective On The Royal Hawaiian
“The First Resort Hostelry In America”
HAWAII, OAHU, WAIKIKI BEACH – The opening of The Royal Hawaiian on February 1, 1927, ushered in a new era of luxurious resort travel to Hawaii. The hotel was built with a price tag of $4 million and was completed in 18 months. The six-story, 400-room structure was fashioned in a Spanish-Moorish style popular during the period and influenced by screen star Rudolph Valentino. The first general manager of the hotel, Arthur Benaglia, presided over a staff of 300, including ten elevator operators and lobby boys dressed in “Cathayan” costume. At the grand opening’s black-tie gala celebration, members of the Honolulu Symphony entertained over 1,200 guests at the $10-a-plate event. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin described the newly opened Royal Hawaiian as “the first resort hostelry in America.”
Set on ten acres of prime Waikiki beachfront, the site of The Royal Hawaiian boasts a majestic lineage. The area was used as a playground for King Kamehameha after he conquered the island of Oahu. Queen Kaahumanu’s Summer Palace was previously located on what is now the hotel’s Coconut Grove garden.
The hotel was the brainchild of Ed Tenney, who headed the “big five” firm of Castle and Cooke and Matson Navigation, and Matson manager William Roth. The Royal Hawaiian was conceived as a luxurious hotel for Matson passengers.
Before the advent of air travel across the Pacific, the only means of reaching Hawai‘i was a minimum five-day sea voyage. Travelers arriving to the islands would stay for a considerable period of time, bringing numerous steamer trunks, servants and even their Rolls Royce vehicles. Child actress Shirley Temple created a stir by strumming the ukulele on Waikiki Beach when she visited The Royal Hawaiian in the 1930s (incidentally, the Shirley Temple cocktail was invented at the hotel).
The Royal Hawaiian played host to numerous celebrities, financiers, and heads of state until World War II. In January 1942, the hotel was exclusively leased to the United States Navy as a rest and recreation center for those serving in the Pacific Fleet. The Royal Hawaiian was re-opened to the public in February 1947 after a nearly $2 million renovation.
ITT Sheraton purchased The Royal Hawaiian from Matson in June 1959. The Royal Tower Wing was added to the existing structure in 1969. The hotel was sold in 1974 to Kyo-ya Company, Ltd., with Starwood Hotels & Resorts operating it under a long-term management contract.
The classical elegance of the guest rooms and public areas in The Royal Hawaiian has been preserved through extensive restoration and renovation. The Royal Hawaiian was recently recognized as the Overall Grand Award Winner in the 15th annual Renaissance Remodeling Competition. Meticulous research into the hotel’s historical archives was used to recapture the grandeur of the past. Today, guests of The Royal Hawaiian enjoy a welcoming experience of modern convenience, warm service and luxury accommodations amidst the setting of a world-class historic landmark.
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