A Glimpse into the Past of The Royal Hawaiian
The opening of The Royal Hawaiian on February 1, 1927, ushered in a new era of luxurious resort travel to Hawaii.
The resort 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-of-the-year. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin described the newly opened Royal Hawaiian as “the first resort hostelry in America.”
Royal Hawaiian Historical Tour
Staying on-property? Learn more about the hotel’s history during the weekly historical tour
Join us each Tuesday and Thursday at 1:00 PM.
During the times of the Charleston and Prohibition, the method of transportation to Hawaii was aboard a Matson steamship, providing a rather unattractive and unappealing method of travel for the rich who could afford overseas luxury and adventure. It became known as the gateway to the exotic faraway destinations of the South Pacific and the Orient.
Special events of the day in the 1930s were the Hawaiian serenaders and The Royal Hawaiian Girl’s glee club in the dining room. Even in the dark days of the 1930s, the resort was a playground for the rich and famous such as presidents, royalty, actors and athletes. In 1936 Pan-American Airways began its weekly flights from California to Manila with a stopover in Honolulu.
The era of opulence came to an abrupt end on the morning of December 7, 1941 when Japanese planes flew alongside Waikiki Beach on its way to the US fleet berthed at Pearl Harbor. The Navy recreation and morale office leased The Royal Hawaiian, transforming the resort into a major rest and relaxation center for the Navy personnel. The resort been restored to its pre-war elegance in 1947.
The Royal Hawaiian remained the dominant structure on Waikiki Beach through the 1950s. During this time, the Hawaii Visitors Bureau was becoming active in promoting Hawaii for both pleasure and conventions. By 1959, fewer people were traveling to Hawaii by ship, now that jet service had reduced their flying time even more.
With more visitors to Waikiki, The Royal Hawaiian opened its new 16-story Royal Tower Wing, bringing the room total to 526.
In conjunction with the development of Waikiki and the increased tourist traffic to the Hawaiian Islands, The Royal Hawaiian Center was built, accommodating high-end retail stores and restaurants.
In 1997, The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort celebrated its 70th birthday (and its 50th anniversary after the reopening).
The resort closed again for major upgrades that were necessary to preserve the historic charm, and elevate the accommodation to match the luxury expectations of the times. In 2009, the resort once again re-opened and received numerous awards for its impressive design and the majestic appearance of the “Pink Palace.”
As the world continues to progress at such a rapid rate, the upgrades continue. In 2015, the now 17-story Mailani Tower opened, gracefully bridging the sumptuous splendor of the property’s original allure, with the conveniences and comforts expected by modern travelers. At The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort, history is preserved and constantly recreated. The historic charm is ever present, balanced harmoniously with contemporary comfort, creating a unique experience of classic, iconic luxury.