Hilton Hawaiian Village History
This history of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort
in Waikiki on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.
In 1954, entrepreneur Henry J. Kaiser and partner Fritz Burns purchased eight
oceanfront acres of the John Ena Estate in Waikiki to build a resort.
Requiring additional property for such an ambitious undertaking, the
partners purchased the adjacent site of the Niumalu Hotel and several
contiguous lots from individual owners totaling 20 acres of what Hilton
Hawaiian Village currently occupies.
In mid-1955, guest cottages were hand-built by Hawaiian Samoans from Oahu who
came to the site to weave coconut fronds into thatching. Within three
months, workers had completed the first unit of 70 guest rooms and suites,
and the Tapa Room (now the site of the Tapa Tower), with gardens and three
Next, construction was completed on four traditional lanai houses ranging
from 18 to 56 guest rooms, on the site where the Rainbow Tower stands.
The Long House was the first meeting facility - a convention auditorium
patterned after a Polynesian chief’s hut with a seating capacity of 1,000.
Since the occupancy rate of the hotel was rapidly growing, more rooms were
needed. Within 90 days, the three-story, 100-room Ale Ale Kai was built.
Giant palm trees were moved in, tropical gardens planted, and particular
care was taken to preserve the existing flora.
Guest facilities were expanded with the addition of the Ale Ale dining room,
cocktail lounge and beach terrace for dancing (later called the Makahiki
Restaurant and Garden Bar). The Tiare Tahiti nightclub, the Golden Dragon
(still one of Honolulu’s finest Cantonese restaurants), and the Sunset Room
(today’s Hau Tree Bar) were subsequently added. The Hilton Dome, a geodesic
dome at the corner of Kalia Road and Ala Moana Boulevard, was the first of
its kind built in the world and was the brainchild of Kaiser and the design
of Buckminster Fuller. Fuller wanted a showroom that would afford a completely
unobstructed view of the stage from anywhere in the room. Standing 49.5 feet
high and 149 feet in diameter, the aluminum structure was assembled in just
20 hours for the world premiere of "Around the World in 80 Days" and the
Symphony Polynesia, starring the famed Alfred Apaka.
The next task was development of the sand surface along the beach and ocean
sports area, accomplished by blasting and dredging the shoreline and replacing
it with 30,000 cubic yards of sand. Palm trees were added to shade and enhance
the spectacular beauty of the beach, named after Olympic swimmer and beach boy,
Duke Kahanamoku. Shortly thereafter, the tropical lagoon and catamaran pier
were created. Today, the Village fronts and maintains the widest beach in
During the 1950s, the Kaiser-Burns’ master plan called for four additional
"skyscraper hotels." The skyscrapers included the 14-story Ocean Tower
constructed in 1957, and the 13-story Village Tower built in 1958. The
17-story Diamond Head Tower and the 31-story Rainbow Tower were constructed
in 1960 and 1968, respectively. The 10-story Diamond Head apartment building
was purchased in 1966.
In 1961, hotelier Conrad N. Hilton purchased Kaiser’s interest in the hotel.
The name Hilton was
added to Hawaiian Village, and the familiar "Kaiser pink" was replaced
by "Hilton blue." Due to continued growth, the 25-story Hilton Lagoon
Apartment’s room count increased 279 apartments in 1965, giving the
Village 1,556 guest rooms. The Mid-Pacific Conference Center superstructure
was completed in 1969 and rests atop the 1,800 vehicle-capacity parking
garage, becoming the hotel’s major meeting facility.
Completed in 1970, Rainbow Bazaar with more than 40 shops and restaurants sat
along Rainbow Drive.
Housed within the complex is a Thai temple, massive granite lions guarding the
moon gate at the entrance to
Hong Kong Alley, a replica of a 50-foot-high Japanese pagoda and an entire
Japanese farmhouse, which was disassembled and shipped from Japan to be
painstakingly reassembled in the bazaar.
In December 1977, Fritz B. Burns, his son F. Patrick Burns and close associates
sold their 50 percent equity interest in Hilton Hawaiian Village to Prudential
Insurance Company of America. Hilton Hotels Corporation, through a subsidiary,
retained the remaining 50 percent equity interest in the resort, and Hilton
continued to manage the hotel on behalf of the joint ownership until purchasing
Prudential’s share in 1998. Since then, Hilton Hawaiian Village has been owned
and operated entirely by Hilton Hotels Corporation.
Then in 1988, the Hilton Hawaiian Village completed its milestone, $100
million architectural renewal, “Return to Paradise.” As part of
“Return to Paradise,” the hotel unveiled a new porte cochere and open-air lobby,
which provide breathtaking views of the 10,000-square-foot Super Pool and
Waikiki Beach. Bali by the Sea and Golden Dragon, two of the hotel’s
award-winning restaurants, converted into open-air dining experiences
with stunning views of Waikiki Beach and the Pacific Ocean. The Village’s
Ali‘i Tower unveiled its new concierge tower fronting the beach.
Additionally, the hotel completely renovated its signature Coral Ballroom,
and added the South Pacific Ballroom and Sea Pearl Suites, giving the Hilton
Hawaiian Village the largest meeting and convention facilities in the Pacific.
In what would signal the beginning of the revitalization of Waikiki, the
legendary Hilton Dome is torn down to make way for the $95 million Kalia
Tower, which would become Waikiki’s first major resort development in more
than a decade. Over the years, the Hilton Dome hosted legends such as
Alfred Apaka and Don Ho, and before its end, John Hirokawa’s
"Magic of Polynesia" magic show.
The 453-room, 35-story Kalia Tower opened in 2001 offering tropical gardens,
spacious walkways, waterfalls and Hawaiian art, creating a new gateway to
the Village. With the opening of the Kalia Tower came the opening of the
independently owned and operated Mandara Spa on the 4th floor of the tower.
The spa features Hawaiian-Balinese furniture and 25 treatment rooms offering
a variety of Hawaiian-themed treatments such as Hawaiian Lomi Lomi Massage,
Vanilla & Pikake Facial and the Hawaiian Pohaku (Warm Lava Stones) Massage.
The treatments are performed by therapists and estheticians that must be
professionally licensed in the state of Hawaii.
That same year in 2001, the Lagoon Tower also completed an extensive renovation,
and opens with Hilton Grand Vacations Club offering a new category of
accommodations at the Village - studio, one, two, and three-bedroom
As demand for hotel rooms in Waikiki grow, so does the demand for Waikiki
as a destination for weddings. Best Bridal Hawaii and the Hilton Hawaiian
Village entered into an agreement to begin planning and building the Ocean
Crystal Chapel, Waikiki’s first free-standing resort chapel. On June 22, 2005,
ground was broken on the site, which is centrally located between Tapa and
Rainbow Towers. A retail store is re-located and an existing gazebo is torn
down for the construction of the chapel. Nine months later on March 16, 2006,
the hotel and Best Bridal hold a lavish grand opening ceremony for the $6
million chapel. The chapel offers views of the ocean and seats 85 people
inside its stunning location.
As part of its commitment to the community around it, the Hilton Hawaiian
Village enters into a partnership to begin restoring the state-owned Duke
Kahanamoku Lagoon fronting the hotel. The restoration process begins with
the installation of seven salt-water wells and a pumping system to improve
the water flow and facilitate water turnover. The pumps help increase the
turnover to approximately five times a day - a dramatic improvement over
the previous turnover of every 48 hours. A year-long project begins to
construct a walkway around the entire lagoon creating a public promenade
with extensive landscaping.
Later that year, Hilton Grand Vacations Club holds a groundbreaking on the
site of what will become the 39-story Grand Waikikian Tower. The construction
is expected to last through 2008.
Hilton Hawaiian Village Today
Today, Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa is Waikiki’s only self-contained
destination resort. A vacationer or conventioneer finds everything necessary
for a visit to paradise, yet is also within walking distance of everything
Waikiki has to offer. The resort spans 22 acres, offering the widest stretch
of beach on Waikiki, a beachfront lagoon, waterfalls, five pools, gardens, an
exquisite art collection, and exotic wildlife, as well as nightly entertainment
including the weekly King’s Jubilee, a Friday evening Hawaiian music and dance
celebration that ends with a brilliant fireworks display on the beach. The finest
dining, shopping and entertainment center on Waikiki’s best beach, the Village
features more than 20 restaurants and lounges, with fine cuisine ranging from
Italian to Asian to traditional steak and seafood menus. The Village also boasts
more than 90 shops, as well as the full-service Mandara Spa and the Holistica
Hawaii Preventive Medicine Center.
Timeline of the Hilton Hawaiian Village
Introduction to the Hilton Hawaiian Village
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