It started out as the Hawaiian Hotel, but the name was changed to Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
This first “Royal Hawaiian Hotel” was not in Waikīkī. It was in downtown Honolulu where the “One Capitol Place” building now stands (present home to the Hawai‘i State Art Museum and state offices.)
In 1872, King Kamehameha V (Lot Kapuāiwa) arranged to designate the first “Royal Hawaiian Hotel” at the corner of Richards and Hotel Street. He added the “Royal” to the name to give it a regal feel.
During his reign (1863 to 1872,) foreign travel to the islands continued to grow. One of those travelers, Mark Twain, came to Hawaii in March 1866 and stayed for four months writing letters back to the Sacramento Union describing his experience. He described the King as follows:
“He was a wise sovereign; he had seen something of the world; he was educated & accomplished, & he tried hard to do well by his people, & succeeded. There was no trivial royal nonsense about him; He dressed plainly, poked about Honolulu, night or day, on his old horse, unattended; he was popular, greatly respected, and even beloved.”
Queen Victoria sent her second son Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on a state visit in 1869. The arrival and departure of Twain, the Duke of Edinburgh and others included envoys, politicians, merchants and opportunists, illustrated the need for good hotel accommodations.
The Hawaiian Hotel was proposed in 1865 but not under construction until 1871. The Hotel is located on the corner of Hotel Street and Richards Street.
A law was passed by the Legislative Assembly in 1872 (Laws of His Majesty Kamehameha V, King of the Hawaiian Islands) that funded and authorized the acquisition of the hotel by the Hawaiian government:
“WHEREAS a Public Hotel has been erected at Honolulu, known at present as the Hawaiian Hotel: And whereas the said Hotel has been erected solely for the public benefit and not for the profit of the projectors; And whereas it appears proper, just and advisable that the construction of the said Hotel shall be assumed as a public enterprise, and the ground purchased for the purpose, as well as the buildings thereon situated, should be public property”.
“Upon the issuing of the Bonds as in the preceding Section provided, the Minister of the Interior is hereby directed to purchase for the said sum of One Hundred and Sixteen Thousand Dollars, the real and personal property now pertaining and constituting the Hawaiian Hotel, and to receive good and sufficient Conveyances and Bills of Sale for the same, conveying and transferring the said property to the Hawaiian Government.”
The Royal Hawaiian Hotel was formally opened with a subscription ball on February 29, 1872, in all its splendor and befitting any visiting dignitary.
Advertisement in ‘The Friend’ – January 1, 1888:
“THE ROYAL HAWAIIAN HOTEL is one of the leading architectural structures of Honolulu. The grounds upon which it stands comprise an entire square of about four acres, fronting on Hotel Street. This large area affords ample room for a lawn and beautiful walks, which are laid out most artistically with flowering plants and tropical trees. There are twelve pretty cottages within this charming enclosure, all under the Hotel management. The Hotel and cottages afford accommodations for 200 guests. The basement of the Hotel contains the finest billiard hall in the city, also a first-class bar, well stocked with fine mines and liquors.
The main entrance is on the second floor, to the right of which are the elegantly furnished parlors. A broad passage-way leads from the main hall to the dining-room. These apartments open on to broad verandas, where a magnificent view of the Nu‘uanu Mountains may be seen through the wealth of tropical foliage that surrounds the balconies.
The fare dispensed is the best the market affords, and is first-class in all respects.
Hotel and cottages are supplied with pure water from an artesian well on the premises. The Clerk’s office is furnished with the Telephone, by which communication is had with the leading business firms of the city.
EVERY EFFORT HAS BEEN MADE,
And Money Lavishly Expended under the Present able Management
To MAKE THIS ESTABLISHMENT
“The Model Family Hotel”
A REPUTATION IT NOW ENJOYS AND MOST JUSTLY MERITS.”
By the 1900s, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel lost its guests to the newer Alexander Young Hotel, a couple blocks away; in 1917 the Royal Hawaiian Hotel was converted to a YMCA building.
The building was demolished in 1926 and a new YMCA in a similar style was built in its place. During World War I, it was converted into the present Armed Forces YMCA.
The Hawaiian Hotel was not the only ambitious building project that Kamehameha V had initiated. The cornerstone of the Aliʻiōlani Hale was laid in 1872 and the building completed in 1874. Currently, it is the home of the Hawaiʻi State Supreme Court and the statue of Kamehameha the Great.
The image shows the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in downtown Honolulu. In addition, I have added other images/maps of the property in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook page.