courtesy Leo Azambuja

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.

coco-palms-mapMap it!



Wailua_map-2Seven 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.

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.

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.


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.


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.

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


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.

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.



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 1950 film Pagan Love Song, featuring Esther Williams and Howard Keel (watch the trailer here).

In 1951 the Coco Palms was featured in Bird of Paradise with Debra Paget and Louis Jourdan (watch a clip here). In 1953 Rita Hayworth starred in Miss Sadie Thompson, also filmed at the Coco Palms. Columbia Pictures 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.

Blue_Hawaii_poster 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



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 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.

Grace & Gus Guslander eventually married in 1969


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.

Iniki_NOAA 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.

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.

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.


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.

courtesy Kristin Gregoire

Coco-98The 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.

Coco-97 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 likely included a bit of both.

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

photos courtesy Kristin Gregoire


Additional Attempts at Redevelopment

Coco-74When 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.”

Coco-71Coincidentally 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.

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.

photos courtesy Primo Kimo

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.

courtesy primo kimo



Coco-47By 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). Coco-50It was a mild concession in an attempt to give the project life, at least until 2013.

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. Artifacts that could remind of vintage Coco Palms Americana or the Blue Hawaii film have been pilfered as souvenirs.

Coco-49Coconut 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.

photos courtesy Primo Kimo


Aerial view of the Coco Palms today

Coco-aerial-2 (view on map)


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.

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.”


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. We just want it to be a welcoming grounds for residents of Kauaʻi as well as visitors from all around the world.”

– Tyler Greene, Developer


Coco-67By 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.


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.”

This is a great observation. The Coco Palms was a serendipitous confluence of circumstances, driven by a dynamic woman’s energy and her knack for being the island’s ultimate host.

The Coco Palms can be replaced, but when it is rebuilt it will not have Grace Guslander. She is what made the Coco Palms special.

courtesy David Penhallow


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: (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-strap

The 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.

kauai-roosters-chickens • 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)

• 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.)


Coco-82thanks to, David Penhallow, Larry Riviera, and our partner photographers


courtesy Leo Azambuja



  1. 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.

    • 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. 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. 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.

      • 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.

        • 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. 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!!

  5. 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. 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.

  7. 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. 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. 😀 I would build it with stones instead of only wood…so the next tropical storm wouldn’t damage it again :)

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

  10. 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.

    • 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! :)

  11. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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! :)

  12. 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. :)

  13. 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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. 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…

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

    • 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

    • 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. :)

  19. 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.

    • 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.

  20. 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.

  21. I have long dreamed about coming to that wonderful place. Seeing and reading about coco palms kuawaii as saddened my heart. I probably will never see it. But will continue to hope that one day it may happen that I will be able to make it there. I loved reading this article. I just hope it can be refurbished pre the hurricane. Good luck and best wishes to those people’s efforts.

  22. Does anyone know if they still run trips up the river to the Fern Grotto? They used to where they sang the Hawaiian Wedding Song. It was so beautiful.

    • Yes, they still have the trips run by Smith’s. My wife and I were married at the Fern Grotto in 1982 while staying at the Coco Palms. Lots of wonderful memories.

      • Thanks Lets hope that someday it will be restored to its old beauty and others will be able to create beautiful memories. Aloha

  23. Hi yes my friend and I went on the river trip to the fern grotto five years ago during a cruise to the Hawaiian Islands. It was amazing to see and the beautiful ladies dancing to the Hawaiian wedding song played by some wonderful musicians added to the magical feel of the place. Seeing the Coco Palms in such a sad state though was very upsetting. I live in hope it will be restored in the near future.

  24. We’ve made many trips to The island over the years; in 1989 for our honeymoon, which included dinner at the Coco Palms and the lighting of the was fabulous! Our next trip was shortly after The storm and was heartbreaking. I’ve been watching the saga of saving the resort and am very hopeful that this treasure will be returned. I’ll be the first to book a room even though we have property in Hawaii.

  25. My husband and I were married 12/01/84 and honeymooned at The Coco Palms in the Queen’s Cottage which was quite a financial stretch for two 24 year olds. The dining room and meals were wonderful, from another time period. Having evening cocktails and watching the torch lighting ceremony was like being in a Hollywood fantasy movie. I still have 4 pearl necklaces my husband purchased from the gift shop as a rememberance of our trip. And our cottage room… I remember there was a plaque in our room indicating JFK and his wife has stayed in the cottage years before. I had forgotten the clam shell sinks…what memories. What I’ve never forgotten was our last night there (and last night of our honeymoon). Our cottage had an outdoor pool/bath that was made of lava with a lava waterfall filling it and walls that provided complete privacy. Sooooo romantic. We took a bottle of champagne and decided to indulge in the pool with the gentle trade winds blowing. Well, one kiss led to another (honeymoon after all) and when we parted for a sip of champagne we had not noticed that the trade winds were no longer gentle, until a giant palm frond crashed down between us. A moment earlier and we both would have been badly injured and probably mortified at our predicament! Laughing we decided the Gods must be angry and retired to the interior of our room. 30 years later and the event still makes us smile. Wonderful place, wonderful memories. Hope they restore it to the charm of yesteryears.

  26. I am so glad to see what is going to happen to restore this wonderful legend.
    Stayed there late 80’s and remember the wonderful times. We could touch the palms from our room on the second floor. The people and the food was the best.

  27. We honeymooned at the Coco Palms in 1973 and were upgraded to Palm Suite 2 which was an amazingly HUGE room. The whole experience of dining and the grounds were enhanced by this room with clam shell sinks, mirrored wall, over-the-top furnishings, and view of the lagoon and grounds from our screened corner porch areas. As 20-year-old Indiana kids, this was certainly the highlight of our entire trip. Through the years we dreamed of going back, then Iniki happened and we knew there was damage. We returned to celebrate our 40th anniversary and contacted Bob Jasper about taking the tour. While it was devastating to see what had happened to the buildings and grounds, we could see and remember what had been. Since we had pictures of our honeymoon suite, Bob even took just US up to that very room – what an experience! We are so glad that the dream to rebuild is alive and hopefully will come to fruition in the next few years. We’ll be back!

  28. Just to clarify Coco Palms filming history, the first one was Pagan Love Song with Esther Williams and Howard Keel in 1950, the next was Bird of Paradise with Debra Paget and Louis Jourdan in 1951…then along came Miss Sadie Thompson in 1953, which was filmed by Columbia Pictures, not MGM. Very nice article on the Coco Palms, almost all being very factual….Aloha

    • Aloha Bob! It’s an honor to have you visit and leave a comment, thank you for stopping by. Thank you very much for the corrections, if there is someone who can speak intelligently on the subject, that person would be you. I have updated the article to reflect the corrections, and added some youtube links for good measure. I appreciate the compliment, high praise coming from you sir. I don’t know if you noticed I gave you a shout-out in the “Did You Know” section and linked back to your page. Thanks for keeping the spirit of the Coco Palms alive. Cheers!

  29. Thank you for a wonderful narrative I was in Kauai for two weeks and in May 2015. I still marvel at the resort. A magical place. I enjoyed finding your site and photos. I will return and stay as soon as I can book a room after the renovation.

  30. I too share wonderful memories of the Coco Palms. My husband and I spent our honeymoon there in 1981. It really was such a magical place! I get a tear or two every time I watch Blue Hawaii and think of walking along those same paths. I am so glad to hear of the restoration. It was indeed heartbreaking seeing the way it looks and hearing of the devastation. We will be going back to Kauai this year for our 34th anniversary. I wish we could see the Coco Palms, but Kauai has always held a special place in our hearts. Maybe some day!

  31. I’m glad I found this site. I first came to Coco Palms with my parents and brother and sister in the 1950’s. As a family we came frequently over the Christmas holidays, and my parents moved to Kauai in 1963. I was in college, but would spend my summers on Kauai, driving a truck for Hawaiian Fruit Packers when pineapple was still being harvested on Kauai. I got to know Larry Rivera and Big John Kauo quite well. I joined the Marine Corps after college, and during flight training met my wife to be. We were married in 1967 and enjoyed our honeymoon at Coco Palms. Then again in 1969 when I was able to take R&R out of Vietnam, we were thrilled to return to Coco Palms. I am very happy it is being restored, and we will definitely return when it is completed.

  32. We honeymooned at the palms in 1974. I remember a small zoo with birds and some small animals. Does anyone remember that? My husband thinks I’m senile LOL

  33. I hope an investor builds it back, and makes some modern changes and makes the Coco Palms able to withstand the Tropical Storms it may encounter.

  34. What an Odyssey. My wife’s mother (now deceased) was a cousin of Grace Bucher. So when we visited Hawaii in 2005, we made it a point to visit Cocoa Palms to see what she had wrought. At the time, there were no official tours, but because of our relationship with Grace Bucher, we were given a personal tour.It is such a great location and the Palm grove is so beautiful. I hope it gets restored soon. When it is done, they can count on these two visitors from Pennsylvania. We’ll have a fiftieth wedding anniversary coming up in a few years. I can’t think of a better place to spend it.

  35. My wife and I spent a couple nights there on our honeymoon in Oct. 1969. It was fantastic. Saw it again in 2014 and we were very sad at its current state. Hopefully it can be returned to its splendor. Incidently we sailed out of Miami the day Andrew sailed in.

  36. We had the priviledge of spending our 25th Anniversary at the Coco Palms Resort in 1990, as it had been my dream to go to Hawaii when we got married 25 years before but we could not afford it then but our wedding song was” Blue Hawaii” and for the next 25 years and in the process of raising five wonderful children our dreams were finally fulfilled on that 25th Anniversary and we stayed at the Coco Palms Resort it was only for 3 days but it was the best three days we ever had and a dream come true for sure! I was so disappointed when now we will again return to Hawaii but not to the Coco Palms Resort as it is no longer open but we did not know that it was not open and not restored as yet otherwise that is where we would have gone to celebrate in November our now 50th Anniversary, we are disappointed but we will be going to the Hilton Hawaiian Village and staying in the Ali’i Tower as we were also here for our 25th and also looking forward to spending our 50th Golden Anniversary in the Great 50th State of Hawaii! We hope that Coco Palms Resort is rebuilt as this is such a special, special place for us and for many before us! Mahalo!

    Natalie & Peter

  37. Sorry for the late reply on this article but thank you for this. My parents and I went to Kauai right after that poor stewardess was sucked out of the Aloha Airline flight 243 so long ago when I was much younger. My mother who has a terrible fear of flying was naturally afraid of the island hoppers after that.

    I remember seeing the outside of this hotel and my parents telling me that we couldn’t afford to stay there but I do remember the Moutain of the Sleeping Giant and it has always saddened me that they have had such issues restoring this hotel.

  38. We stayed there in 1971, what a terrific experience….what sealed the deal for me was the headline entertainment Mr. Larry Rivera. Larry and his family are do endearing…we kept of going back to the island to seek out Larry and enjoy his music for many years.

    • Larry, the comments were supposed to be broken apart into several pages, but I think the website theme wasn’t registering this properly on some browsers. I just turned off the comment page feature, which leaves all the comments on one page. This might make the comment sections more onerous to navigate, but at least everyone can see all comments. Let me know if this doesn’t fix the problem for you. :-)

  39. There are newer comments just go to older comments they are from 2015. I posted in Aug. 2015.

  40. Thanks very much. I am now able to read the current comments. My wife and I are returning to Kauai next month and look forward to seeing the progress being made at Coco Palms. I am emailing Larry Rivera and hope to be able to get together with him then.

  41. My husband and I were very saddened to hear about the Coco Palms Resort. We were married at the Coco Palms Wedding Chapel on December 31, 1979 where Larry & Gloria Rivera were our witnesses and also sang the Hawaiian Wedding Song as I walked down the aisle. I have fabulous photos from that day and many memories. We are still very happily married and often sit and reminisce about our incredible wedding and the absolutely beautiful location. It was my husband’s idea to marry at that location, as he has always been an Elvis fan and after seeing Blue Hawaii could think of no better place. Good Luck with the restoration. We plan to visit Hawaii in the new Year and will most defiantly visit the site. Best wishes to all involved..

    • Hi Mandi, ” Happy 36th Anniversary! ” of course a little ahead of time, but what wonderful memories you have by getting married there! I too have memories only 25th anniversary memories but truly a dream come true for us as we wanted to spend our honeymoon there but couldn’t, but thrilled to spend the 25th anniversary, we are disappointed now as we wanted to go there for our 50th this Nov. 20th, we knew about the hurricane in 1992 but never dreamed that it was not restored so you could imagine our disappointment when we wanted to make arrangements to go there again and couldn’t (see my previous comments above) but we will spend our 50th in only Honolulu anyway, just not at the Coco Palms Resort, in Kauai. I am saddened by this but happy that they are restoring it and maybe we can there in the near future. Real near future! (LOL)

      Best Wishes!
      Natalie & Peter

      • Natalie & Peter – Thank you for your response to my post. Congratulations on your 50th – wow it’s refreshing to see couples stay together these days. Very best wishes and continued success and happiness together. /m

        • Thank you very much Mandi and again Congratulations to you! It’s been nice to share some of these good memories with you! Happy Holidays! Natalie

  42. The comments bring back many memories. My husband & I enjoyed several visits in the 1970’s.
    3 couples of us–2 with 25th wedding anniversaries enjoyed the Old suites–we got the Queen suite.
    The Big shell wash basins, the semi outdoor shower, the interesting bed with Queen decor and bright colored spread. Raffia carpet–we loved it all. Romantic dinners with conch shell call and the fish pond with “natives” arrival. Hawaiian dancers with long mumus, flickering lighting–I’m dreaming as I write. When we returned a few years later one couple was assigned to the “New rooms” and was so disappointed–we all wanted it never to change! We returned just 3 weeks after Iniki (we had a hard time convincing authorities that we had a condo available–the contractor who was using it went home for a week) so we were able to see all the devastation.So sad–the big beam in the lobby, the windows and doors, roof damaged. So much debris in the grove and pond.
    We returned several times hoping it would be repaired and have followed news articles etc. Your column comments are like visiting friends sharing stories. Thank you. My husband is gone now..we had hoped to visit for our 70th..but now I hope to visit when it is finished.

    • Hi Dottie,

      First so sorry for your loss and I am sure the 70th would have been amazing! Second that would be wonderful if you get to visit when it is finished! We too would like to go back at least one more time when it is finished and of course time will tell. We loved it so very much and was so saddened that we could not spend our 50th anniversary there but we will be returning to Honolulu, as we have fond memories there too and we are looking forward to it, we are leaving on Nov. 18th & spending 3 weeks there. We are grateful for this. I too have enjoyed reading and sharing some of those memories here. If you get to see the new Coco Palms before we do let us know what your thoughts are. In the mean time enjoy your past memories as you look forward to making new ones as I will too! It has been nice sharing this with you!


  43. Well, we are here on Kauai now, and last Wednesday we were able to get together with Larry Rivera at Cafe Portofino. He and his daughter, Lurline, entertain there on Wednesday evenings, and they have a terrific show. Yesterday we went on a tour of Coco Palms with Bob Jasper. He did a fabulous job of taking us around the resort, though it is very sad to see it in its current condition. (Larry Rivera also came by while we were there.) I see that Bob has contributed to this site, and his posts on Facebook can be viewed by entering “Coco Palms Resort, Kauai” on the Facebook page. There is much info given about what is happening at Coco Palms on that site. They are in the process now of cleaning up the grounds, and then taking down the destroyed buildings. The re-construction of new buildings will follow. The goal is to restore Coco Palms to its original configuration, with completion in the spring/summer of 2017. I highly recommend Bob’s tour to anyone who ever stayed at Coco Palms prior to hurricane Iniki. Here is hoping all goes well in the re-construction of this magnificent resort! We plan to be back to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary upon its completion.

    • That’s excellent Larry, hope you are enjoying Kauai and thanks for the updates. I’m glad to hear Larry and Bob are still doing their thing. Happy to also hear about the Coco Palms cleanup that is going on. Here’s to those getting their hands dirty behind the scenes in the restoration project! Cheers. :)

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