Friday, November 1, 2013

Kona Inn

During the 1920s, the Waikīkī landscape was transformed when the construction of the Ala Wai Drainage Canal, begun in 1921 and completed in 1928, resulted in 625-acres of wetland being drained and filled.  With the San Souci, Moana and Royal Hawaiian in place, more hotel construction followed.

Except for Waikīkī, Hawaiʻi was largely undeveloped for tourism, other than small places like the Big Island’s Volcano House, which started to welcome guests in 1866.

In order for the Islands to attract even greater numbers of visitors, it was obvious that the neighbor islands would have to provide accommodations comparable to those on Oʻahu.  (Allen)

With several smaller business-oriented hotels downtown Honolulu and spotted across the neighbor islands, on November 1, 1928, the Kona Inn in Kailua-Kona, the first neighbor island visitor-oriented resort hotel, opened with great fanfare.  (Hibbard, Schmitt)

The Inter-Island Steam Navigation Co originally intended to build the Kona Inn on the site of Huliheʻe Palace.  The idea was met with considerable opposition and the Territory bought the Palace and the company erected its new hotel on a 4-acre parcel adjoining the former Royal Residence.  (Hibbard)

A reported Star-Bulletin editorial noted on February 7, 1928, “The land of the first Kamehameha; the land which cradled the old Federation of the Hawaiian Islands; the storied land where an English ship's captain was worshipped before natives found him human and slew him there, is to be opened at last to the comfort-loving tourists of the world. Soon after the completion of the hotel, the territory will have cause to be grateful to the foresight and enterprise of Inter-Island.”

When it opened, a description noted that “every room is equipped with connecting bath and toilet or connecting shower and toilet with hot and cold water.”  (Shared facilities disappeared from most hotels soon after World War II.)  (Schmitt)

Like many of the other early visitor-oriented accommodations, it was owned by a transportation company, Inter-Island Steam Navigation Company, under the guidance of Stanley Kennedy.  In part, hotels served to increase their passenger load revenues.

He informed the newspapers, “We have the Volcano House in the Kilauea locality, and our new hotel in the Kona district on the end of the island makes an ideal (automobile) stopping place, to say nothing of the historical interest.”

This institutionalized tourism in Kona.  It was an example of a ‘pioneer hotel;’ it was built at high standards and became an attraction in its own right and became “the spot in all Hawaiʻi where you can utterly, completely relax in surroundings of modern comfort.”  (Thrum, Butler)

But the decision to build a visitor resort there was not without its cynics; numerous skeptics suggested it as “Kennedy’s Folly.”

They were wrong; it was a success.

Kona, and the Kona Inn, offered the opportunity for visitors to experience the “Kona Way of Life” - ambiance at almost a spiritual level.  It became known as “a place to get a quiet rest amid soothing tropic surroundings but if you feel a bit lively one can find plenty to do.”  (DeVisNorton, Butler)

Within two years, designer CW Dickey prepared plans to double its size.  With that, the Advertiser reportedly noted, “It is expected that Kona Inn will have a capacity to accommodate even the heaviest weeks of travel. Since its opening, Kona Inn has proved to be a valuable asset to Inter-Island and the addition is a result of continuous patronage of tourists and local people.” (Hibbard)

The early success of the Kona Inn was short lived; like other businesses across the Islands and the continent, the Great Depression and then World War II decimated the operations at the Kona Inn.  It was two-decades before any major hotels were built; however, after the war, recovery accelerated at an unimaginable and spectacular pace.  (Hibbard)

In the late-1940s, Inter-Island Steam Navigation Co became the target of a federal anti-trust suit. The government won its case and broke the company into four companies: Inter-Island Steam, Overseas Terminals, Hawaiian Airlines and Inter-Island Resorts.  (GardenIsland)

In the early-1950s, Walter D Child Sr became a director of Inter-Island Resorts, Ltd and later acquired the controlling interest in the company.

Child first came to the Islands in the early-1920s and worked with the Hawaiʻi Sugar Planters Association.  Following a decade at HSPA, he left sugar and entered the visitor industry, first acquiring and operating the Blaisdell Hotel in downtown Honolulu in 1938; then, he formed a Hui and purchased the Naniloa in Hilo.

The fortunes of the company rose along with the growth in the visitor industry, and Inter-Island Resorts began to grow into a chain, starting with the Naniloa, the Kona Inn and the Kaua‘i Inn (at Kalapaki Beach.) In those early days of Hawai‘i tourism, Inter-Island Resorts became a pioneer in selling accommodations on the neighbor islands.  (hawaii-edu)

When Walter Sr. suffered a debilitating stroke in 1955, Dudley Child succeeded his father as president, at age 26.  Dudley was no stranger to the visitor industry; at age seven, he was running switch boards and elevators and later studied hotel management at Cornell University.

Dudley’s first big move came on July 1, 1960 with the opening of the Kauai Surf on beachfront property on Kalapakī Beach. Child at the time called the Surf a "whole new philosophy in Neighbor Island hotels."  This led to the Islands-wide “Surf Resorts” joining the Kona Inn under the Inter-Island banner.  (The company later opened the Kona Surf (Keauhou) in 1960 and the Maui Surf (Kāʻanapali Beach in 1971.)  In 1971, the company formed the “Islander Inns,” in a 3-way partnership of Inter-Island Resorts, Continental Airlines and Finance Factors.)

In the mid-1970s, growing competition from the big hotel chains affected their business; direct flights to Hilo from the continent stopped, killed the occupancy rates at the Naniloa; later, a United Airlines strike sent Islands-wide occupancy levels plummeting; an economic downturn added to the woes.  The high-leveraged Inter-Island Resorts had to sell.

In 1976, the Kona Inn, forerunner to the Inter-Island chain, was sold and overnight guest accommodations were stopped; it was converted into a shopping center in 1980.  Chris Hemmeter bought the Maui and Kauai Surf resorts; ultimately, piece by piece, all properties were sold.

The image shows the ocean side of the Kona Inn (Hibbard.)  In addition, I have added related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.

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