The Moana Hotel opened up in 1901 as the first hotel on Waikiki Beach. It’s still there. A seven-year-old banyan tree seven feet high was planted in the hotel’s courtyard in 1904. It’s still there, too, and now it stands 75 feet high and stretches horizontally for 150 feet. There’s a Beach Bar at the Banyan Court nowadays and that’s where my wife and I met with other members of my family on several occasions during our eight-day stay in Hawaii in January.
There have been many changes under and around that banyan tree during the last 111 years, including several involving ownership . Walter C Peacock, the original owner, sold the hotel to Alexander Young in 1907. Young died in 1910 and his Territorial Hotel Company went bankrupt in 1932. The Matson Navigation Company then bought the hotel from them and used it as a place to stay for their luxury liner passengers. Matson also bought at that time the Royal Hawaiian Hotel which had opened nearby in 1927. Jet airplane passenger service reached Hawaii in 1959, spelling the end of the luxury liner era, and Matson sold both hotels to Sheraton that year. Sheraton then sold the Moana to the Osano Brothers in 1963 and the Royal Hawaiian and other Sheraton hotels in Hawaii to them in 1974.
The Osanos formed a company called Kyo-ya whch operates as a subsidiary of Kokusai Kogyo Holdings Co., Ltd. The Japanese still own the hotel and it is now operated by Starwood and is officially called the Surfrider Moana, a Westin Resort and Spa. The Osanos also bought two Surfrider hotels that once flanked the Moana. They are presently designated as additional wings to the main hotel. Kyo-ya now owns five hotels in Hawaii plus the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.
The hotels are Japanese-owned but the land under the Moana, the Royal Hawaiian and the Sheraton Waikiki is all owned by Kamehameha Schools, a nine billion dollar trust that provides education for kids of Hawaiian heritage.
Several members of my family flew to Hawaii last month to attend a family wedding. Some of them rented a house in Kaneohe close to the spot of the wedding. But others opted to stay in Waikiki. My wife and I chose the Hyatt Place in east Waikiki. My sister Betty decided to stay at the Hyatt Regency across the street and down a few yards from the Moana. My brother Jim and his wife crashed in a hotel on Koa just behind the Hyatt Regency. And my cousin Tom and his wife settled down in one of the towers that compose the Hilton Hawaiian Village on the western end of Waikiki. So we decided to go our separate ways during the day and then meet at a central spot for cocktails and dinner.
Betty and Jim and Priscilla had to walk only a block or so to the Moana. It was seven blocks for us; eight or nine for Tom and Nancy. And so we met at the Banyan Court. Sometimes we dined elsewhere. Sometimes we didn’t feel like leaving and just ate there. One night the groom’s older brother and his wife, soon celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary, joined us for cocktails. The mai tais, by the way, are delicious but rather expensive ($12.50). The dinner menu at the bar is somewhat limited but I always found something to my liking. One night I had a burger. Another night I had some Margherita flatbread.
The fabled radio show Hawaii Calls broadcast weekly from the Banyan Court for 40 years (1935 – 1975). Fifteen years ago we flew to Hawaii for another family wedding (the present groom’s older brother got hitched then) and we dropped by the Moana one night for some piano bar entertainment. The Hawaii Calls show has been gone for 40 years and that piano is indoors now and has been replaced by guitars and hula dancers. But they still sing the hapahaole songs.
My sister Betty and some of her college girlfriends spent a summer in Hawaii in 1962. She remembers going often to the Banyan Court to hear Jack Pitman play the organ and several beach boys sing his songs and others such as Aloha ‘Oe and Now is the Hour. Jack was a Canadian who came to Hawaii in 1943 and stayed. He wrote scores of hapahaole songs and hit the jackpot with one he wrote in 1948: Beyond the Reef. Jack died in 1990.
And now a special treat for those who have read this entire posting: Click here to hear Alfred Apaka’s rendition of Beyond the Reef. And click here for a brief clip of Webley Edwards and Hawaii Calls at the Banyan Court in 1965.
Tomorrow we’ll drop by the Royal Hawaiian. Aloha.