What we think of today as the “Royal Hawaiian Hotel” actually is the second hotel of like name (the first one was in downtown Honolulu – the location of the State Art Museum and office) and, the site of the present Royal Hawaiian used to be the home of the Seaside Hotel.
But there was a link between the site and the hotel’s name. In the 1890s, the Seaside Hotel was a beach annex to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel located at Richards and Hotel streets.
There is now another “Seaside Hotel” in Waikīkī, but that’s different from the hotel we are discussing here. That other “Seaside” was built in 1970 and has been used by United Airlines as a perk for employees and company retirees.
This Seaside was really on the water and until the Royal Hawaiian took its place, it was one of the earliest hotels in Waikīkī.
It was situated on 10 coconut-covered oceanfront acres on one of the best parts of Waikīkī Beach (Kamehameha V (and others) had a residence here, on land known as Helumoa.)
It was the only Honolulu hotel where guests were accommodated in separate and distinct cottages (bungalows and tent houses.) Each was named for prominent people who stayed there (one was the Alice Roosevelt Longworth cottage – named for Teddy Roosevelt’s cigar-smoking daughter.)
It was marveled as “folksy, family-style living”) and it was a favorite of author, Jack London, who noted, “The older I grow, the oftener I come back, and the longer I stay.” (SagaOfSandwichIslands)
In 1907, the Seaside Hotel opened on the property, and was later acquired by Alexander Young’s Territorial Hotel Company, which operated the Alexander Young hotel in downtown Honolulu.
In 1924, the Seaside Hotel’s lease of the land at Helumoa was soon to expire and the land’s owners (Bishop Estate) put out a request for proposals to build a hotel.
Matson Navigation Co. had big plans to build luxury ocean liners to bring wealthy tourists to Hawaiʻi. But, they needed a hotel equally lavish at Waikīkī.
Soon Matson’s luxury ocean liner and its 650 wealthy passengers would be arriving in Honolulu every two weeks and the two largest hotels, the Alexander Hotel and the Moana, could not accommodate all of them. The availability of the Bishop Estate land began putting wheels into motion.
In March 1925, William Roth, Manager of Matson Navigation Company, his wife Lurline (whose maiden name was Matson) and Mrs. William Matson, the widow of the founder of Matson Navigation Company, arrived in Honolulu for a three-week stay so that Roth could attend the annual Matson conference.
Famous New York-based architect Charles V. Wetmore also arrived in Honolulu at the invitation of Matson Navigation Company leadership.
Wetmore advised Matson Navigation that “Honolulu is one of the wonder spots of the world, and it should have a hotel that is as much of an attraction as the city itself.”
Castle & Cooke, Matson Navigation and the Territorial Hotel Company successfully proposed a plan to build a luxury hotel, with 400 rooms, at a cost of $2 million on the parcel of Waikīkī beach to be leased from the Bishop Estate.
The ground-breaking ceremony took place on July 26, 1925, before a building permit was issued or a contract was signed with the building contractor, Ralph Wooley. By the time the contract was executed on September 5, 1925, some three hundred men were already at work.
The building permit still was not signed by August, and the City withheld granting it unless the building codes were first revised (high rises were not, then, permitted.) The planning commission did not want to revise the building code to allow high rises on Waikīkī beach.
The City and County Board of Supervisors disregarded their concerns and allowed the increase in heights. This would forever change the landscape of Waikīkī, as the decision also allowed much taller highrises to be built in the area.
The opening of the Waikīkī Royal Hawaiian on February 1, 1927, ushered in a new era of luxurious resort travel to Hawai‘i. The six-story, 400-room structure was fashioned in a Spanish-Moorish style, popular during the period and influenced by screen star Rudolph Valentino.
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin described the newly opened Royal Hawaiian as “the first resort hostelry in America.”