“If you are going to be very grand, go to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. It's quite the last word, financially and otherwise.” So proclaimed the pamphlet Highlights on Honolulu (1930). A world-class hotel for a world-class destination, the four-hundred-room Royal Hawaiian opened on February 1, 1927, and changed the character of Waikiki forever. As the largest construction project in the Pacific at the time, the five-million-dollar hotel represented a quantum leap for the visitor industry. Its rate of $14 per night, American plan, in 1929 was 40 percent higher than its nearest competitor, the Moana (OA143). Catering to an affluent clientele, its guests included Rockefellers, Fords, du Ponts, Henry J. Kaiser, the Shah of Iran, Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Al Jolson, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and a host of other celebrities.
Dwarfed by more recent high-rises, the “pink palace,” as it was called, remains a Waikiki landmark. A central lobby runs perpendicular to U-shaped wings, resulting in courtyards on all four sides, with one wing parallel to the beach. The Spanish Mission Revival building features bamboo awnings over the windows and round-arched arcades at front and rear. Its 150-foot-high campanile predicated raising Honolulu's building height limits.
During World War II, the hotel served as a rest and recreation center primarily for naval aviators and submariners. Following the war, San Francisco architect Dailey was given charge of the two-million-dollar remodeling. The interior was gutted and the original dining wing demolished, making way for a new one. The sixteen-story Royal Tower wing was added in 1969, and the hotel was refurbished in 2009, following the designs of WCIT Architecture.