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Home > Abandoned - Explained, Americas, Environmental, Explained, Financial, Hotels, Pacific, Resorts > Abandoned Kaua’i Jewel: The Coco Palms

Abandoned Kaua’i Jewel: The Coco Palms

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On the east coast of Hawaii’s oldest island, an abandoned hotel is slowly being reclaimed by nature. It was a landmark for 40 years, a success story immortalized in classic American movie culture. The Coco Palms Resort was the result of hard work by the Guslanders, a couple who offered an enjoyable Hawaiian experience on beautiful grounds featuring a coconut grove and lagoon.

The resort enjoyed worldwide fame when it was featured in several mid-century films, most notably the Elvis Presley classic Blue Hawaii. It thrived for decades as a popular hotspot among royalty and stars, but when Hurricane Iniki struck Kauaʻi in 1992 the hotel was critically damaged.

Twenty-plus years later, most businesses and residents in Kauaʻi have moved on. But at the Coco Palms, it’s still 1992: A perfect storm of obstacles has kept the dilapidated structure in a seemingly-inescapable purgatory.

cover photo courtesy Leo Azambuja

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History

Seven miles north of Lihue on the island of Kauaʻi is the coastal commercial center of Wailua, a small community along the Wailua River and under the shadow of the “Sleeping Giant” mountain.

The area is rich in history. It is home to the Kings Trail, a legendary path by ali’i spirits up the mountainside and around the island. The area also contains several ancient burial sites as well as the Royal Bell Stone, a place of blessing used by Kauaʻi rulers for a thousand years.

Wailua had also been the seat of residence to Kauaʻi royalty dating back to the 13th century. The Wailua River also holds a special significance to the Hawaiian people and is the only navigable river in the state.

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Until 1853 the waterfront land along the Wailua coast was home to Kauaʻi’s royal family. The last Kauaʻi monarch was Queen Deborah Kapule (Hawaiian: Kekaiha‘akūlou).

When she passed away on August 26th, 1853, the land surrounding Wailua was sold.

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Coco Palms features a 17-acre coconut grove

By 1896 the property by the mouth of the Wailua River had been purchased by German businessman William Lindeman. At the time Kauaʻi was enjoying a modest coconut oil boom, and Lindeman saw potential in the property.

He carved a 17-acre parcel from the property and established a coconut grove, importing nuts from Samoa. Over 100 years later, Lindeman’s 2,000-tree coconut grove still flourishes.

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New Guidance Under Guslander

Lyle_GuslanderIn 1952 the 24-room hotel was a struggling enterprise, unable to fill its rooms and searching for suitors to take over the business. It was operated by Veda Hills, the widowed wife of late hotelier Alfred Hills.

Lyle “Gus” Guslander (at left) had prior hotel experience at the Moana Hotel and had a vision for creating his own Kauaian utopia.

A deal was hammered out and the hotel was leased to Guslander, who re-opened it as his Coco Palms Resort on January 25th, 1953. Gus tasked the sister of friend Henry Buscher, Grace, to manage the new business.

It was a bold decision. Women in the 1950s generally did not have opportunity for executive roles. At the time Grace was 43 and had no prior hotel experience. She was a “haole” (non-Hawaiian), originally from Pennsylvania and with no background in Hawaiian culture.

But Grace Buscher had charm and an ability to disarm with her smile. She made guests feel comfortable. She was creative, energetic, and had a natural ability to host. Her qualifications were a chemistry and her passion; she loved the culture and people of Kauaʻi. Grace connected with them, and they accepted her.

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When Guslander opened the Coco Palms, he had just four employees. The first night saw all of two guests. But Grace had a plan to focus on cleanliness, entertainment, and a commitment to serving the best food on the island.

It would take time, but her plan would pay off.

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Early photo shows Grace standing next to Coco Palms sign

The ever-energetic Grace proved to be the engine behind the hotel’s growth and success. She was talented in her abilities to recount amazing tales, and she wasn’t afraid to embellish details if it made for a better story.

Her creativity did its part to build an aura around the resort. When she discovered Queen Deborah Kapule lived on the property, she resurrected the queen’s memory by celebrating Kapule’s birthday every year.

The Coco Palms during its heyday

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(click thumbnails to enlarge)

Grace told tales of how the ancient fish ponds at Coco Palms had roots in Kauaian royalty.

She expanded an interpretation of the Hawaiian practice of “akua” (replenishment), wisely porting the concept to the coconut grove. Visiting guests could plant new coconut trees, adding to their Hawaiian experience whilst also replenishing the grove.

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Ms. Buscher also conceived gala cocktail parties and the famous “Call to Feast” torch-lighting ceremony, a tradition observed by Coco Palms every evening at 7:30 p.m. for 40 years.

The ceremony was immensely popular with tourists and is still emulated by other resorts today.

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Celebrities & Film

Blue_Hawaii_sceneThe Coco Palms enjoyed its share of positive publicity in film during the 1950s and 60s, which led to a perennial star-studded guest list.

The hotel’s first feature was the 1953 film Miss Sadie Thompson, starring Rita Hayworth.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer donated the wedding chapel used in that film to the Coco Palms, where it would be used in later movies and become a landmark.

Scenes from the 1958 film musical South Pacific were shot at Coco Palms, but the hotel’s fame reached new heights in 1961 when Elvis Presley starred in Blue Hawaii.

In the final moments of the film (watch clip), Elvis serenades his co-star on the way to the Coco Palms wedding chapel in a double-hulled canoe (above left).

The scene at Coco Palms in Blue Hawaii is considered by some critics to be one of the great moments in classic American cinema, and it was a scene that would be re-enacted thousands of times by couples hoping to re-create their own Blue Hawaii.

Prior to the resort’s close, the Coco Palms hosted over 500 weddings annually.

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With endorsements from celebrities such as Rita Hayworth and Elvis Presley, Coco Palms suddenly became a destination for the Hollywood jet-set. Athletes, celebrities, and rock stars were drawn to the Wailua resort.

Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby were regular visitors as were the Von Trapp Family Singers. Even the Prince and Princess of Japan were said to have enjoyed their stay at the iconic inn.

Coco Palms postcards

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Growth

The film boost in the hotel’s early years gave the Coco Palms momentum, and the hotel enjoyed growth into the 1970s. It wasn’t long before the hotel was the most well-known resort property in all of Hawaii and the apogee of Kauaʻi hospitality.

The Coco Palms was able to claim substantial guest retention, and boasted the highest occupancy levels in the state.

Amfac Resort map of the Coco Palms from the back side of the guest information brochure, July 1981. King's Cottages are located between the lagoon and the coconut grove, to the left of the reception building. Queen's Cottages are to the right

Amfac Resort map of the Coco Palms from back side of guest brochure, circa 1981.

Under Guslander leadership the hotel grew to over 400 rooms across the 32-acre property.

Now the premier resort of Kauaʻi, the Coco Palms could charge a premium for luxury… And it did with some rooms fetching more than $400/night – in 1970s dollars.

The Guslanders sold their interest in the Coco Palms to the Amfac Group in 1969, but they would continue to serve the resort hands-on in a management role.

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Grace & Gus Guslander eventually married in 1969

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New Ownership & Hurricane Iniki

Coco-51Gus Guslander passed away in 1984 and soon after, Grace retired. Amfac sold their interest in Coco Palms to Wailua Associates in August of the following year.

The new owners were a locally-based real estate development company and had plans to continue Lyle and Grace’s vision for the famed Kauaʻi resort.

However during this time the resort endured a period of stagnation. The economic crisis of the 1970s would drag into the 80s for the cyclically-lagging hotel industry.

Hawaiian hotels were especially slow to recover, and the Coco Palms was no exception. Nevertheless, the lodge continued on offering the same Hawaiian hospitality Grace introduced thirty years prior.

Disaster would strike on September 11th, 1992, when Hurricane Iniki battered Kauaʻi.

The storm was a category-4 hurricane and would be the most powerful to ever hit the state of Hawaii. Winds up to 145 miles-per-hour battered the small island in the Pacific, killing six.

The storm caused an estimated $1.8 billion dollars in damage (estimated $3B in 2014’s dollars) and left residents without power for up to three months. Over 1,400 homes were completely destroyed while another 7,200 were seriously damaged.

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Waves up to 35 feet crashed into the island while storm tides left a high-water mark nearly 18 feet tall.

National attention to the stricken island was unfortunately muted, likely due to Hurricane Andrew weeks prior. Andrew had just leveled South Florida and seemed to exhaust the country’s palate for storm empathy.

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When Iniki hit Kauaʻi, the 40 year-old Coco Palms was the oldest operating hotel on the island. But due to its age and location on spiritual Hawaiian ground, repairs to the aging resort were always going to be difficult.

Special permits would be required to comply with then-current building codes, and the cultural backlash of building on and modifying holy Hawaiian ground presented its own set of complications.

Making matters worse, there was a post-Iniki recession which befell Kauaian businesses and landed many insurance companies in bankruptcy. As hotel owners fought lengthy claims battles in court with insurance companies, the buildings languished.

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photos courtesy Dennis Fujimoto

Sadly the Coco Palms’ matriarch Grace Guslander would never see her historic inn restored; she passed away on April 5th, 2000, at the age of 89.

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Failed Redevelopment

For the next twenty years the hotel was abandoned, left to its own devices in the fight against Mother Nature. Roadblock after roadblock deterred progress on repairing or re-developing the property.

Ownership groups battled insurance companies and struggled to procure financing for renovations. Local cultural activists continued to lobby against re-development as a nod to the history of the sacred Hawaiian ground.

The Coco Palms property was sold to Coco Palms Ventures LLC in 2006 for a reported $12.3 million. The new owners were a headed by Maryland-based developer Phillip Ross.

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The arrangement called for the new owners to invest $220 million into a project which would oversee a massive renovation. Ross’ group drew plans to build 200 condos, 104 hotel rooms, and 48 bungalows across the property. Permits were granted for re-development with a 5-year expiration.

In August of 2006, a sales office had opened and took deposits on the condos with an announced expected date of completion in August of 2008.

By early 2007 Ross admitted his plans required additional investors, and cooperation on the project from Kauai’s Planning Commission – the island’s building permit authority – had become tenuous. The plans had halted and no progress was made.

Depending on whose version of events you believe, the project failed for different reasons.

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Ross’ group alleges the planning commission denied permits to build a full-size spa on the property, stalling the project. Members of the commission pointed to Coco Palms Ventures’ inability to locate additional investors in the face of a weakening housing market.

Rumors spread the property was also below the FEMA flood plane, which was preventing developers from being able to procure mandatory insurance coverage. The truth was likely a combination of each.

With no solution in sight, the project was tabled and the property listed for sale.

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  photos courtesy Kristin Gregoire

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Additional Attempts at Redevelopment

When the Coco Palms Ventures bid for redevelopment started to fail, a committee sponsored by the Kauaʻi Public Land Trust was formed in an effort to rescue the dilapidated hotel.

The Friends of Coco Palms was created in 2007 and intended to “preserve the unique natural features and culture of the property” while still making it available for public use. The group wanted to ensure the project was “culturally based and historically respectful.”

Coincidentally the group’s first donor was South Park creator Trey Parker, himself a part-time resident of Kauaʻi. Parker shared,

My parents honeymooned at the Coco Palms hotel and I have watched in disgust as the site remained neglected and abandoned for so many years.

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With start-up money the group could begin community discussions, apply for larger grants, hire professionals to assess the property, and consider re-development possibilities.

Initially the group appeared to make progress – even earning a state grant in the amount of $234,000 – but the financial collapse in 2008 quickly put a halt to that distribution and ended hopes of saving the Coco Palms.

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photos courtesy Primo Kimo

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Another player entered the Coco Palms sweepstakes when Shell Vacations, a North American timeshare operator and owner of nearby Kauaʻi Coast Resort, considered a bid on the abandoned hotel.

However after the timeshare operator performed its due diligence, a spokesperson announced the company had decided against action.

Hope once again turned into despair.

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Deterioration

By the late 2000’s, the resort had begun to disintegrate rapidly. Decades of vandalism and exposure to the elements had already taken their toll on the structures. A 2009 arson fire heavily damaged the retail annex, the structure which separates the resort from Kuhio Highway.

Despite little visible progress by the developers, the planning commission granted 3-year extensions on the original building permits (which ran through 2010). It was a mild concession in an attempt to give the project life, at least until 2013.

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photos courtesy Primo Kimo

In the interim copper thieves, ornament hunters, and vandals have nearly completely stripped the buildings. The giant clamshell sinks have been targets of theft, each leaving a large void on the bathroom counter top adorned by broken tiles.

Any artifact that could remind of vintage Coco Palms Americana or the Blue Hawaii film has been pilfered as a souvenir. Coconut scavengers frequently access the property and collect the fallen fruit.

In February of 2013 thieves broke down hotel walls to make off with four of the resort’s original 8-foot tall doors, weighing 200-300 pounds each and hand-carved from solid Koa wood.

The doors were estimated to be worth about $50k each, but to collectors and fans of the Coco Palms they are priceless.

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Aerial view of the Coco Palms today (view on map)

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The Future

Coco-Ron-Agor-ArchitectsSince the more recent theft of the doors, optimism has increased as new investors have stepped forward.

In August of 2013 a group of Hawaiian investors breathed life into Coco Palms rumors when they announced plans to purchase the property.

Honolulu-based Tyler Greene and Chad Waters formed Coco Palms Hui LLC with the intent of restoring the classic resort to its pre-Iniki state.

Greene and Waters earned credibility by successfully applying for demolition permits and initiating a clearing of the property (pictured below) – more progress than any group before was able to accomplish on restoring the iconic hotel.

Reconstruction was announced as expected to take between 12-18 months, beginning in 2014.

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photos courtesy Reno Craig/Kawakami Builders

Few modifications were proposed, keeping the new resort largely faithful to the original. Aside from the reduction of number of rooms (from 400 to a proposed 350), Greene expected the hotel would look very similar to the pre-Iniki lodge.

Said developer Tyler Greene:

We hope that Coco Palms becomes the true place of aloha that it was prior to Hurricane Iniki, there’s quite a bit to do. It’s a full renovation job. We’ll be peeling the buildings back to the studs, but all the structures that exist today will stay as they are.”

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Coco Palms Hui also hopes to renovate the original restaurants and restore the popular lagoon.

It is our hope to have things like weddings and luaus and cultural events there,” said Greene. “We just want it to be a welcoming grounds for residents of Kauaʻi as well as visitors from all around the world.”

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By September the group was seeking permits. Specifically, they were seeking permits under an old county ordinance which allowed for “a legally nonconforming structure to be reconstructed to its condition prior to Hurricane Iniki.

This was a necessary concession to allow the developers to re-build the resort within a reasonable budget and without significantly altering its appearance.

The ordinance also allows for construction below the flood plane. The property actually sits below the adjacent Kuhio highway, which also serves as a barricade against storm surges.

(click thumbnails to enlarge)

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Perhaps the best quote regarding the hotel’s current situation came from author David Penhallow, good friend of Grace Guslander and author of the book The Story of Coco Palms Hotel.

Recounts David:

“The Coco Palms wasn’t a place. It was a time, and that time is over.”

Great observation. The Coco Palms was a serendipitous confluence of circumstances, driven by a dynamic woman. When the hotel is rebuilt it will not have Grace Guslander, and she is what made the Coco Palms special.

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courtesy David Penhallow

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Did You Know?

• You can tour the Coco Palms. Bob Jasper runs Coco Palms Tours & Tees, which offers a Monday-thru-Friday tour of the site. For more information visit his website.

• You can still get married (or renew your vows) at the Coco Palms. Local legend, original employee, and resident caretaker Larry Riviera offers Blue Hawaii Weddings. For a lagoon ceremony, send Larry an email: LarryRiviera@hawaiian.net. (Here’s a Wall Street Journal review of his wedding services)

• Hurricane Iniki whacked the insurance industry for nearly $3 billion, which led to a mass retreat by the coverage providers. After Iniki, insurance companies stopped writing and renewing policies in Hawaii.

hurricane-strapThe state was forced to create the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund, a government-run insurance program launched to keep Hawaii’s post-Iniki real estate industry solvent. Insurance companies later returned to the islands in 2000 and the program was suspended in 2002.

• The storm forced Kauaʻi to adopt tougher building codes. Among the changes: Wood-framed walls must now be reinforced at the roof and foundation with hurricane straps. (pictured at right)

• The first time the name “Iniki” appeared on the United States Social Security Administration’s Baby Names Registry was 1992. That year 35 newborns (28 girls, 7 boys) in the United States were named “Iniki.”

• Kauaʻi had long been a home to underground cock-fighting. Hurricane Iniki blew apart many chicken coops, releasing the chickens and roosters on the island. With no mongooses or other natural predators to hunt them or eat their eggs, the chicken population has exploded.

Visitors can find wild chickens and roosters across the island, descendants of those freed by Iniki over 20 years ago.

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• Stephen Spielberg and 130 members of his cast and crew were in Kauaʻi filming Jurassic Park when Hurricane Iniki struck. The team was fortunately able to seek safe refuge in a hotel.

• A 2012 South Park episode “Going Native” featured the Coco Palms. (creator Trey Parker is a part-time resident of Kauaʻi and booster of prior Coco Palms preservation efforts)

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• Notice an absence of tikis around the Coco Palms? According to friends of Grace Guslander, she did not feature them out of respect to the Hawaiian culture and sacred grounds on which the hotel was built.

• The centuries-old fish pond on the property was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. (Believe or not, this was one of the conditions to the developer for a permit extension by the council.)

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thanks to coco-palms.com, David Penhallow, Larry Riviera, and our partner photographers

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original Coco Palms guest book, napkin, match book, and menu/program

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  1. January 19, 2014 at 15:02

    We stayed at the Coco Palms back in the late seventies or early eighties. It was delightful. When we were on Kauai about 2 years ago, we saw it and it was heartbreaking.

    • January 19, 2014 at 15:40

      I never had the pleasure of staying there when it was open but I did have the opportunity to see the property in person about five years ago. I was in awe of the place and immediately understood the draw.

      You can imagine my levels of frustration when I could not find the 200+ pictures I took during my visit… Doh!

  2. January 19, 2014 at 15:14

    I saw it too and would I have known there is a tour, I would have loved to take it. Thank you so much for these interesting pictures and all the info about the resort. I never knew anything about it, except that it was destroyed by the hurricane and never rebuilt.

  3. tabularasa88
    January 19, 2014 at 18:23

    Odd that what made the biggest impression on me was that the retail annex was lost to arson. It’s like I’m thinking, “Hawaiians wouldn’t do that, they live in paradise!” I guess even Pacific islanders can be vandals.

    • January 19, 2014 at 19:41

      Which retail annex? I’m interested, because Kaua’i is my favorite vacation spot and I pretty much know all the shopping areas :-)

      • January 20, 2014 at 10:18

        Referring to the one attached to Coco Palms – it has been closed since 1992 as well.

        In defense of the Kauaians, the island’s population is nearly 50% tourists and other visitors at any given time, so it’s hard to say the fire was caused by locals.

        One interesting tidbit I discovered while researching this article: Unlike South Florida where there was looting post-Andrew, the Kauians for the most part respected each other’s property and helped each other out in the recovery efforts. In my opinion that speaks volumes to the character of the Hawaiian people.

        • January 20, 2014 at 13:45

          Thank you for the info. I agree with you on the character of the Hawaiian people. I only had positive experiences. Honestly: I think the weather plays a big part in it. The temperate climate makes for peaceful people. All other places have either extreme heat/cold for some of the year, that doesn’t help. I see it here in Central Texas: the crime rate spikes during these hot, hot summers we have.

  4. Stephanie
    January 26, 2014 at 15:33

    I have spent COUNTLESS hours, reading this site and am just fascinated by everything you have posted. I LOVE learning about our world and history from the comfort of my couch in my PJs!! :-) Your research and dedication to reporting these places and events is so appreciated and looked forward to, to me! Thank you for sharing these amazingly fascinating things with me, a stay home mama to 4!! HUGS!!

    • January 26, 2014 at 22:08

      You make me blush, Stephanie. :)
      Thanks for leaving the comment. I’m glad I’m not the only person who’s fascinated by the history of these places. Thanks for reading, too!

  5. Tracy
    March 2, 2014 at 23:16

    I visited there, must have been 1990. I remember those stately trees. I still have a cople of coconuts from there. Oh how sad to see how it looks now.

  6. Kimberley
    March 15, 2014 at 12:00

    I have been fascinated with the coco palms since I was little and saw my hero Elvis in Blue Hawaii. My Daughter and I are going to Kauai Aug 2014. I hope we can still get a tour. I know it will be sad to see it the way it is now but I love to dream and it won’t be hard to imagine the way it use to be. I actually have a hard cover book on the history of Coco Palms Resort. It has lots of pictures and the history is amazing.

    • March 16, 2014 at 14:41

      Good luck and I hope you are able to see it! Please do let us know how the trip went and don’t be afraid to share a link to your pictures. :)

  7. Nancy
    March 20, 2014 at 09:38

    It is heartbreaking to see the Coco Palms now. I was vacationing in Hawaii and left the day before Iniki hit. I’ve been back several times to the other islands but won’t go back to Kauai until I can stay at the Coco Palms. I can’t wait!

  8. March 30, 2014 at 16:39

    thanks for these infos. I was on Kaua’i in 2009 and it broke my heart to see it in that condition :( And ever since I wondered what would happen to this historical place. If I had the money I would buy it – for sure – ….. and rebuild it kind of as it was. :D I would build it with stones instead of only wood…so the next tropical storm wouldn’t damage it again :)

  9. April 6, 2014 at 17:45

    Impressive post – again!! Very interesting history and a hopeful outcome.

  10. Chuck smith
    April 8, 2014 at 23:47

    Had a great tour there in March. The tour guide was very knowledgeable. Worth the $20 admission.

    • April 9, 2014 at 18:55

      Thanks Chuck, always good to hear positive first-hand reviews. I appreciate what they’re doing and keeping the spirit of the Coco Palms alive.

  11. Jackie Exton
    April 21, 2014 at 12:57

    I visited the island 5 years ago during an Hawaian Island cruise. I have been a life long fan of Elvis and Blue Hawaii was always my favourite film. I used to dream of what it would be like to float down the lagoon.It has always been my ambition to visit Kuai. We had booked a tour from the ship and imagine my delight when the coach driver drove past the Coco Palms and pointed it out to us. I found it very emotional to see, but to see it in such a sad condition made me shed a little tear and at 62 years of age I didn’t expect it to affect me like that. I have dreamt ever since my visit that someone would breath life back into the complex and that I would be able to save enough money to allow me to stay there even if only for one night. Thank you for all the information. It has been very interesting to read.

    • April 23, 2014 at 09:44

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, Jackie. The feedback is very much appreciated – glad to know people appreciate the post. I share your sentiments on hoping for a comeback of the Coco Palms. Never say never! :)

  12. Glenn Kennedy
    April 21, 2014 at 14:09

    My wife and I vacationed at Coco Palms 21 years in a row from the early ’70 to 90’s. We became very close to Grace Guslander and her staff. My wife was allowed to be hostess occasionally at the evening cocktail parties, which was an honor. I carry so many wonderful memories with me, including a renewal of marriage after 30 years,.in the chapel. My wife is gone now but I am so fortunate to have spent “our time” together at one of vacations wonders of the world.

    • Jackie Exton
      April 21, 2014 at 15:17

      What wonderful memories for you to treasure Glenn. I live in England but would love to GI back even if it is just to take the tour.

    • April 23, 2014 at 09:46

      Happy to hear you have such great memories, Glenn, and I feel honored to have a friend of Grace leave a comment here! She built a fantastic temple which affected countless people and created so many great memories for all. Her spirit lives on through the stories and accounts. Thanks for stopping by to leave yours! :)

  13. April 26, 2014 at 10:26

    Except for dim memories from the exquisite Elvis Presley film. “Blue Hawaii,” I had no recollection of the Coco Palms Hotel until we watched an episode of South Park, entitled “Going Native.” Kudos to Trey Parker and Matt Stone for their vivid portrayal of life on that charming island. It is my hope that the Coco Palms is in fact rebuilt and maintained to its former glory. This is one “howlie” who hopes to visit this landmark one day in the not too distant future. :)

    • April 27, 2014 at 19:52

      Yes, Trey Parker has certainly done his part to help raise awareness. Good luck on getting out there, hope you get to see it!

  14. Lynette Johnson
    April 26, 2014 at 20:43

    We stayed at the Coco Palms twice when we visited the islands. Coco Palms was one of the most beautiful places around. It was so sad to see the pictures and the devastation and how the property has deteriorated. We’re hoping to come back to Hawaii next year and am hoping that Coco Palms will once again be open to enjoy. It’s one of the most relaxing places in the whole world. Please hurry and restore it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. steve
    May 18, 2014 at 10:06
    • Jackie Exton
      May 18, 2014 at 13:45

      Wow that is brilliant news. I do hope it goes ahead.

    • May 20, 2014 at 16:47

      This is good news, thanks for the share Steve! I would love to see the Coco Palms restored, I’m hoping Hyatt can stay as close to the original in spirit as current regulations will allow.

  16. June Lockhart-Triolo
    May 28, 2014 at 13:01

    I have visited the Coco Palms many many times growing up & living in Honolulu for a time during High School. I was there last on my honeymoon (wow that was a long time ago).
    It was always a big favorite of mine and my family. So happy to read the news:
    I found your article after reading the story on a blog that I follow…Boutique Hotel Design…

    • June 3, 2014 at 12:55

      Thanks for the comment June, and thanks for letting us know how you found the site!

  17. June 30, 2014 at 13:36

    Can anyone pinpoint where cottage #55 (and #54) were located on the original plan diagram? I *think* it was Kings Cottages, but it was a long time ago. We stayed at Coco Palms some before the hurricane destroyed it and when we re-visited ten years after the hurricane, it was truly heart breaking to see the total devastation. Does anyone have pictures inside cottage #55 or in the private garden? Of only two rolls of film that ever were lost, this was one. If anyone has some pictures to share of this cottage, I’d love to see them.

  18. Marcy
    July 6, 2014 at 15:00

    I worked as a cocktail waitress at Coco Palms in the mid-70s. Everything about the place was magical. Grace did indeed treat her employees as if we were her children. I’ll never forget the night someone filled her high heel with champagne and she drank it! Also, one of the male employees “streaked” across the stage on another evening (it was the ’70s after all). I doubt Grace took too kindly to that, but I don’t remember what happened afterwards. I wonder if Mr. Rivera would remember. Even though I was a “haole,” I grew up in Hawaii and studied hula for 12 years. Often, if I was familiar with the songs, Grace would allow me to dance with the local girls at the nightly hula shows. I am so thrilled I came across this site! It brings back so many memories.

    • July 6, 2014 at 17:46

      Marcy, thank you for sharing your memories of the Coco Palms with the readers here. I am so jealous of all you folks who experienced this magical place firsthand. I am hoping that somehow, this amazing hotel is resurrected so that more of us “howlies” — I LOVE that term — can get to experience the Palms in person.

    • July 9, 2014 at 14:54

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your stories, Marcy. I always enjoy hearing the first hand accounts – always fun and positive memories. Cheers :-)

  19. Barry Clemmons
    July 14, 2014 at 22:32

    My wife and I were married at the Fern Grotto on June 4, 1982 while staying at the Coco Palms. We stayed five more times with the last being in June of 1991. It was my dad’s favorite place in all of Hawaii. He never said we were going to Kauai, but instead that we were going to the Coco Palms. He died three days before Iniki hit from heart surgery. One of the last things he said to me was “book us another trip to Hawaii next year”. I’m not sure he would have wanted to go knowing that we couldn’t stay at the Coco Palms. We dedicated a plaque and coconut tree to him and my mom at the Coco Palms in November of 1999. Larry Rivera arranged the ceremony and provided music. I hope they don’t remove all of the plaques under the coconut trees for the new resort. We have walked in the coconut grove several times during our return trips to Kauai since Iniki. Each time I can feel my dad’s presence. His favorite thing to do while there was walk in the coconut grove.

    • Lynette Johnson
      July 15, 2014 at 14:31

      I am so happy to hear that Coco Palms is being resurrected. It truly is a “jewel of the Pacific!”

    • July 15, 2014 at 16:06

      Thanks for sharing the stories of your father and the Coco Palms, Barry. What great memories. :)

  20. Roger
    August 8, 2014 at 05:02

    Niihau is populated. Anyway.

  21. Joanne
    October 2, 2014 at 04:30

    We visited Hawaii for the first time in September. We knew NOTHING about the Coco Palms but I was stunned as we drove by it and desperate to fond out about it. I asked a store keeper in Kapaa and found out. Now I’m home and am so taken by the history of it. Your information, SI, is fascinating and complete. Thanks for the report. I’m happy to hear ot will be restored, but nothing compares to it’s history!

    • October 2, 2014 at 14:42

      Hi Joanne, it’s funny you mention how you discovered the Coco Palms. Believe it or not that is exactly how I came across it for the first time as well, while on holiday in Hawaii. When I returned I looked online and found scattered articles, but didn’t see the entire story in one place. The more I read, the more I loved the Palm’s story and thought it was worthy of telling a more complete historical piece (with plenty of pictures!) Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. :)

  22. Joy
    October 20, 2014 at 10:01

    I was fortunate to work for Island Holidays in the 60’s and 70’s. Made many “orientation” tours to Coco Palms. Auntie Grace, as we called her, always welcomed us and we had to assist her in hosting the cocktail parties prior to the torch lighting ceremony. I can’t stand to see what has become of the resort. Makes me cry to see the pictures of the mess it is in. Mr. Guslander owned 7 properties in the islands but Coco Palms was the jewel.

    • October 20, 2014 at 19:07

      Thanks for the comment Joy, my apologies if the pictures were rough to see. I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing the hotel during its heyday but I could almost feel the original parties and shows when I walked the grounds a few years ago. The grounds definitely still have that allure and mystique.

  23. Nick Cullincini
    October 20, 2014 at 10:36

    As a kid maybe 15 or 16 I stayed at Coco Palms with my entire family for a week. It was magical for a young boy from Sacramento. The torch lighting ceremony at night was awesome as the natives paddling to the hotel on the lagoon. I used to love slipping away by myself to the beach across the street for a swim or playing the big shot by ordering alone in the Palms restaurant. It was like stepping into a fantasy world.

    • October 20, 2014 at 19:08

      I can only imagine what a spectacle the torch lighting must have been in person. The Guslanders really knew how to put on a show for guests. Thanks for the comment Nick!

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