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History of the Moana Hotel

The historic Moana Surfrider Hotel on the island of Oahu in Hawaii was built in 1901, and it was the first real hotel in the Waikiki area.

Moana Surfrider Hotel in Waikiki
Photo Credit: Moana Surfrider Hotel



The Moana Hotel was the first hotel on Waikiki Beach and it opened its doors to the public on March 11, 1901. The main building of the hotel, its Banyan Wing, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Developed by English businessman Walter C. Peacock and his Moana Hotel Company, Ltd. at a cost of $150,000, the Moana Hotel paved the way for tourism to Hawaii and the island of Oahu. Before the four-story, 75-room Moana was built, only bathhouses and bungalows were available in downtown Honolulu and at the San Souci Hotel in the late 1880s. The modern luxuries of Moana boasted the Territory of Hawaii’s first electric-powered elevator; guestrooms had their own telephones and private baths, true innovations at the turn-of-the-century. Two wings were added in 1918 to create the famous "H" shape recognized today. The Surfrider Hotel was built next to the Moana Hotel in 1952 and the Surfrider Tower was built in 1969. In 1989 those two properties and the Moana Hotel underwent a $50 million restoration and they were combined into one resort, which its new owners named the "Sheraton Moana Surfrider".



From her vantage point on Kalakaua Avenue, the Sheraton Moana Surfrider has seen the many changes that more than a century has brought upon her home in Waikiki. Where mule-drawn trolleys once escorted guests to her front entrance, a line of cars form with anxious guests waiting to experience the same charm and elegance the "First Lady of Waikiki" has delivered since opening in 1901. With more than a century of knowledge behind her, this first child in Hawaii’s hospitality industry finds herself surrounded by a family of vacation establishments on the once barren Waikiki Beach.

Looking down a bustling Kalakaua Avenue in present times, it is hard to imagine that Waikiki was once a desolate area dotted with the houses of Hawaiian Royalty and wealthy residents. Shareholders were reluctant to invest their money in Waikiki for it was a quiet backwater area, surrounded by swamps, taro fields, rice patties and mosquito-infested duck ponds. It had become something of a daytime attraction for those who stayed in the half dozen downtown hotels.

By the late 1890’s, with additional steamship lines calling at Honolulu, the inflow of tourists was increasing. In 1896, Walter Chamberlain Peacock, a wealthy Waikiki home owner at the time, proposed to build Waikiki’s first resort to provide a solution to the area’s main drawback - the lack of suitable accommodations on the beach. His corporation, The Moana Hotel Company, Ltd., commissioned architect Oliver G. Traphagen to draw up a plan for the hotel. The Lucas Brothers, who also built the Iolani Palace, were the prime contractors. With money given to Walter Peacock by his sister Annie, The Moana Hotel Company, Ltd., began construction with capital of $100,000, which was later increased to $150,000.

The Moana Hotel official opened on March 11, 1901 ushering a new era of tourism for the islands. Designed in the old colonial style architecture of the period, it had 75 rooms and was the costliest, most elaborate hotel building in the Hawaiian Islands at the time. Each room on the three upper floors had a bathroom and a telephone - innovations for hotels of the times. The hotel also had its own ice plant and electric generators. The first floor had a billiard parlor, saloon, main parlor, library, office and reception area.

Ionic columns supported an elegant port cochere at the entrance leading to a lobby embellished with intricate plaster detailing on the ceiling. The Moana, which means "broad expanse of ocean," lived up to its name with the crowning achievement of a rooftop observatory 120 feet off the ground, lit by more than 300 lamps. It accommodated receptions while offering 360-degree views of Waikiki, Diamond Head and the Pacific Ocean.

The hotel’s first guests in 1901 were a group of 114 Shriners hosted by the local Aloha Temple Shriners. They paid a costly $1.50 per night for their rooms.

In 1905, Peacock sold the hotel to Alexander Young, a predominant Honolulu businessman with other island hotel interests. After Young’s death in 1910, his estate continued to operate the hotel until Matson Navigation Company bought it in 1932 for $1.6 million. By 1918, Hawaii had 8,000 visitors annually and by the 1920’s, Matson Navigation Company ships were bringing an increasing number of wealthy visitors. This prompted a massive addition to the hotel. In 1928, two floors were added along with concrete wings on each side designated in the Italian Renaissance style doubling the size of the hotel. In 1927, Matson Navigation Company opened The Royal Hawaiian hotel.

With the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces on the morning of December 7, 1941, all of Hawaii was on a war footing and martial law was declared. Barbed wire stretched across the beaches and blackout restrictions were enforced. Matson’s biggest hotel, The Royal Hawaiian, was leased to the U.S. Navy as a rest and relaxation center, mainly for submarine personnel. The Moana, however, remained open as a guest hotel, but was full all the time with servicemen or defense-related personnel. The hotel weathered the war years without too many changes. Some normalcy returned after martial law was lifted and a joyous day was had when the announcement was made that the war was over and Japan had surrendered.

Tourism boomed in the late 1940’s and 1950’s with the advent of regularly scheduled airline services from the west coast and the Moana became the Mecca of Honolulu society. Matson continued to service its hotels with passenger service until it sold all its hotel properties in Waikiki to the Sheraton Hotel chain in 1959. This was also the year Hawaii became the 50th state and the first year of jet service to the islands. Sheraton in turn sold the Moana and the Royal Hawaiian to Japanese industrialist, Kenji Osano and his Kyo-Ya Company, Ltd., in 1974, but continues to manage them under a long term contract.

Though the Moana has changed overtime, the architectural features of the structure have not been lost and an important piece of Hawaii’s history has been preserved. Today, the hotel takes its place among America’s leading hotels listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

In honor of its rich history, The Sheraton Moana Surfrider offers a complementary historical tour at 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The tour originates on the second floor of the Banyan Wing where the hotel has constructed its own historical room displaying memorabilia dating back to the early 1900’s. During this hour-long adventure, guests will be engaged as they are taken on a journey through the romantic history of the Moana.

See also:
- Introduction to the Moana Surfrider Hotel
- More Waikiki Hotels
- All Lodging on Oahu

Article Courtesy of the Moana Surfrider Hotel



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