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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 swimming pools.

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 Waikiki.

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 condominium suites.

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.

See also:
- Timeline of the Hilton Hawaiian Village
- Introduction to the Hilton Hawaiian Village
- All Lodging on Oahu
- Top 10 Largest Hotels in Hawaii



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