How Art Shapes Our Lives: The Royal Hawaiian Hotel

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, another future icon was also breaking some 2,500 miles to the west. Thanks to Matson Ship Lines, which had just started offering steamboat trips from California to Honolulu, there should be a place for travelers to stay. So why not make a hotel that is luxurious and all-inclusive?

Waikiki Beach when there were only two hotels.

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, or “Pink Palace”, as it is affectionately known, has stood guard on Waikiki Beach for 95 years and was first opened on February 1, 1927. No expense was spared for the Spanish/Moorish style of six floors and four hundred rooms. hotel. Designed by the New York architectural firm of Warren and Wetmore, the final price of the project would be $4,107,411.14 in 1927 dollars (over $65 million today). The hotel leased a 15-acre property on Waikiki Beach that still belongs to the descendants of Hawaiian royalty. Hence the name “Royal Hawaiian!”

Image of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel Street View.

Street view of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

The entire site was lavishly landscaped and included one of the first public golf courses in America. With its pink plastered facade, 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 movie star, Rudolph Valentino, and his Arabian adventure films. Traces of the California Mission Style can also be found in the building’s bell tower and domes.

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 only on the exterior of the block-walled structure. While work was still underway, it was discovered that the weight of the structure caused it to sink into the former wetland. The architects were quick to evade and designed an ingeniously adjustable foundation. That complicated the timeline for the grand opening by extending the project by another six months.

Famous guests

Image of Shirley Temple in the hotel.

Shirley Temple, for whom the Royal Hawaiian created a drink for centuries.

From its inception, 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 difficult to list all the names. But a few firsts are hard not to mention. For example, during her 1935 visit to the Royal Hawaiian, a sparkling children’s drink for adults was invented for none other than Shirley Temple herself.

A few years later, 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 filming Blue Hawaii on the island of Kauai, he stayed at the Royal Hawaiian and filmed two scenes there. Elvis visited the hotel 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.

Picture of Elvis Presley in the Royal Hawaiian for the movie

Elvis Presley at the Royal Hawaiian for the movie ‘Blue Hawaii’.

Very much like the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel also had the privilege of serving our country during World War II. The US Navy leased the hotel and grounds during those years. The entire property served as a refuge 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 US president to visit the then Hawaiian territory. When first greeting the 15,000 people who came to see the president, he said, “Aloha from the bottom of my heart.” He was then applauded for more than ten minutes.

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Image of Bing Crosby singing with the locals on the beach in front of the Royal Hawaiian.

Bing Crosby sings with the locals on the beach in front of the Royal Hawaiian.

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