Friday, February 3, 2012

Honolulu -- Moana Hotel in Waikiki

I’m currently reading Matt Warshaw’s History of Surfing and loving it.  He writes well, with a clear, knowledgable voice and I’m looking forward to plunging in to his other books on surfing.  I’m most interested in the early years of surfing, from its royal origins in Hawai’i to its early popularity before World War II.
Porte Cochere at the Moana Hotel
I had my trip to Maui and Kaua’i planned, then I read Warshaw’s chapter on the beach boys of Waikiki and how they hung out around the Moana hotel, singing, surfing and providing various services to visitors.  I was connecting through Honolulu on my way home anyway, so I jiggled my return trip to stay an extra night--at the Moana!  It is now part of the Westin chain, so there went another 14,500 Starwood points to get me a free night.  It hurt to use that many points, but in the interest of research, I figured it would be worth it.
The view towards Diamond Head from my terrace
Ordinarily, I would never stay in Waikiki, which is much like South Beach in Miami--high rises, concrete, tourists, and oh yeah, there’s a beach of some repute, too.  I prefer Oahu's quieter north shore, home to some of the world's best surf breaks.  Hale’iwa would have been my first choice.  But this time, I decided to do a little historical recon and check out the Moana.

An early view of the Moana, before subsequent additions (from the historical materials currently displayed on the second floor of the hotel).  I'm guessing that the small cottages on the right are where Jack London stayed during his time in Waikiki.  London surfed here and loved it.

100+ year old banyan tree around which the hotel was built

In the late 19th century, Waikiki became the center of Hawaiian tourism with its gentle waves and commanding view of Diamond Head.  One of the earliest hotels was the Moana, built in 1901.  A Beaux-Arts pile, the white building is bedecked with columns and porticos that vaguely recall plantation architecture.  The architect was Oliver Traphagen, who had some success in Duluth, Minnesota, designing houses in the Richardson Romanesque/Queen Anne vein.  This amuses me--if I were an architect in Duluth, I'd hightail it to Honolulu, too! 
Interior view
The hotel is nice, but too crowded for my taste, thick with tourists looking to experience Hawai’i.  Still, I’m glad to have seen the hotel and gotten a better sense of the waves of Waikiki and what the appeal may have been a hundred years ago.

Winter in Waikiki--Small surf, crowded with kooks.  That crane thing is dredging up sand to bring back to the rapidly eroding beach. 

© All text and images are copyright of Jeni Sandberg

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