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Waikiki's pink house gets less pink on the inside

June 28, 2008
By JAYMES SONG Associated Press Writer

HONOLULU (AP) - The last time this iconic pink hotel was closed for renovations, World War II had just ended and the barbed wire that stretched along the shore of Waikiki had been removed.

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel has shut its doors again. This time, the oceanside 528-room resort is closed until Jan. 1 while it undergoes $110 million in much-needed improvements.

Owners want to return the so-called "Pink Palace of the Pacific" to its heyday several decades ago when it was considered the ultimate in Hawaiian luxury, hospitality and class.

Article Photos

Associated Press photo
This undated photo released by the Starwood Archive, shows the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu. The oceanside 528-room resort has closed for seven months while it undergoes $110 million in much-needed improvements.

The hotel's distinctive rosy exterior and eye-catching Spanish-Moorish architecture won't change. But the interior is slated for a major facelift and - gasp - will become less pink.

Gone will be the pink tablecloths, pink napkins, pink towels, pink bed sheets and even the trademark pink-and-white umbrellas at the Mai Tai Bar will become history.

It's a bold move by the hotel, which opened in 1927. But hotel managers say they're not entirely getting rid of the pink, just accentuating the pink they have.

"We'll still be the pink hotel. There's no question," said Lisa Morrill, the hotel's director of sales and marketing.

The hotel for years served as the island playground for heads of state, Hollywood stars and the world's rich and famous, from the Rockefellers to the Beatles.

They would come via ocean liner and bring their Louis Vuitton steamer trunks, maids and sometimes even their Rolls Royces.

The "Shirley Temple" drink was invented at the hotel for the child star who visited in the 1930s. The hotel also helped popularize the Mai Tai.

The guest list also includes Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Dean Martin and many other legendary entertainers. Back then, the Royal Hawaiian was the place to be and be seen.

But over the years, the pink lady has lost her luster.

The hotel's breathtaking views of Diamond Head and the Pacific Ocean are still unmatched. But the dated rooms now feel like a bed-and-breakfast with '80s-era furniture and floral wallpaper that would make any grandmother weak at the knees.

That will soon change.

While retaining its old island charm and grandeur, the property will look and feel more modern and hip.

Several shops and walls are being removed from the lobby to give the Royal Hawaiian a more open feel with wider views of the ocean and the lush Coconut Grove garden. The rooms will feature native flora and swank furniture.

Service will also be upgraded. Guests will no longer stand and wait in the lobby. They'll be greeted with a lei, seated next to the gardens for check in and offered guava juice and a cold hand towel to freshen up. Guests will then be escorted to their rooms where gentle Hawaiian music will be playing on the CD/iPod player.

There will also be a new pool, private beach cabanas and available butler service.

Hotel rates, which used to be in the high $300s, are expected to rise to average in the high $400-a-night range when the Royal Hawaiian reopens.

The last time the Royal Hawaiian closed to the public was in January 1942, a month after nearby Pearl Harbor was attacked. The hotel was leased to the Navy and served as a rest and recreation center for sailors, who paid as little as 25 cents a night.

The Navy returned the hotel in October 1945, shortly after the end of World War II. Then-owner Matson Navigation Co. spent $2 million to restore the hotel and reopened the property Feb. 1, 1947, 20 years to the day after the hotel first opened in 1927.

This time, the remodel will cost $110 million and is part of the $750 million earmarked for redevelopment of four Waikiki properties owned by Japan-based Kyo-ya Hotel & Resorts LP. The Royal Hawaiian, Sheraton Waikiki, Moana Surfrider and the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani are managed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Hawaii.

Construction is starting while the adjacent Royal Hawaiian Center, owned by Kamehameha Schools, is just completing a $115 million renovation. Although the center never fully closed because the renovations were done in phases, a grand reopening was scheduled for June 14-20.

Formerly known as the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, the word "shopping" was dropped from the name because in addition to more than 100 retailers, including many high-end designers, the center now offers more, such as traditional Hawaiian cultural classes and entertainment. Also, a 760-seat showroom will open mid-July with "Waikiki Nei," a Cirque du Soleil-type show with an island flair.

The area has historic significance beyond the center and the pink hotel. Known as "Helumoa," it was a recreation area for Hawaiian royalty, including King Kamehameha I after he conquered the island of Oahu. Queen Kaahumanu also had her summer home on the property, which featured a lush grove of 10,000 coconut trees.



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