I broke my foot at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, taking my 95-year-old mother there for her birthday. A step appeared out of nowhere on a vanishing corridor, and down I went.
I spent the lunch with my foot packed in ice, unable to find anything I liked on the menu. It turns out the food at the formal, newly remodeled Surf Room is expensive, with a poor selection, a far cry from the days when tables were right on the beach, Diamond Head prominently in view, the air casual and festive.
When I grew up in Honolulu, the Royal was the ne plus ultra of entertainment venues, particularly the green-and-gold Monarch Room, with its immense sliding doors screening it from the beach. There was a big Hawaiian music show with lots of staging effects, and dancing to the hotel orchestra, or "under the stars," at the Surf Room. In the '70s, a newsman friend used to listen to Ed Kinney from the beach.
I took dance lessons at Dan Wallace's cotillion, held in a little building back in the hotel's lush, 15-acre garden, a park with walkways and 40 varieties of trees and shrubs. It was the charming old Hawaii.
Then the heavy hand of profit maximization kicked in. The garden gave way to a shopping center full of luxury goods that nobody I knew ever went to, or does now. Worse, they built the gauche colossus of the Sheraton Hawaii next door, with its gargantuan lobby and escalators.
When it opened on Feb. 1, 1927, the Royal Hawaiian embodied everything that was grand about Waikiki. The magnificent new hotel had 400 rooms, each with a bath and a balcony with a mountain or ocean view.
Above it soared the 150-foot grand campanile with its Renaissance and Moorish overtones, making the hotel the tallest privately owned building in the territory. It was considered so high the Oahu Board of Supervisors overrode objections of the Planning Commission to raise the legal height limit.
"The Royal Hawaiian," wrote newsman Clifford Gessler, "architecturally and by virtue of geographical location, is inescapably the center of Waikiki life and cannot be ignored any more than its thrusting hulk and ornate style can fail to catch the eye from any angle within miles."
The Royal was "the" place to stay in the '30s Honolulu for members of Maui's plantation society going over for doctor's appointments or to shop. Rates were about $14 a day. The property, built in the royal coconut grove of Helumoa, which at one time consisted of nearly 10,000 trees, has always been the province of Hawaii's elite.
According to Don Hibbard in "The View from Diamond Head," Kamehameha made Helumoa his headquarters. During his 1795 assault on Oahu, the chief's war canoes stretched from there all the way to Waialae beyond Diamond Head.
In the plague of 1804, Kamehameha offered a sacrifice of "three human victims, four hundred hogs, as many coconuts and an equal number of branches of plantains" at the Papa'ena'ena heiau at the foot of Diamond Head, land that became the Walter Dillingham estate, La Pietra, now the Hawaii School for Girls.
Kamehameha V maintained a cottage built in 1866 at Helumoa, later remodeled into a large house by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. Lunalilo owned a Victorian home at Kaluaokau, mauka of Helumoa, which he willed to Queen Emma upon his death in 1874. She, according to Hibbard, had the heiau dismantled and its rocks used to wall the estate.
Kapi'olani and Kalakaua kept a thatched cottage on the beach nearby at Uluniu, adjacent to which, near where Kuhio Beach is now, was Lili'uokalani's Hamohamo. She told of days fishing in the morning and receptions in the afternoon.
My affinity for the Royal and its famous grove goes back to the days when my parents lived in a little apartment on Seaside Avenue when they first moved to Hawaii. I was pushed in my stroller many times in that garden. Maybe that's why I chose to take my mother back to the Royal to celebrate.
The meal concluded, we strolled (I limped) back on the exotic carpets of the gallery lounge to the portico with its grand columns and arches and old monkeypod soaring gracefully above the driveway.
It blocked the view of the looming Sheraton and the high-rise clamor of today's Waikiki. Just for a moment before our car appeared, I caught a hint of those languid, uncomplicated days, when the "Pink Palace" was the queen of Waikiki.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday.
She can be reached at email@example.com.