On Saturday night, May 5, 1951, the Coco Palms Lodge opened in Wailua with a steak dinner and dancing to the music of Louise Kaneakua’s Hawaiian Orchestra on the outdoor pavilion by the lagoon.
Shannon Walker was the lodge manager, Norma Thompson supervised its dining room and Earl Rader served as chef.
Alfred Hills, its owner, had bought the lodge property in 1913, because its coconut grove reminded him of Tahiti, the place of his birth.
Hills then built his home between the lagoon and the ocean, which during WWII was opened to military personnel stationed on Kauai, and by 1951, he’d renovated his home and property into the Coco Palms Lodge.
The grove Hills so admired had been created by E. Lindemann in the 1890s by planting coconuts he’d imported from Samoa in deeply-dug holes filled with good soil and manure.
Many years earlier, during the 1830s and well into the 1840s, Lindemann’s and Hills’ property had been the site of Queen Deborah Kapule’s (1798?-1853) home, which also served as an inn for travelers. Behind her home lay taro patches, walled fish ponds and pastures.
If travelers were heading north, they’d stop at the southern shore of the river and call across for a canoe, and one of Deborah’s men would ferry them across, while horses swam behind or walked over the sandbar.
A fleet of canoes at the river’s edge was also available for upriver travel.
Once ashore, travelers would walk to Deborah’s home, where she welcomed them with much aloha.
One year after Hills died in 1953, his wife sold the lodge to Lyle Guslander.
Guslander’s wife, Grace Buscher Guslander, would transform Hills’ 24-room lodge with five employees into the best-known resort in all Hawai‘i — the Coco Palms Hotel.