What a great feeling to know that Coco Palms will finally come back. We can all reminisce what it was like then: the beauty, the pristine Hawaiian atmosphere created by Ms. Grace Guslander, married to Gus, of course, who came to Kauai from Philadelphia to manage this hotel. She gave what people wanted and looked forward to, and had people from all over the world come and stay at the hotel. The Shah of Iran, the emperor from Japan, Bing Crosby and many more celebrities enjoyed what Mrs. Guslander made the place to be.
In the early ‘50s Mr. Guslander had just 24 rooms, but increased slightly when Grace Buscher took over. She loved the thought of Coco Palms being Hawaiiana, and she made it that. She invented the tiki torch lighting ceremony when, according to my source, she was sitting on the beach one night and saw this man with a torch on the beach with his spear looking for some fishes. There, she invented the famous torch lighting ceremony people around the hotel arenas learned to do. She called this “The call to feast.”
Sadly they sold it out, but unfortunately the place was never kept to the ways the Guslanders kept it. And when the new owners started to do some repairs, it was a little too late to do repairs to some of the 400 rooms when Hurricane Iniki hit. Then Coco Palms just sat there for 24 years, going through different owners, and finally, the Coco Palms Hui from Honolulu made up of Chad Wate and Tyler Green bought it and has begun to do some cleaning up at the hotel.
Things changed in 24 years, and we know that in those years after Iniki hit Kauai and really changed the way we now live, the hotel will have a number of changes as well.
In 24 years, according to the 2014 census, the population increased from around 35,000 people to 71,000-plus people. The roads and the traffic increased considerably, the building codes changed, and the traffic lights and the traffic from Kuamoo Road grew immensely, making it almost impossible to get out onto the road.
Another factor that needs to be looked into, and may be an issue, will be the hotel building. I am not sure of the building code, but am I right to assume that anyone building anything that is near a flood zone area, like the river and the ocean, needs to be raised somewhere around 6 feet off the ground? If so, does it mean that the 400 rooms will be way less? What plans are being made to resolve some of the traffic problems near and around the Coco Palms area, and what adjustments are being made for those wanting to go to the beach from the hotel? Are they building a bridge, or are they going to shuttle people to the beach areas? If a bridge is being built, will Coco Palms be looking at the building codes which limits buildings to not exceed three stories high?
Don’t get me wrong. I love to see the Coco Palms being rebuilt and restored. There are still questions that need to be answered.
We can sit and really reflect back when Coco Palms was great, and I am sure it will be great again. I loved the fact that when you used to come in to the hotel, someone was there blowing the conch shell. You would see John Kauo there, and you would hear Larry Rivera performing his nightly show. He truly was and still is a fixture of Coco Palms. He has been the ambassador of the hotel for 64-plus years. The beautifully written book, “Coco Palms” by David Penhellow, is a book everyone should have. And who can ever forget Elvis Presley and “Blue Hawaii.” There are a lot of people who really and truly made the Coco Palms. Too many to be mentioned. I don’t really know their names, but I do know what they looked like.
Finally we will have a chance to see Coco Palms again, but probably in a different way. When this hotel is completed, we will be 100 percent back to normal.
What a great feeling.
Ray Domingo is a Lihue resident.