Kahala at 50

I know it’s not polite to talk about a grand lady’s age, but I think it’s OK when she is a world-renown destination, host to dignitaries and celebrities worldwide. I’m referring to the fifty and fabulous Kahala Hotel & Resort on Oahu. As a kid on Oahu heading to the Kahala Hilton (as it was called for the first 30 odd years of her existence) meant we were definitely wearing shoes. As in, it was going to be a special occasion. And on my last visit, some decades later, as I sat in the open air lobby watching tourists and locals alike filter in from the portecochère, the sense of “someplace special” is stronger than ever.

In fact while I was there, I witnessed at least five weddings, beautiful discreet ceremonies with everyone wearing shoes (probably Jimmy Choos). According to Hue Oldman, Public Relations director of the resort, the property hosts about 550 weddings a year, a 70/30 mix of destination weddings and Hawaii’s social community.

Wait isn’t that…?  While this 288 room – 10-story property on 6 acres has been a celebrity and dignitary magnet since the 60s, it is also very popular for returning families. Located on a private road surrounded by either a golf course or the ocean, it’s a quiet refuge. In fact, every president since Lyndon B. Johnson has stayed here, as have many foreign digntatiers, celebrities ranging from Sir Elton John who always stays in the Imperial suite, The Beatles to Rihanna have all made this their Hawaii getaway, in fact, Angelina and her brood had just left a few weeks before we arrived. I’m not a huge fan, but I admit, I did get a little excited thinking Angie and I would have something in common to talk about, should the occasion arise.

Don’t fix, what ain’t broke: While the property has been renovated many times throughout the years the “reach for the sky optimism” modernist architecture, stained glass chandeliers to match the beach glass found along the shore and spirit of Aloha have not changed. The hotel has also been home to a group of dolphins – Atlantic bottle nose to be exact, ever since their opening. Today many of the guests know the dolphins by name and daily dolphin experiences are offered through the Dolphin Quest program. And perhaps most importantly for many returnees, popular menu items like Kahalasadas, ahi poke musubi and Kahala chicken papaya salad – are still and will always be on the menu.

Wow factor:  Yes the views from the rooms (beach or mountain are stunning) as is the perfect temperature of the water at the 200-yard white sand beach. I also really enjoyed Vine Cliff Chardonnay, from Carneros – however the highlight for me was named Olivia, a Japanese-trained shiatsu masseuse with her own style of lomi-lomi, who has worked at the award-winning spa for more fourteen years. Instead of sharing a communal space, guests are led to a gracious Indonesian inspired suite complete with an attached private bathroom. At $380 for over two hours, this treatment was indeed a special occasion I look forward to repeating.

Timeline:

1959: Honolulu Real Estate investor Charles Pietsch obtains a 65 year lease from the Bishop estate and travels to Los Angeles to struck up a 50/50 deal with his friend Conrad Hilton to build the Kahala.

1961: Pietsch signs a contract with Hilton International and architects Killingsworth, Brady, Smith and Associates of Long Beach.

1964: The hotel opens on January 22, with room rates starting at $30 a night.

1966: Sea Life Parks asks The Kahala to host two dolphins, thus began the long history of dolphins on the property.

1967: Danny Kalekini signs a 5-year contract to sing at the Hala Terrace, he lasted for 30 years.

1968: Pietsch sold his half of the hotel to Hilton International for 16.5 million dollars.

1977: William Wienberg begins a two year negotiation to buy the hotel for between $25-$28 million.

1996: Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group assumes 40 percent ownership and renames it The Kahala Mandarin Oriental, Hawaii

2003: The Kahala Spa opens and immediately earns awards.

2005: The Kahala Hotel & Resort is purchased by Kahala Hotel Investors, LLC. and the property becomes an independent hotel.

2014: The Kahala celebrates its 50th anniversary.