When you drive by the dilapidated Coco Palms resort on Kauai, it’s hard to imagine the magic and style of this once grand property.
There’s a story behind its chain link fence and buildings that have given way to termites and rot. And that story is steeped in Hawaiian history and some of the biggest names of the 1950’s and 1960’s, who stayed here before jet service began to the islands.
There’s a dark side to its history too which has kept the Coco Palms closed since Hurricane Iniki struck in 1992.
That story is rooted in insurance fraud and now the economy. The sad thing is that Hurricane Iniki only damaged the lobby of the Coco Palms. It could have, and should have, reopened.
With its future uncertain, I wanted to see Coco Palms again.
This past weekend I was allowed behind it gates. As I walked past the largest coconut grove in the islands, its eerie silence spoke of long ago.
This was the ancestral home of Kauai Ali’i (royalty). As a resort it became one of the most prominent in the islands before and after statehood under the careful watch of hotelier Grace Guslander.
As I walked in the footsteps of its history, I wanted to go back in time.
Mitzi Gaynor remembers Coco Palms quite well. She stayed in one the bungalows during filming of South Pacific. On her recent trip to Kauai, her 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. Now 77 years young he 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.
The pictures I took tell the story of its current condition.
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. (No longer valid). Hawaii Movie Tours includes a visit to the resort on their 6 hour itinerary which includes lunch. Prices start at $89. For information call 808-822-1192.
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.