Hilton Hawaiian Village's Rainbow Tower undergoes makeover

Published On: Aug 06 2014 03:04:36 AM HST   Updated On: Jun 24 2014 01:26:38 PM HST

Whether you're on the water, on the beach or on the street, one building in Waikiki always seems to stand out.

Click here to watch Ashley Moser's story.

The Rainbow Tower at the Hilton Hawaiian Village has been an unmistakable landmark for decades.

The 16,000 hand-painted tiles that make up the Hilton Hawaiian's mosaic have been a focal point in Waikiki since 1968. Lately, they've been showing their age. But a fixer-upper on this scale is much easier said than done.

"To try and do something like this to get the grandeur and scale of it and still make it so that it sparkled was a real challenge," said Tony Sheets, the son of artist Millard Sheets.

Forty-six years after his dad designed the original mosaics, Tony Sheets said the new one looks better than ever.

"From afar, it just looks like a big, beautiful shape. But when you get up close you see the detail. That's what gives it the excitement, instead of the flat color," Tony Sheets said.

Hotel officials decided to replicate the original after years of it being exposed to the elements. Some tiles to became loose, while others faded.

"It was just starting to get dull from the salty air and things like that, and we wanted to restore it to its original beauty," said Jerry Gibson, with Hilton Hawaii.

To brighten it up, crews removed each tile on both sides of the tower, completed a detailed review of each piece and compared the old and the new using an extensive array of photographs.

The tiles were originally 12 by 12 inches. The new pieces are 8 by 8 inches, bringing the count up to 31,000 tiles overall.

Crews are also adding an expansion joint made of silicone to every two floors. They said it will prevent the pieces from buckling while materials expand and contrast with Hawaii's ever-changing weather.

Keeping up the art piece will require some monitoring. Tile experts said they'll do some acoustic sounding, which means they'll tap on the tiles to see if they're getting loose.

Hotel officials are hopeful that those tests will come back with good results.

Especially with a hefty price tag of $4.25 million. "That's what it costs to put it up. Thirty-one-thousand and all the lighting and the design. And it sounds expensive  but if you can believe all the hours that went into it, you'd say we did pretty well," Tony Sheets said.

The project also included adding a personal stamp from Tony Sheets. He was able to create wave designs on the mauka mosaic, something he says would have made his father proud.

"He would be so excited. It was the thrill then, it was a thrill now," Tony Sheets said.

The project also includes a new lighting system.  Instead of spotlights shining up onto the mosaics, the whole art piece is lined with lights from top to bottom.

PHOTOS: Renovating the Hilton mosaic

Click here to see more photos of the mosaic renovation.


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