|Remembering and Reviving the
Coco Palms Hotel
From The Garden Island, October 15, 2004
Rivera leads support for rebuilding of Coco Palms Resort
By Lester Chang
. . . . .
LIHU'E -- When longtime Kaua'i entertainer Larry Rivera thinks back about some of the best times in his life, images of Coco Palms Resort come crystal clear.
More than 50 years ago, Rivera worked as front-desk clerk, cocktail waiter and waiter at the Coco Palms Lodge, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Alfred D. Hills, the forerunner of the Coco Palms Resort.
As an employee of the resort, Rivera blossomed into a professional entertainer, performed for Elvis Presley, occasionally led the narration for the exclusive torch-lighting ceremony, and imparted old-fashioned Hawaiian hospitality that he said defined hotelier Grace Guslander.
Rivera was among 20 supporters who attended a public hearing of the Kaua'i Planning Commission convened Tuesday on a multi-million-dollar proposal by Coco Palms LLC to renovate and redevelop the old Coco Palms.
Should the county commission grant the permits, Hawai'i's most elegant hotel in the 1950s and 1960s would be resurrected.
Rivera said the hotel symbolized the best of the aloha spirit and hospitality in Hawai'i, and believes Coco Palms, LLC leader Richard Weiser and his group will bring the hotel back to its former glory as the premier Polynesian-style resort in the Pacific.
Rivera said he began working at the Coco Palms Lodge on Sept. 13, 1951, then went into the Army in the early 1950s and returned to Kaua'i after the Korean conflict ended.
Rivera said he remembered the kindness of Guslander, who along with her husband, Lyle, operated the hotel, and lifted it to prominence worldwide. She gave a returning military veteran a job, Rivera said with pride.
"Mrs. Guslander reminded me of the queen (Deborah Kapule) because she carried on traditions in the Hawaiian way," Rivera said. The resort is located on grounds that were once the home to Queen Deborah Kapule, Kaua'i's last queen and the wife of King Kaumuali'i.
Today, Rivera conducts "Blue Hawaii" weddings at the resort, in tribute to Elvis Presley. He was married aboard a flower-festooned craft that floated down a lagoon at the resort in the 1961 movie "Blue Hawaii," which boosted the fame and appeal of the resort.
Rivera's daughter, Ilima Fernandez, accompanied Rivera to the public hearing, and was ready also to voice her support for the project.
Coco Palms, LLC leaders are seeking a special management area use permit, a project development use permit, a variance permit and a Class IV Zoning permit for the 33-acre project.
The key focus of the renovation project is to recapture the nostalgia and the Polynesian character of the one-time flagship hotel of Kaua'i, according to county documents.
The owners want to keep the rural feel of the resort, noting that none of the planned buildings will be higher than that of existing coconut trees.
The owners envision a project of 103 hotel suites and 200 multi-family residential condominium units, retail shops, a spa, a museum, restaurants, office space, meeting rooms and 715 parking stalls located in the basement of condominium buildings and in a four-level parking structure.
Documents on the project submitted to the Kaua'i Planning Department also propose:
An archeological survey done by Cultural Surveys Hawaii, Inc., in May revealed no burial sites.
Those conducting the survey did find a "cultural layer," presumably an area used by pre-contact Hawaiians, and remains of a historic fishpond.
The hotel originally opened on Jan. 25, 1953, with 24 rooms. Led by hoteliers Grace and Lyle Guslander, the resort expanded to 416 rooms by the mid-1970s, but the room count dropped to 393 by 1984.
In 1985, Wailua Associates acquired the resort from the Guslander/Amfac group.
Lester Chang, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or mailto:email@example.com.
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