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The Royal Hawaiian rethinks (and re-pinks) its future

An updated Oahu landmark makes its return.

March 01, 2009|Beverly Beyette

HONOLULU — The Pink Palace of the Pacific isn't quite as pink anymore.

The signature coral pink facade of the Royal Hawaiian hotel -- as much a part of Waikiki as Diamond Head and beach boys -- hasn't been tinkered with, but a multimillion-dollar renovation has given guest rooms and public spaces a more contemporary take.

"Pink on top of pink on top of pink was not the right way to celebrate its history," said Rob Iopa, president of Honolulu-based WCIT Architecture, the project architects. There are still hints of pink throughout the interior, but "it's not necessarily your grandmother's pink -- a little hotter in flavor and intensity, with a new kind of boldness," Iopa said.

The 528-room hotel, which closed June 1, celebrated a soft reopening Jan. 20 with a gala Aloha Inaugural Ball honoring native son Barack Obama.

The Royal, a former Sheraton that has been re-branded as a member of Starwood Hotels & Resorts' Luxury Collection, is a Spanish-Moorish icon perched on 14 oceanfront acres in the heart of Waikiki. But at 82, it was an aging icon in need of change.

The challenge: to preserve its heritage while bringing it up to standards that today's well-heeled traveler expects.

And what a heritage. In the '20s and '30s everybody was here and on the move: doing archery and lawn bowling and dancing to the music of the Royal Hawaiian Band. They came with their steamer trunks and their servants. And try to imagine the scene at the gala opening in January 1927 -- a pageant depicting the arrival of King Kamehameha I on Oahu, complete with 15 warriors carrying a fleet of canoes.

I checked into the hotel on inauguration day for a two-night stay, having booked a garden room in the original six-story building at a rate of $364 a night. As I drove under the porte-cochere, I was met by two pink-jacketed attendants who welcomed me back and said how nice it was to see me again. (A polite gesture, although I hadn't stayed here since the '70s.) A hotel "ambassador" escorted me through the grand archway and up the stairs to check-in, which was discreetly handled at a small koa wood desk. I was offered cold juice and greeted with a lei of white orchids. He then took me on a tour of the property.

I was lucky. Mine was a corner room with a glimpse of the ocean. A bellman brought my bag and filled the ice bucket. In a few minutes, someone appeared at the door with a mini-loaf of homemade nut bread, which became my breakfast for the next two days.

The room was small, with a small marble bath with stall shower and limited counter space. But it had nice high ceilings, a ceiling fan, two closets, a coffee maker, safe, iron and board, Frette linens, Wi-Fi and flat-screen TV. In one closet hung two plush pink terry robes. Missing: a mini-bar and a good reading light.

To tone down the pink throughout the hotel -- and to replace the pink floral wallpaper in guest rooms -- the architects and designers introduced a color scheme of moss green and chocolate, accented with a palette of pinks. The decor in my room was busy, with a pair of chairs in a pink-accented floral pattern, a moss green rug with swirls of chocolate, draperies in a broad horizontal stripe and stylized pineapple wallpaper in silver and pink on the wall behind the bed. The furniture was dark wood.

Although this is a luxury hotel with prices to match, there was no turndown service, no chocolate on my pillow and no guest directory in the room.

Some nice changes have come to the public rooms. The architects moved the registration area from the west to the east side of the lobby, where a concierge office had been. A wall was removed to open the room onto the Coconut Grove Lanai and bring more light into the interior. Shifting the registration area made it possible to rethink the lobby as a gracious place with inviting seating groups, not just a space to walk through.

The new pinks change subtly from space to space -- terra-cotta pink, seashell pink, fuchsia, shades more robust than the former powder pink. And the green and brown? A nod to the island's earthy elements.

The Monarch Room has been de-pinked considerably with the removal of the pink velvet poufs that adorned the capitals of the columns. The guest room corridors, formerly pink, have been repainted a neutral tan, with chocolate-colored grass cloth.

The Royal Hawaiian is part of Hawaii's history. It sits on property that once was a playground for King Kamehameha I and was built by Matson Navigation Co. to provide luxe lodgings for passengers sailing to Hawaii on its ships. During World War II, its beach wrapped in barbed wire, it was leased to the Navy as an R&R destination for war-weary sailors. It has hosted the Beatles, Franklin Roosevelt and Hollywood luminaries.

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