Waikīkī was once a vast marshland whose boundaries encompassed more than 2,000-acres (as compared to its present 500-acres we call Waikīkī, today).
In the late-1890s, with additional steamship lines to Honolulu, the visitor arrivals to Oʻahu were increasing. In 1896, Walter Chamberlain Peacock, a wealthy Waikīkī homeowner at the time, proposed to build Waikīkī’s first major resort to provide a solution to the area’s main drawback – the lack of suitable accommodations on the beach.
Often called the “First Lady of Waikīkī,” the Moana Hotel has been a Hawaiʻi icon since its opening opened on March 11, 1901.
The original wooden center structure of the Moana Hotel is the oldest existing hotel in Waikīkī. As such, it deserves recognition as a landmark in Hawaii’s tourist industry.
Designed in the old colonial style architecture of the period, it boasted 75 rooms and was the costliest, most elaborate and modern hotel building in the Hawaiian Islands at the time.
Each room on the three upper floors had a bathroom and a telephone – innovations for any hotel 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.
The Moana was one of the earliest “high-rise” buildings in Hawaii and was the costliest hotel in the islands. In spite of numerous renovations and changes, it has retained its tropical openness and is a welcome change from the more modern high-rises that surround it.
The original four story wood structure, designed by OG Traphagen, a well known Honolulu architect, features an elaborately designed lobby which extends to open lanais and is open to the Banyan Court and the sea.
By 1918, Hawaii had 8,000 visitors annually and by the 1920s Matson Navigation Company ships were bringing an increasing number of wealthy visitors.
This prompted a massive addition to the hotel. In 1918, two floors were added along with concrete wings on each side, doubling the size of the hotel.
In the 1920s, the Waikīkī landscape underwent a dramatic re-development when the wetlands were drained with the construction of the Ala Wai Canal. The reclaimed lands were subdivided into 5,000-square foot lots.
Matson Navigation Company bought the Moana in 1932; it paired with Matson’s other Waikīkī property, the Royal Hawaiian.
From 1935 until 1975, the Moana Hotel courtyard was home to the “Hawaii Calls” worldwide radio show, with its trademark sound of waves breaking in the distance.
The 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor and Second World War interrupted the flow of visitors to Waikīkī and the region becomes a rest and recreation area for soldiers and sailors coming and going to the war in the Pacific.
After the war, tourism thrived in the late-1940s and 50s, with the introduction of regularly scheduled airline service from the West Coast.
1959 brought two significant actions that shaped the present day make-up of Hawai‘i, (1) Statehood and (2) jet-liner service between the mainland US and Honolulu (Pan American Airways Boeing 707.) (That year, the Moana was sold to the Sheraton hotel chain.)
These two events helped guide and expand the fledgling visitor industry in the state into the number one industry that it is today. Tourism exploded. Steadily during the 1960s, 70s and 80s the millions of tourists added up, as did the new visitor accommodations in Waikīkī.
The Moana remains a constant reminder of the old Waikīkī.
In the center of the Moana’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 (about 7-feet at planting, it is now over 75-feet in height.)
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 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.
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.
After several renovations and additions, the hotel now accommodates 794 guest rooms, two restaurants, spa and a bunch of other hotel amenities.