Coco Palms could be set for an encore
Updated On: Feb 24 2014 09:13:35 PM HST
It is arguably the most famous hotel in Hawaii history, but the Coco Palms on Kauai still sits dilapidated and rotting. Now, after decades of debate over what to do about it, a new plan has gained momentum that has many believing the Coco Palms will finally be reborn.
"Everybody -- everybody came here!" said Bob Jasper of the Coco Palms Tours and Tees.
The hotel was vibrant, even in Black and White, and the famous faces helped to create the legend of the Coco Palms.
"A lot of old customers will tell you it's really special because of the people," said Jasper.
For nearly 20 years, Jasper has enlightened the masses about the hotel on the edge of a coconut grove. In 1953, owner and manager Grace Guslander made that vision a reality by opening Kauai's Coco Palms off the banks of the Wailua River.
Her slice of paradise quickly turned into a Hollywood playground with stars like Frank Sinatra.
"Finally Ava Gardner dumped him 'cause he raised so much havoc on Kauai!" said Jasper.
There was Rita Hayworth, theater great Helen Hayes and even Bing Crosby. South Pacific's Mitzi Gaynor soaked up the sun at the hotel. Local stars like Don Ho -- a regular – also took a liking to the hotel. But one of the renowned guests was the King of Rock 'n Roll Elvis Presley.
"The Elvis Fans – they go cuckoo for this place. Every day tons of Elvis fans come through, and then they sit here and imagine their King," said Jasper.
Over the years, the film crews have used Coco Palms as their backdrop. Elvis' Blue Hawaii was arguably the most famous film created at the hotel among a dozen of movies and shows.
Fantasy Island's famous wedding scene was filmed at the hotel, along with the more recent Pirates of the Caribbean. Jeffery Rush and Johnny Depp were caught and tied up in the grove. The whimsical and animated South Park found Elvis in the ghostly halls of a Coco Palms in disrepair in an episode.
"This is the place in Hawaii. And it will be again," claims Jasper.
In 1992, happy times turned to hard times with a big wallop from Hurricane Iniki. More than 20 years later, it has become but a memory of the past.
"I think we're pretty well over Iniki. You know – 'til you drive by the Coco Palms!"
Everything, including the once famous lounge overlooking the lagoon, is now cracked, crumbling and crusted over.
"It's kind of this mysterious thing. So, we kind of took a step back, and we scratched our heads and said "How do we get our arms around this thing?'" said developer Tyler Greene of Bridge Real Estate.
Today, Greene and the Coco Palms Hui are taking on what others have abandoned.
Since Iniki, several developers have tried and failed to secure money, plans, or a consensus amongst the community on how to rebuild.
'We knew it's gonna take a special approach to be able to pull this off. So we sat back. We figured if we want to do this, we want to do this the right way," said Greene.
He says rosier market conditions made the timing right. An extended Iniki Ordinance also meant a fast-track on building permits. Then a plan that keeps the footprint of Coco Palms the same got the thumbs up from the community.
"So we've got a good foundation to start from," said Greene.
As bad as it looks, Greene says the bones of Coco Palms are good. So, scrap the wood and peel back the studs to rebuild, restyle and restore the iconic parts of the hotel. That includes restoring the intricate tile art depicting the ethnicities of the islands, the famous conch shell -- largest of its kind in the world -- and a cleanup of the grove to rewrite an ode to Hawaii's past.
"They're starting to do a whole lot of cleanup work around here. I mean, this was a jungle a week ago," said Jasper.
Greene says the project and hotel will generate about 1,700 jobs between rebuilding some 350 rooms, the bungalows, three restaurants -- including The Shell across the street -- and beefing up a cultural center for learning the history and the arts.
"It's just our hope that we do right by them," said Greene.
Jasper says they have been making t-shirts, building a new fan base online and preparing for a new chapter as the Coco Palms prepares for an encore.
"Of course I believe it! It's the first time I've believed it," said Jasper.
One concern with the development was how people would safely travel across the highway to restaurants and the beach. But, developers say they'll have a shuttle running almost constantly to accommodate guests.
As for a timeline, the developers say they expect building permits to clear by Fall 2014 and construction to begin before the end of the year.
Click here to see pictures of the Coco Palms from past to present.
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