|Remembering and Reviving the
Coco Palms Hotel
From The Honolulu Advertiser, Page D-1, February 27, 1982:
Coco Palms is a legend of a resort
KAUAI Hawaii - You're amazing, Grace.
Grace Guslander, ruler of the Lilliputian land known as Coco Palms. is as absolute as any ruler in the Middle Ages. The Word according to Grace is the only word that counts at Coco Palms. Today, 30 years after Grace and her husband, Gus, bought a tiny tumble-down motel on the island of Kauai, Coco Palms has made it, and made it big.
The resort, which the Guslanders sold to the giant Fortune 500 Amfac Corporation in 1969, is one of the major success stories of Hawaiian tourism, and Grace, as general manager, is still running the place as her personal fiefdom.
While the rest of Hawaii's resorts suffer the outrageous fortunes of a recession, Coco Palms continues to have one of the highest occupancy rates in the country - most of it repeat business.
Grace and Coco Palms have reached nearly cult status in Hawaii. Stories about her and her property are legion.
The story of the wood ducks is one of the better ones. Grace paid nearly $3,000 for wood ducks to add color to the lagoon on her property Much to the delight of the ducks - and the horror of Grace - the lagoon was filled with beautifully elegant water lilies. The ducks ate the lilies, so Grace put a bounty on their heads. Guests were encouraged to catch the ducks a process that took weeks and were paid for their success.
It became a wild game hunt of farcical proportions, but the ducks were eventually caught and today reside inside the fence of the Coco Palms zoo (which also features a pair of gibbons named Gus and Little Grace).
Yesterday's wood ducks are today's snails. These days, every Wednesday at Coco Palms, guests are given plastic gloves, a plastic pickle bucket and a stick and are set loose to catch the African snails which have been eating a bit too much of the resort's foliage.
The guest who comes back with the most snails (during the first week of the hunt 188 pounds of snails were gathered up) earns a free dinner at the resort's Coconut Palace restaurant.
Perhaps the tale of the water buffalo tells best how much the staff relies on Grace. She purchased a water buffalo which she used to give rides to her guests, and decorated it with ornaments at. Christmas as sort. of an overweight reindeer to entertain her customers. When Grace was off the island the water buffalo (one of her personal favorites) died. No one on the staff wanted to take the responsibility for doing away with the carcass, so the poor old buffalo was propped up against a fence until Grace returned to dispose of the beast.
Nothing happens at Coco Palms without Grace.
Her personal stamp is seen everywhere at the hotel. Killer clam shells are used for sinks. (They are called, killer clam shells, one staff member jokes, because if you try to wash your. face in them, they will slit your throat.) Why killer clam shells? Grace likes them.
In one of the suites of the resort there is a full-sized leopard (not alive, thank goodness). Why? Because Grace likes it.
One wing of the hotel is named the frog wing and there are frogs - in the wallpaper, on the door. forming ashtrays -everywhere. Why? Because . you know.
"Travel is fantasy, something we thought of long before that awful television program (`Fantasy Island')," says Grace. "When people go home what'll they tell their friends? They'll tell them about the killer clam shells and the leopard."
Grace uses many marketing techniques to keep her people coming back. Nightly cocktail parties for regulars, honeymooners and those from foreign lands are held, and frequent. complimentary banquets for particularly good customers guarantee that nobody will forget Grace - or Coco Palms. Invitations to her intimate dinner parties, with some of Hawaii's most influential residents mixing with carefully selected guests, are among the most sought-after on Kauai.
If she had done nothing else, Grace would always be famous in Hawaii for her torch-lighting ceremony. She was the first to revive the ancient ceremony, and it is always her voice that drifts through the huge palm tree plantation of Coco Palms as native Hawaiian runners dash through the grove lighting torches as a sign of Hawaiian hospitality. Many of the hotels of Hawaii have copied the practice, but none bring it off with the style of Coco Palms.
Although Grace relied on a legend as the basis for her torch-lighting ceremony, she does not hesitant to invent one of her own if the circumstances demand. One such circumstance came about when guests complained about the noise the frogs in the lagoon made enough to keep them awake in the pre-air-conditioned days at Coco Palms. Grace could not find a legend about the frogs, so she commissioned one, a special legend that justified and romanticized the frogs and their infernal noise. Even today it can be found in the guest rooms, although the frogs have moved on.
Grace (her husband spends most of his time supervising their West Coast business interests) continues to follow a rigid regimen, even at 71. She believes in lucky numbers, especially 5 and 8, so she begins her day with a wake-up call at 5:58 a.m.
"And woe be unto you if you call at 6," a hotel employee moans.
From that moment on, it is non-stop work. She supervises daily hotel activities until 6 p.m., when she changes into a formal muumuu, places a huge carnation lei around her neck, and acts as hostess for the 150 guests at her nightly cocktail party.
She greets most of her guests by name. Grace is famous for remembering names and keeps maps in her office of the hometowns of guests who return annually, looking up the addresses of new guests to see if they might be neighbors of old ones.
At a recent hotel anniversary party when a long-time guest had his usual room reserved but did not show up, Grace phoned his home. There was no answer. She checked her records, found another former guest who resided nearby, telephoned and asked if she would check on the missing guest. The neighbor discovered the man dead in his house, his bags all packed for his annual visit to Coco Palms.
After greeting her guests at the cocktail party, Grace slips away. Soon, her voice flows melodically out of hidden speakers as she narrates the torchlighting ceremony. After her dramatic performance she is whisked away by electric cart to preside at her very select formal dinner party.
After dinner she puts in another hour of work, then gets a few hours sleep, before she arises at 5:58 a.m. to face another day's challenges -including wood ducks, water buffaloes, snails and frogs, no doubt.
|All original material © 2000 Cisan Online Ventures/Cisan.Com|