The Increase and Slide of the Legendary Coco Palms Hotel

How a Kauai vacation resort and the eyesight of just one girl made a desire quite a few hope will be recaptured
Photo: Courtesy of Greenewaters

Cottages at the Coco Palms in 1960.
Photo: Kauai Historical Society/Baker Collection

A doorman takes a deep breath and blows into a conch shell as guests enter the foyer of the Coco Palms lodge into a sea of pandemonium. It is 1957 and the solid of “South Pacific”—178 actors and crewmembers—has taken over the lodge, along with push from all-around the planet, with numerous guests getting to bunk four to six to a space. Amid the chaos, a Lifetime magazine cameraman is environment up his massive, boxy push-camera on a tripod, while other people enhance the room for a mock cocktail get together so he can seize one timeless graphic to be used for their following challenge. The stars of the movie, Mitzi Gaynor and Rosanno Brazzi, are in the middle of the spectacle, readying themselves for the photograph shoot.

This isn’t the initial time Hollywood celebs have stayed at the Coco Palms. “Pagan Enjoy Tune,” starring Esther Williams and Howard Keel “Miss Sadie Thompson,” starring Rita Hayworth and “Voodoo Island,” starring Boris Karloff, all wrapped creation at the lodge in 1950, ’53 and ’56, respectively, with the property’s lagoons, foyer and 2,000 coconut tree grove producing visitor appearances. And when the major-price range film, “South Pacific,” was getting filmed at Hanalei Bay, not at the vacation resort itself, the sum of press and hoopla it was bringing the resort is substantially bigger than prior to.

With the flash of a bulb, the faux bash commences, when resort visitors start out to change away to assemble outdoors near the lagoons. It’s time for the Coco Palms’ nightly torch-lighting ceremony—a custom that begun right here and would develop into a typical for Hawaii resorts. Hawaiian adult men carrying malo (loincloths) run by way of the coconut tree grove, swinging their fiery torches methodically in circles—every downswing igniting kerosene-doused coconut husks lining the paths. People stand silently looking at the males in the course of the ceremony, whilst a woman’s voice is listened to telling tales of historic Hawaii.

The woman’s identify is Grace Buscher and, with out her, the Coco Palms would not have grow to be the famous position men and women fondly remember—a Hawaiiana resort on the tropical island of Kauai, steeped in Hawaiian lifestyle and exuding aloha spirit.

Actors Rita Moreno and Howard Keel during the filming of “Pagan Appreciate Tune.”
Photo: Kauai Historical Culture

In 1950s Kauai, the tourism sector was just beginning to just take off. There ended up no direct flights to the island, but visitors could now vacation 8 hours from Los Angeles to Honolulu by plane—a lot more quickly than the other possibility, a 4-and-a-fifty percent-day cruise. The popular Smith’s Kauai Fern Grotto tours up Wailua River (next doorway to the Coco Palms) experienced not long ago gotten an upgrade, heading from a four-passenger rowboat with an outboard motor to an 8-passenger motorboat named Girl Jane. In 1953, the two notable inns on the island had been the Kauai Inn in Lihue around Nawiliwili Bay, and a 24-room derelict home then referred to as the Coco Palm Lodge. It had five staff members, two hotel company, no prepare dinner and a pesky Lihue Sugar Plantation coach that drew regular grievances since of its 3 a.m. wake-up connect with, when it produced its way earlier the lodge from the plantation to the mill with an overflowing load of sugarcane.

In 1953, at the age of 43, Buscher arrived on Kaua‘i to consider the reigns of the Coco Palm Lodge, not genuinely figuring out how terrible a state the residence was in, at the ask for of Island Holidays Ltd. hotel supervisor Lyle “Gus” Guslander, whom she later on marries in 1969. Armed with some managerial encounter from a hotel in Pennsylvania, bookkeeping expertise and a love for Hawaiian heritage, Buscher finds a chef, cleans the position up, focuses the lodge’s advertising and marketing attempts on the lagoons and coconut grove (rather than the seaside throughout the freeway), and turns the Coco Palm Lodge into the Coco Palms. The ambiance she produced was reputed to be the most genuine Hawaiian hotel in Hawai‘i, from the hotel’s Hawaiian-motivated furnishings to the ceremonies on the grounds honoring Hawaiian traditions.

Grace Buscher (left) gets a ceremonial drum from Duke Kahanamoku and his spouse, Nadine, at
the determination ceremony for the new Wailua Kai wing of the lodge in 1957.
Image: Kauai Historical Society/Senda

Significantly of Buscher’s inspiration for the lodge came from the land’s record, which was located near heiau (common Native Hawaiian spots of worship), a royal birthing web site and, in the 19th century, was property to 1 of Kauai’s former queens. The hotel sits at the mouth of Wailua River in which Deborah Kapule after lived. She was the favorite spouse of Kauai’s King Kaumualii, prior to Kamehameha the Excellent using regulate of the island throughout the generation of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Kapule elevated fish in two fishponds (now the hotel’s lagoons) and welcomed guests to her hale (house) who had been heading to or coming from the north facet of the island. In some approaches, owing to her hospitality, she experienced produced a type of resort of her own.

Buscher incorporated these bits of heritage in a lot of of her systems at the lodge: She released the torch-lighting ceremony, established a pageant celebrating Kapule’s birthday, included a Hawaiian flag-boosting ceremony and had the lodge foyer rebuilt to mimic a Hawaiian thatched halau (prolonged household) with a Hawaiian oracle tower standing tall beside it. She also initiated a tree-planting tradition, intended to honor the significance of sustainability in Indigenous Hawaiian culture. The latter started in 1955 with the 1st planting by “Hawaii Calls” producer and radio temperament, Webley Edwards, and lasted till 1980 with the 127th tree planting by architect and founder of Allerton Back garden, John Gregg Allerton. Other invited famous people above the class of the years who took part in the tree-planting ceremony incorporate Duke Kahanamoku, Gene Autry, Liberace, James A. Michener, famous hula instructor and performer Iolani Luahine and the Kawananakoa spouse and children (a dynastic line crucial in the Islands).

“Blue Hawaii,” starring Elivs Presley, showcased the Coco Palms.
Graphic: Kauai Historic Culture/Baker Assortment

However Guslander marketed the Island Vacations chain of resorts, which includes the Coco Palms, in 1969, to Amfac, Buscher remained at the helm of the Coco Palms till her retirement in 1981. On her exit, the hotel experienced grown from its humble beginnings to a entirely developed 416-room vacation resort, had constructed a strong following around the globe, hosted a lot of notable company and stars, and appeared on Tv several periods. It’s probably ideal recognised from the 1962 Elvis Presley motion-photo musical, “Blue Hawaii,” when Elvis serenades his bride in a double-hulled canoe on the way to the resort’s wedding ceremony chapel.

Amfac later bought the hotel to Wailua Associates in 1985. A lot of of the longtime staff associates started to retire as nicely and the hotel was starting to eliminate its luster. On Sept. 11, 1992, a devastating Class 4 hurricane, Iniki, strike Kauai with winds at a energy of 145 miles for every hour. And, even though Buscher had observed the position safely and securely by means of numerous floods, tidal waves, and Hurricanes Iwa and Dot through her tenure, the huge harm done by Iniki closed the Coco Palms for great.

The Coco Palms chapel.
Postcard photo: Kauai Historic Modern society

For additional than 20 yrs, the at the time very pleased lodge sat there, altered arms and sat there some extra. It was deserted, neglected and even caught on fire 2 times. Intruders qualified the lodge, getting everything left of value, which include copper, ornaments, 4 handcarved stable koa wooden doorways, and the guestrooms’ big clamshell sinks. There, off Kuhio Highway throughout from Wailua Bay, it was deteriorating for all to see, which includes Buscher, who passed away in 1999. Lots of likely buyers tried to figure out a way to provide the lodge back to everyday living, and, each individual time, ended up unsuccessful for different causes, including the massive sum of income and permits essential to get it up and running once again.

But, now, there’s new hope for the Coco Palms, thanks to its recent owner and developer, Coco Palms Hui, and hotel operator, Hyatt Lodges Corp. In 2014, they introduced options to bring the hotel back again to its glory times in a present day-working day manner and, in 2015, have been presented the eco-friendly mild by state and county officers to commence selective demolition on the assets. This suggests not all of the structures will be torn down lots of will be rebuilt, with some raised earlier mentioned the floor to protect against flooding (a frequent incidence in Buscher’s time). The chapel built well-known by Elvis and the 1000’s of wedding couples who married there will be renovated the trees and the lagoons will continue to be and, one day, the torch-lights ceremony shall return, in mid-2018 when Coco Palms Hui and Hyatt strategy to reopen the resort. Time will convey to how near the reimagined hotel will occur to the famous Kauai hotel Buscher created in its heyday, but its storied past will proceed to be explained to, just the exact, for quite a few many years to appear.