Coco Palms Revisited

Coco Palms Revisited

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See our most recent update on Coco Palms.

The Coco Palms Resort Kauai redevelopment remains on track. Yesterday (12/18/13) the Kauai County Council approved a two year delay that will allow developers to continue with their plans. They intend to demolish the iconic Hawaii hotel, now an eyesore, and rebuild it to its pre-Hurricane Iniki elegance.

The bill allows for development of a “legally nonconforming structure to be constructed” which eases setback and other rules which would otherwise apply.

The ordinance, according to county documents, allows for “a legally nonconforming structure to be reconstructed to its condition prior to Hurricane Iniki.”

We’re still waiting to here specifics of the redevelopment plan and what parts of the original structures may be saved.

Remember that it isn’t too late to walk behind the chain link fence and see where some of the biggest names of the 1950′s and 1960′s stayed before jet service came to the islands. Daily tours continue to be offered Monday-Friday for $20 and include a visit to the largest coconut grove in the islands and Elvis Presley’s bungalow. No reservations are needed. Show up at 1:45pm at the hotel parking lot. For information, call the Coco Coco Palms tour office at (808) 346-2048.

Coco Palms History

This area was the ancestral home of Kauai Ali’i (royalty). As a Kauai resort it became one of the most prominent in the islands before and after statehood under the careful watch of hotelier Grace Guslander.

Mitzi Gaynor remembers Coco Palms quite well.  She stayed in one the bungalows during filming of South Pacific. On her visit to Kauai, the first in 50 years, she lamented the condition of the resort and the loss it represents to Hawaii.

Another person with memories of Coco Palms is Larry Rivera who has become the unofficial caretaker of the resort.

Larry started as a busboy at Coco Palms 57 years ago and was on hand to sing and talk to us. When you hear him speak and look in his eyes, you see in him the magic of a time long passed.  Larry doesn’t see an empty resort but a place that is still alive.  He’s passionate about the Coco Palms and wants the property opened again.

Photos from the Coco Palms Tour.

Overgrown elephant grass hides the once sought after bungalows, weeds cover markers of famous people who planted trees here (like Jackie Kennedy Onassis), and the lounge where Elvis sang is empty.

If you ever stayed at Coco Palms, please comment with your stories and memories.

How you can tour the Coco Palms:

1.  Show up at the hotel parking lot at 1:45pm, Monday through Friday, for a 2 hour tour. Call 808-346-2048 for details.

2.  Schedule a Blue Hawaii wedding or renewal ceremony on the lagoon: Contact Larry Rivera at LarryRivera@hawaiian.net.

Read the story of the Coco Palms:

Author David Penhallow has written, The Story of the Coco Palms Resort: The Grace Buscher Guslander Years 1953-1985.  It’s the definitive history of the resort and includes a large selection of photographs from the period.  Available at Amazon for $29.95 with free shipping.

Love in the Ruins, an article from the Wall Street Journal about Coco Palms Resort, Larry Rivera and his Blue Hawaii weddings.

Photo Descriptions (clockwise from top right): (1) Lobby staircase, (2) location of Mai Tai reception for return guests hosted by Grace Guslander, (3) Lobby interior, and (4) Lagoon where Elvis Presley sang Blue Hawaii.




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25 Comments

  1. Susan Morris (9 months ago)

    I got to stay at Coco Palms in the 70s. I was on an escorted tour, when our guide told us that our hotel had been overbooked. He wanted volunteers to stay at Coco Palms instead. I jumped at the chance! Since this was my first trip to Kauai, I had read a lot of information about the resort and the island. I knew Elvis had stayed and filmed there. I was hooked.

    I hope to visit again and can hardly wait to see the resort restored to what it once was.

    Mahalo

  2. Agnes Carlos (9 months ago)

    We got married on May 24, 1986 and spent our honeymoon at the Coco Palms. We had a wonderful time and glad we had the chance to stay there.

    We went back to visit Kauai in 2007 and was sad to see what the Iniki hurricane did to the place. Although our silver anniversary was back in 2011, we would like celebrate by coming back to the Coco Palms when it is ccompleted.

  3. Richard (9 months ago)

    My wife and I went to Hawaii on our honeymoon in 1975 and our first night was on Kauai at the Cocopalms resort. We arrived late and were exhausted so went right to our room, opened the windows and went to bed. While waiting to go to sleep we heard music coming up from the dining area and thought what beautiful music. It was Larry Rivera doing his show.
    Due to jet lag we were up at 4 am but everything was closed. At 6am they opened a coffee shop and we met Larry Rivera who ran the coffee shop not knowing he was the entertainer from the night before.
    We have been friends ever since

  4. Colleen (9 months ago)

    Any idea how long it will be before construction is finished? May postpone Kauai visit until they open the new hotel. :0) Love the idea that it will look the it did previously. Wonderful idea.
    Mahalo for the update.

    • Beat of Hawaii (9 months ago)

      Hi Colleen.

      Please don’t wait – we’re waiting to see you.

      Honestly it could be 3+ years.

      Aloha!

  5. Chris (9 months ago)

    Stayed there on my only visit to Kauai. A bit beat up by then but still a classic, nice to see it gets a second life. Loved the oyster shell basins!

  6. Darlingoldie (9 months ago)

    Coco Palms holds so much of Hawaii in its splendor and beauty. Having the most blessed opportunity to be at this resort at its height of magnificence , with Elvis and Joan Blackman and so many others long gone was living a dream. Had I won this most recent lottery my priority would have been to help restore her. As you can tell from all the comments here…Coco Palms is Hawaii! Hawaii is Aloha.
    Just a funny aside…when the rumors surfaced that Elvis had not died and was hiding out somewhere my first comment was, “did anyone check the bungalow at Coco Palms?” When I return I will be sure to take the tour. I will also go over to Hanalai looking for the Plantation, which too is long gone. So aloha to all those that want to experience the very best..I envy you that you will be apart of raising Coco Palms from the ashes.

  7. Raymar (9 months ago)

    My mother always wanted to visit Hawaii and we were able to bring her to Hawaii the year Elvis Died and we stayed at the coco palms and enjoyed our stay very much. We hope it gets restored because it housed a lot of history and was a great place to stay.

  8. Anna Knutson (10 months ago)

    I stayed here in 1970 when I was 8 years old. I spent a lot of my time on the lookout for Elvis! I visited Kauai 5 years ago and was so sad to see what had become of the Coco Palms. I’ll be planning a return trip when it is up and running again!

  9. Robert Natale (12 months ago)

    We stayed there for 4 days in the mid to late 80′s. It was the 2nd. stop of a 3 island tour. It ruined me for ANYWHERE I’ve ever stayed since. Everything about the place is second to none. Once I learned the history of the place & how Grace ran everything I was hooked. I’ve never forgotten my experience there. We tried to re turn a few yrs. later for a week the hurricane had already done its damage. I was really disappointed. Bob Hope’s famous line “thanks for the memories, Coco Palms”. I’ve been in some fabulous hotels in my life, such as Las Vegas etc. but they are man made. You don’t have that feeling at the Coco Palms. Nature & Grace created this place. We’re up in age now & I don’t care to travel very far. At least I was lucky enough stumble into this place by accident in my lifetime.

  10. Karen Bean (1 year ago)

    My mom, dad, husband, and myself stayed at the Coco Palms in July of 1973. We were spending a week on each of the Hawaiian islands. The stay at the Coco Palms was by far the highlight of our vacation. From the time we checked in to the time we left, we had a great time. It all started with the welcome pineapple and the invitation to Grace Guslander’s welcome cocktail party. I felt like I was in a segment from South Pacific. We met actress Ann Francis and Grace Guslander at the party. Beautiful, gracious ladies. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening torch lighting ceremony earlier. We ended our evening at the Coconut Lounge and enjoyed the great entertainment. We came back in 1975. Nothing had changed. We still received gracious service from everyone. However, my husband and I wanted to bring our daughter to Kauai to see the Coco Palms in 1992, but our plane was turned around because of hurricane Iniki. Please restore!
    We would love to come back to all of those great memories.

  11. Carol Allen (1 year ago)

    I was fortunate to have been a tour escort for AITS from 1968-70 and brought hundreds of people to Hawaii. My favorite place was Coco Palms Resort. As soon as you set foot on the property, the past seemed to come alive and engulf you. As the sun set and the conch shell blew, the torchlight runners began their run between the coconut trees lighting the way….and of course the reflections in the lagoon were lasting memories as well. I spent many happy hours in the Coconut Palace lounge visiting friends and enjoying the local hospitality. I am so happy that finally, some investors were found that believe in a complete restoration of this wonderful magical place. In my opinion, Coco Palms IS Hawaii!

  12. Karen Daughtry (1 year ago)

    The tour is free on Fridays for Kamaiiana. With Hawaii state ID or driver’s license.

  13. Bob J (4 years ago)

    Rob,
    I’m happy to say that almost all the clamshell sinks are still intact. Some that are gone are safeguarded off the property in storage. Each sink weighs well over 100 lbs, therefore, very difficult to steal.

  14. Bronwyn Leilani Duteil (4 years ago)

    I’m a Maui girl at heart :0) my Tutu’s home is on the Valley Isle. My Mother is from the island of O’ahu, brought to the mainland as a child. She raised me here but took me home frequently throughout my childhood. As a teenager I spent every Christmas in Hawai’i, and also visited during the summer some years. We stayed at the Coco Palms whenever on Kaua’i. My parents are both huge Elvis fans, and I think this might’ve been part of the reason. I remember visiting the bungalow where he used to stay. My Father and I would rise early in the morning, to head down to the beach and take sunrise photos. We would go to dinner at night and I have many pictures by the lagoon. I remember going to Larry Rivera’s show and getting his album autographed, our pictures taken. His daughter is also named Leilani…and she is a kumu hula, as well as a singer. The loss of the Coco Palms Hotel is enormous. A trip down memory lane, such nostalgia from the glamour of Hollywood, mixed with dreams of an island paradise. I am sad that it has never reopened. There will never be another place like it. Such a shame…but such wonderful memories.
    A standard hula that I dance, “Beautiful Kaua’i” was written here during a visit by Randy Farden, of the famous Farden family singers. He was inspired by the view from his room in 1967.
    Here is a nice article written by Derek Rivera, “Uncle” Larry’s son – http://www.k12.hi.us/~kapaahs/foundation/alumniprofilelr.html

  15. Bob J (4 years ago)

    In the next couple of weeks, Coco Palms will be open for tours Monday thru Fridays at noon and 2 pm. Visitors will be $10.00 per person, Kauai residents with Hawaiian ID will be free. Keep watching for the signs.

  16. Paul L (4 years ago)

    My Parents and I stayed at the Coco Palms back in 1972. 20 yrs
    later on my Honeymoon, my Wife and I flew into Kauai on 9/10/92. We had one lovely nite (dinner, the torch-lighting ceremony, etc.), then Iniki came roaring thru on September 11, 1992! (Catch that date). My wife knew the Coco Palms only from
    BLUE HAWAII, and she could’nt believe the beauty of the place. We were back on Kauai 5 yrs later, and were able to see the grounds again. I hope that the hotel can be restored (if Possible ) to it’s former splendor!

  17. Robert W. from NYC (4 years ago)

    I visited the Coco Palms with my family in 2007 and the property caretaker was nice enough to give us a tour. Very nice guy, indeed! The grounds were really in bad shape, but at the time of our visit, there was great hope that the grounds were going to be soon redeveloped. The caretaker even showed me a copy of the plans. We were all so optimistic back then only to have our hopes shattered a few months later when the redevelopment plans fell through.

    Anyway, for those of you who have a Flickr account you can see my pictures of the visit at this link!! http://www.flickr.com/photos/22399124@N08/

    Enjoy!!

  18. Colleen (4 years ago)

    If it were to reopen as a State Park – would there be any restoration done? To allow it to decay further would be a shame. What a loss!

  19. Sandi (4 years ago)

    thanks for the photo link … it was a great idea that someone had to use them.

  20. Rob (4 years ago)

    Sandi–I think the oyster shell basins are long gone. Here’s the link to a picture of one: http://www.coco-palms.com/photos/submissions/full/postcard02.jpg

    Colleen–The current owners are mainland based. They are Maryland’s Petrie Ross Ventures and South Carolina’s Weiser Cos. Their plans fell through in 2007 to open as a condo-hotel. State Senator Gary Hooser has suggested the 32 acre property be opened as a state park.

    Tim–Thanks for writing your memories of Coco-Palms.

    Rene–Starting this month, Kauai full-time residents are allowed on the property twice a month for a one hour tour. If you’d like to see the property during your visit, you’ll need to take the movie tour I wrote about. Enjoy your stay on Kauai.

    Aloha from Rob
    Beat of Hawaii

  21. Rene (4 years ago)

    Question and comment about Coco Palms – great article – we are going to be in Kauai in about a month – how did you get to go inside – I too would love to take some photos and experience this great place. Hopefully it will re-open one day again. It is such a shame. Mahalo.

  22. Tim (4 years ago)

    My parents took my twin brother and I there in 1963. We were more interested in fishing for perch in the small ponds than anything else. I remember the giant clamshell sinks in the bathrooms, fabulous coconut pies for dessert, and the torch lighting ceremonies. My wife and I drove by last October, and it was sad.

  23. Colleen (4 years ago)

    It is a shame that this property was left to ruins – it would be such a fantastic place to visit (or stay) if it could be saved. Who owns it? Could it be restored through some sort of “preservation Society” – History is important and should be preserved if possible. Enjoyed this article and your photos.

  24. Sandi (4 years ago)

    I took a tour years ago and it may well have been with Larry. It was looking pretty rundown then but, looking at your photos, it has deteriorated even further.

    Were any of the huge oyster shell basins that were used as bathroom sinks still there?

    Such a great location. Lots of great memories. At least we can relive its glory days when watching Blue Hawaii with Elvis.

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