Coco Palms Resort

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A building of the Coco Palms Resort with numerous rooms near the lobby.

Coco Palms Resort was a resort hotel in Wailuā, Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi. The resort was visited by numerous movie stars and was also used in scenes of Elvis Presley's film Blue Hawaii. Scheduled to be restored and reopened as a Hyatt resort in 2018.


Originally opened on January 25, 1953, the Coco Palms Resort had 24 rooms, two guests and four employees. Under the management of Grace Guslander, the Resort grew to contain 416 rooms by the mid-1970s. However, by 1984, the number of rooms had been reduced to 393. In August 1985, Wailua Associates acquired the resort from the Guslander/Amfac group. Guslander was well known for her ability to embellish and create myths, stories and facts surrounding her resort. Under her expanded interpretation of the Hawaiian practice of "akua", or replenishment, many noteworthy people took part in the planting of new coconut trees in akua ceremonies to replenish the grove.

Some of these included Hawaiian Olympic swimming champion Duke Kahanamoku, the von Trapp Family Singers, Bing Crosby, and the Prince and Princess of Japan. These and many other trees are marked throughout the property with name and dated plaques. Grace helped foster the belief that the loko iʻa (fish ponds) on Coco Palms were once the "Royal" fish ponds of the Kauai Rulers.

The Coco Palms Resort achieved early exposure and fame in the 1961 Elvis Presley movie Blue Hawaii. Most of the last twenty minutes of the movie was shot on and near the grounds of the Coco Palms.

The ceremonial torch lighting ceremony "Call to Feast," which took place every evening at 7:30pm, for forty years (until September 11 1992, when the devastation of Hurricane Iniki struck the island of Kauaʻi), was featured in the film. This torch lighting ceremony was the original such event, copied in recent years by many other resorts and hotels in Hawaiʻi. An additional scene was the conch shell-blowing doorman greeting them upon check in at the lobby (which was modeled after an ancient Hawaiian Canoe Lodge).

The wedding ceremony, portrayed in the final scene where Elvis croons "The Hawaiian Wedding Song" to Joan Blackman as they ride their flower-bedecked double-hulled canoe through the lagoon to the Wedding Chapel, is credited with creating a high demand for weddings at the Coco Palms Resort. Prior to its close in 1992, the Resort hosted over 500 wedding ceremonies annually. The Shah of Iran visited the resort in 1958 and planted a palm tree in the grove as part of a special ceremony to honor his visit.[1]

The Wedding Chapel was donated by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to Coco Palms in the mid-1950s after using it in the film Miss Sadie Thompson, which starred Rita Hayworth. Former Kauaʻi mayor, Maryanne Kusaka, was married at the Coco Palms.


The resort has been closed since being hit by Hurricane Iniki in 1992. It is scheduled to be restored and reopened as a Hyatt resort in 2017.[2]

On July 4, 2014 the resort caught fire.[3] No one was injured and the fire was controlled by early afternoon.

Demolition of the existing buildings began in June 2016.[4]

Redevelopment and Native Land Title Controversy[edit]

Noa Mau-Espirito (Second from Left), Charles Hepa (Center), Liko Martin (Second from Right) and other Wailua Land Claimants

In 2016, GreeneWaters LLC, operating as the Coco Palms Hui in conjunction with Hyatt Development's Unbound program, began demolition of the old structures in preparation for construction of anew resort. Tyler Greene, the lead developer, was quoted as saying, "Our mantra on this has been to honor the past and celebrate the future.[5]."

Around the same time, a group led by two lineal descendants of the area, Noa Mau-Espirito and Kapule o Kamehameha (descendants of the prominent Kauaʻi Kaumualiʻi and Kapule lines, respectively), accompanied by extended family members and supporters, moved on to the land. They began to plant taro and other traditional plants, care for burials and nearby heiau, and clear trash and post-hurricane debris, with the goal of "living self-sustainably" on the land[6][7].

An attempt was made by the Coco Palms Hui to evict them and ban them from entering the property, calling them "squatters", and filing trespass complaints with the Kauaʻi Police Department on February 11 and March 11, 2017[8]. However, on May 17, Judge Michael Soong of the Fifth Circuit Court denied Coco Palms Hui's ex-parte motion to remove the families, ruling that property ownership had not yet been fully determined[9]. Court proceedings have been complex, due to the sovereignty issues involved in the case.

This situation closely follows arrests in Wainiha on Kauaʻi's Northern Coast, involving similar land claim assertions[10], and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's attempt to clear hundreds of ancient land titles from his 700-acre Pilaʻa, Kauaʻi compound, which angered Hawaiians greatly, triggering international attention to the land issues on Kauaʻi, and Hawaiʻi as a whole[11][12].


Within the resort is the 2,000-tree coconut grove, which is the largest of only three similar groves in the entire state of Hawaiʻi. The grove was originally planted with coconut tree nuts imported from Samoa by William Lindeman in 1896.

The Wailuā area in which the property is located is culturally, spiritually and historically significant. The property is significant with many on Kauaʻi because it is in very close proximity to three of the most important historical heiau on Kauaʻi.

The ancestral home of Kauaʻi's aliʻi (royalty) since the 13th century, the area encompassing the Coco Palms Resort was the home of Kauaʻi's last reigning queen, Queen Deborah Kapule, in the mid-19th century.

Nearby is the beginning point of the legendary walk of the aliʻi spirits on their path up the mountainside and around the island ("King's Trail"). The "Royal" Bell Stone, significant as the "blessing place" for over 1,000 years of Kauaʻi rulers, prior to their births is less than one mile from the corner of the property. There are also important ancient burial sites throughout the area, including on the grounds of the property. In fact some believe the proper translation of Wailua is "spirits".

A Kauaʻi tour operator, Hollywood Movie Tours, stops daily with a van of tourists interested in seeing the grounds, lagoons, coconut grove and the #56 King's Cottage of the Coco Palms Resort.


  1. ^ the Garden Island News, Island history section, 1/31/16
  2. ^ Resource, Hotel News. "Historic Coco Palms Resort in Hawaii to Reopen Under Hyatt Umbrella". 
  3. ^ "Coco Palms fire contained". 
  4. ^ Tanaka, Chris (June 18, 2016). "Kauai's Coco Palms resort begins long-awaited demolition". Hawaii News Now. 
  5. ^ Tanaka, Chris (June 18, 2016). "Kauai's Coco Palms resort begins long-awaited demolition". Hawaii News Now. 
  6. ^ Alayvilla, Aldrn (March 30, 2017). "Hawaiians Claim Ownership of Property at Iconic Hotel Site". The Garden Island Newspaper. 
  7. ^ "Kauaʻi Report: Wailua and Wainiha". Hoʻopae Pono Peace Project. April 18, 2017. 
  8. ^ "Coco Palms Owners Try to Expel Dwellers Claiming Right to Land". Honolulu Star Advertiser. April 1, 2017. 
  9. ^ Alayvilla, Aldrn (May 18, 2017). "Group Occupying Coco Palms Will Continue to Be On Property". The Garden Island Newspaper. 
  10. ^ Alayvilla, Aldrn (April 6, 2017). "Mayor, Wainiha Residents Discuss Safety, Arrests, Kuleana Land, Native Hawaiian Rights". The Garden Island Newspaper. 
  11. ^ Letman, Jon (January 23, 2017). "Hawaiians call Mark Zuckerberg 'the face of neocolonialism' over land lawsuits". The Guardian. 
  12. ^ Takruri, Dena (March 2, 2017). "Mark Zuckerberg Sued Native Hawaiians For Their Own Land". Al Jazeera Media Network (AJ+). 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 22°02′57″N 159°20′09″W / 22.049294°N 159.33586°W / 22.049294; -159.33586