Waikiki Needs Love

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Hawaii’s Pink Palace in the shadow of recent neighbors.  Stone wall enclosing Kiddie Pond, keeps surfers from intruding. –Photo by Doug Boyd, Zoo Fence Artist


We were sitting on a bench at this picture site.  After thanking Coconut Willee for weaving my new coconut hat I reminisced.

“Kuhio Beach was our play ground here when the U.S. Army decided Japan wasn’t going to invade and removed the barbed wire. Why shake your head?”

“Culture shock,” muttered Willee. “Been away too long.”

“True, when we left Waikiki still had the look of where royalty played. Kings erected structures in downtown Honolulu for ceremony and work.”

Willee was wide-eyed: “Buildings by Hawaiian Kings—did they use Japanese money?  I know Kalakaua visited there and offered a Princess, wanting in clued Japanese royalty within the Hawaiian family.”

I shook my head.  He lit a cigar and confided: “Must paka here, Waikiki doesn’t have cigar bars.  We’ll move if tourists sit down wind.”

I explained: “Teen-aged Princes, Liholiho and Lot gained an appreciation for architectural elegance when traveling to Europe.  Use your phone, Google my story about their trip titled: “Tracing Hawaii Kings’ Paths at Hamilton College.”

“More later,” Willee answered.  “Talk story instead.”

I began: “The brothers brought European high-style to Hawaii.  It started by King Liholiho inviting England’s Episcopalians into his Kingdom and promising to construct a cathedral in French Gothic architectural style. He died at age 29, so Lot finished his brother’s his goal, St. Andrews Episcopal Cathedral. King Lot commissioned other grand European-style buildings close by, during his 29-year reign.

“He built Ali’iolani Hale as the official palace of the Hawaii monarchy.  It became an administrative building instead of a palace, today its home of the Hawaii Supreme Court–located behind Grandpa King Kamehameha’s statue.

King Lot carried his European design themes to The Royal Hotel built on the street he named Hotel Street. Buildings constructed under his rule brought grandeur to the kingdom.  Today the Royal Hotel is a state office building and houses an art gallery.

“Queen Emma, King Liholiho’s widow, extended her husband’s love for elegant architecture to Manoa, the summer palace sits in a garden setting.

“While traveling the world King Kalakaua became keenly interested in grand palaces.  He introduced “American Florentine” architecture for Iolani Palace—a design completely new to world architecture.”

Willee blew smoke rings.  Pursing his lips and crowning me with a ring settling over my head like a crown, he asked:  “Elegant European architecture ended when Royalty was tossed out?”

“Those having economic control of the islands applied their own taste and the “Hollywood Look” arrived.  Hawaiians’ love of close-up gardens, greenery, and trees were integrated.”

Willee jumps in, “Frederick Lewis Olmstead was inspired by Hawaii’s environmental living style.  He came here on a 19th Century sailing boat and returned to become ‘America’s father of Landscape Architecture.’”

“Interesting theory, Willee.  Another sailor is responsible for the old Pink Palace nestled among new skyscrapers. Captain William Matson started the Hawaii tourist industry by bringing America’s wealthiest families to Hawaii. In 1901 Matson, built the Moana mansion fronting the Ainahau royal estate, it became the Moana Hotel, Waikiki’s first.

“Twenty-six years later he opened the Royal Hawaiian Hotel we see over there.  Its design was based on popular Hollywood styles depicted in Rudolph Valentino’s Arabian movies. It was painted pink because Americans were obsessed with pink color in that era.”

“I’d categorize Waikiki visitors who arrived on luxury ocean liners as represent ting high-end clientele.  A limited number arrived at a time, were greeted by The Royal Hawaiian Band, islanders were eager to see glamorous arrivals.

“That waned once  airplane transportation made Hawaii a treat instead of an extravagance, Hawaii became affordable to the more homogeneous middle-class visitor.  Then the powerful yen arrived!”

Willee joined in,  “I was here when that began. Governor George Ariyoshi extended a big Aloha to Japan, it extended throughout his 12-year term.

“Oh how the money poured in. That was when the yen had more buying power than the American dollar.   Between 1985 to 1995 Japanese invested $12 billion in Hawaii.  Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts, owned by one family, bought the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, the two Sheraton Hotels in Waikiki, the Moana Surfrider, and resorts on other islands.

“Japanese owned two-thirds of all upscale rooms in Hawaii by the end of the 1980s.

“Not just big stuff,” Willee continued:. My neighbor Sam told me a Japanese man drove into his Kailua Beach House driveway with a bag full of money, wanting to buy it immediately.

“I heard that one Japanese investor purchased over 100 residential properties in Honolulu. Some homes were left vacant much of the year.”

“Willee, Hawaii’s vacation potential and its differentiation with other vacation spots has barely been scratched.  Remember George Kanahele?”

“Of course.  Even as kids, you had such faith in his brilliance that you’d always say, ‘Let George do it!’”

“He wanted to Waikiki to become more Hawaiian, Willee.  He felt that Aloha was “USA”—a unique selling appeal for visitors.  He was fascinated by work I was doing on ‘I Love NY’.

“Outgrowth of his ideas exist in Waikiki, he had many more.  I’ll share them with you.”

“Let’s stay here a little, I want to watch the sunset,” Willee said.





  1. Very nice article! Your culture is so interesting. As a foreigner, I can say that a trip to your lovely land is on my bucket list.

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