Moana Hotel

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Moana Hotel
Moanahotel hawaii.jpg
The Moana Hotel opened in 1901.
Location Honolulu, HI
Coordinates 21°16′35.41″N 157°49′35.9″W / 21.2765028°N 157.826639°W / 21.2765028; -157.826639Coordinates: 21°16′35.41″N 157°49′35.9″W / 21.2765028°N 157.826639°W / 21.2765028; -157.826639
Built 1901
Architect Oliver G. Traphagen
Architectural style Hawaiian Gothic
NRHP Reference # 72000417[1]
Added to NRHP August 7, 1972

The Moana Hotel is a historic hotel on the island of Oahu, at 2365 Kalākaua Avenue in Honolulu, Hawaii. Built in the late 19th century as the first hotel in Waikiki, the Moana opened in 1901. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Early years[edit]

The wealthy Honolulu landowner Walter Chamberlain Peacock, in an effort to establish a fine resort in the previously neglected Waikiki area of Honolulu, incorporated the Moana Hotel Company in 1896. Working with a design by architect Oliver G. Traphagen and $150,000 in capital, The Lucas Brothers contractors completed the structure in 1901. Construction of The Moana marked the beginning of tourism in Waikiki, becoming the first hotel amidst the bungalows and beach houses.

The Moana's architecture was influenced by European styles popular at the time, with Ionic columns and intricate woodwork and plaster detailing throughout the building. The Moana was designed with a grand porte cochere on the street side and wide lānais on the ocean side. Some of the 75 guest rooms had telephones and bathrooms (unusual at the time), and the hotel featured a billiard room, saloon, main parlor, reception area, and library. Peacock installed the first electric-powered elevator in the islands at the Moana, which is still in use today.[2]

Design features of the original structure that survive to this day include extra-wide hallways (to accommodate steamer trunks), high ceilings, and cross-ventilation windows (to cool the rooms prior to air conditioning).

The Moana officially opened on March 11, 1901. Its first guests were a group of Shriners, who paid $1.50 per night for their rooms. Peacock did not find success with his endeavor and sold the hotel in 1907 to Alexander Young, a prominent businessman with other hotel holdings.[3] After Young died in 1910, his Territorial Hotel Company operated the hotel until they went bankrupt in the Great Depression, and the Matson Navigation Company bought the property in 1932 for $1.6 million.


In Hawaiian, moana means open sea or ocean.


The Moana grew along with the popularity of Hawaiian tourism. Two floors were added in 1918, along with Italian Renaissance-styled concrete wings on each side of the hotel, creating its H-shape seen today.[4]

In the 1930s, the hotel was known for a few years as the Moana-Seaside Hotel & Bungalows.[4] The bungalows were additional buildings constructed on the large plot of land directly across Kalakaua Avenue.

The hotel's outward appearance was altered slightly over the years, including "updates" to such designs as Art Deco in the 1930s and Bauhaus in the 1950s.

From 1935 to 1975, the Moana's courtyard hosted the Hawaii Calls live radio broadcast. Legend has it that listeners mistook the hiss of the radio transmission as the waves breaking on the beach. When learning of this, the host instructed the sound man to run down to the waterfront to actually record the sound, which became a staple of the show.

In 1952, Matson built a new hotel adjacent to the Moana on the southeast side, called the SurfRider Hotel. In 1953, Matson demolished the Moana's bungalows across the street and, two years later, opened the new Princess Kaiulani Hotel on the site.[5] Matson sold all of their Waikiki hotel properties to the Sheraton Company in 1959.[6]

Sheraton sold the Moana and the SurfRider to Japanese industrialist Kenji Osano and his Kyo-Ya Company in 1963,[7] though Sheraton continued to manage them. In 1969, Kyo-Ya built a towering new hotel on the Moana's northwest side. They named it the Surfrider Hotel. The older SurfRider Hotel on the other side was turned into part of the Moana, named the Diamond Head Wing.

In 1989, a $50 million restoration (designed by Hawaii architect Virginia D. Murison) restored the Moana to its 1901 appearance and incorporated the 1969 Sheraton Surfrider Hotel and the 1952 SurfRider Hotel buildings with the Moana Hotel building into one beachfront resort with a common lobby, renaming the entire property the Sheraton Moana Surfrider.


The restoration has cemented the Moana as one of Waikiki's premier hotels. It includes 793 rooms (including 46 suites), a freshwater swimming pool, three restaurants, a beach bar and a poolside snack bar.

The property has been recognized with the President's Historic Preservation Award, the National Preservation Honor Award, the Hawaii Renaissance Award, and the Hotel Sales and Marketing Association International Golden Bell Award. The main historic section of the hotel, The Banyan Wing, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2007, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, the management company of the Moana, rebranded the hotel from a Sheraton Hotel to a Westin Hotel. The name of the hotel became Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa. The 1901 wing is now known as the Historic Banyan Wing. The low-rise 1952 SurfRider Hotel building is today the Diamond Wing. The 1969 Surfrider Hotel building is now called the Tower Wing.[8]

The hotel is the base of operations for about 24 White House staffers who accompany Barack Obama to his Winter White House at Plantation Estate during Christmas visits.[9]

The banyan tree[edit]

In the center of the Moana Surfrider's courtyard stands a large banyan tree. The Indian banyan tree was planted in 1904 by Jared Smith, Director of the Department of Agriculture Experiment Station. When planted, the tree was nearly seven feet tall and about seven years old. It now stands 75 feet high and spans 150 feet across the courtyard.

In 1979, the historic tree was one of the first to be listed on Hawaii's Rare and Exceptional Tree List. It has also been selected by the Board of Trustees of the America the Beautiful Fund as the site for a Hawaii Millennium Landmark Tree designation, which selects one historic tree in each state for protection in the new millennium.

Hotel lore[edit]

Rich and famous[edit]

As soon as the Moana Hotel opened, a non-stop flood of tourists from the mainland United States poured through its doors. Its most famous guest came in 1920. The Prince of Wales, who would later become King Edward VIII, gallivanted around the Moana Hotel property and reportedly fell in love with the private pier, from which he frequently dove into the ocean.

In August 1922, author Agatha Christie and her husband, Colonel Archie Christie, stayed on holiday. They were traveling around the world as part of the Dominion Mission of the British Empire Exhibition, promoting the exhibition to be held in England in 1924.[10]

Duke Kahanamoku, the legendary Olympic swimmer and popularizer of the sport of surfing, frequented the Moana Hotel restaurants and private beachfront. The Moana Hotel became a favorite stomping ground for Kahanamoku's famed group, dubbed the Waikīkī Beach Boys.

Murder mystery[edit]

In 1905, the Moana Hotel was at the center of one of America's legendary mysteries. Jane Stanford, co-founder of Stanford University and former wife of California Governor Leland Stanford, died in a Moana Hotel room of poisoning.

An account of the events says that on the evening of February 28 at the hotel, Stanford had asked for bicarbonate of soda to settle her stomach. Her personal secretary, Bertha Berner, prepared the solution, which Stanford drank. At 11:15 p.m., Stanford cried out for her servants and Moana Hotel staff to fetch a physician, declaring that she had lost control of her body. Robert W. P. Cutler, who wrote the book The Mysterious Death of Jane Stanford recounted what took place upon the arrival of the Moana Hotel physician, Dr. Francis Howard Humphris:

As Humphris tried to administer a solution of bromine and chloral hydrate, Mrs. Stanford, now in anguish, exclaimed, "My jaws are stiff. This is a horrible death to die." Whereupon she was seized by a tetanic spasm that progressed relentlessly to a state of severe rigidity: her jaws clamped shut, her thighs opened widely, her feet twisted inwards, her fingers and thumbs clenched into tight fists, and her head drew back. Finally, her respiration ceased.

Stanford was dead from strychnine poisoning; the identity of whoever killed her remains a mystery. Today, the room in which Stanford died no longer exists, having been removed to make room for an expansion of the lobby.



Further reading[edit]

  • Stan Cohen. 1996. A Pictorial History of the Sheraton Moana Surfrider, Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Inc.
  • Robert W. P. Cutler. 2003. The Mysterious Death of Jane Stanford, Stanford University Press.
  • Glen Grant. 1996. Waikīkī Yesteryear, Mutual Publishing Co.
  • Don Hibbard and David Franzen. 1995. The View from Diamond Head: Royal Residence to Urban Resort, Editions Ltd.
  • George S. Kanahele. 1996. Waikīkī, 100 BC to 1900 AD: An Untold Story, University of Hawaiʻi Press.
  • Pukui, Mary K., Samuel H. Elbert, and Esther T. Mookini. 1976. Place Names of Hawaiʻi, Revised & expanded edition. Univ. Press of Hawaiʻi, Honolulu. 289 pp.
  • Schaefers, Allison (2007-01-25). "Starwood redo to give Moana new branding". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved 2007-01-25. 

External links[edit]