Waikiki Inn

Waikiki Inn goes back to when Waikiki was a rural marshland filled with ducks and fields with rice, taro, and banana in 1901. These early days of Hawaii’s tourism came before the draining of the Ala Wai Canal, the tour buses, paved roads, and buildings. Instead, trolleys on rail dominated the dirt roads, and traffic wasn’t an issue before mass-car ownership.

On the sparsely populated Waikiki Beach, limu (edible Hawaiian brown algae) piled onto the shore, Native Hawaiians went canoeing, Diamond Head Crater loomed in the backdrop, and cottages — mostly hotels — hosted visitors to Hawaii.

One of those cottage hotels, a wooden and stucco alpine lodge on sand with a steep roof, the Waikiki Inn welcomed visitors to Hawaii’s tropical playground. During their stay, visitors swam and surfed in Waikiki Beach and rode the gentle currents of 1-2 feet, tasting the salty air and feeling the warmth of the tropical sun. A few blocks down, visitors biked around Kapiolani Park. In the inn’s basement, visitors could rent items for swimming, surfing, and biking, including swimsuits, surfboards, towels, robes, and bicycles.

Describing the available hotels, Mid-Pacific Magazine mentioned Waikiki Inn, a twenty-nine-room resort, in 1912:

Just toward the city from Kapiolani park is Waikiki Inn, adjoining the summer residence of ex-Oueen Liliuokalani and facing the “Queen’s surf,” where the most daring surf riders disport themselves. The bathing is excellent in front of the Inn.

The beach was literally the inn’s backyard with ocean waves crashing underneath. Through the windows, visitors in the inn’s dining room gazed at Waikiki Beach — layered with sand and the Pacific Ocean expanding to the horizon twelve miles away — while hearing the constant murmurings of waves underneath.

Rex Hunter’s play “The Wild Goose” described an evening there:

… the musicians playing mournful music — songs of a dying race — a big white moon riding in the sky and the waves going swish — swish — under the inn.

With music in the air, the inn’s visitors enlivened the dining room with chatter, laughter, and clinking of silverware and dishes as they enjoyed their buffet spread (okra soup, broiled mullet, squab, and fillet). Mainly upper-class Caucasian Americans from the U.S. Mainland — the visitors introduced themselves to one another, talked about their time in Hawaii, and danced till the late hours.

Theon Wright in The Disenchanted Islands described the inn’s personnel as “Japanese girls in blowzy house dresses and a Chinese busboy in a dirty apron,” reflecting the predominantly blue-collared employment of local Asians before statehood.

But not all was peaceful — serving alcohol led to rowdy, drunk guests in late night–and blame.

In 1914, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin discouraged the liquor license commissioners from allowing Waikiki Inn to serve alcohol after 11:30 p.m.:

The traffic after 11:30 o’clock, as Honolulu people know from unfortunate experience, is apt to be of the sort that wrecks homes and happiness, ruins young girls and starts young men on the path to shame and disgrace.

In the same year, already facing possible foreclosureWaikiki Inn got into trouble for bribing John H. Fischer of the liquor commission. For twenty dollars, Fischer did not testify against the inn’s renewal application for a second-class liquor license before the board of liquor commissioners. In court, Fischer claimed he was kidnapped to prevent that testimony.

And even getting a liquor license challenged the Waikiki Inn. In its first year in 1901, Waikiki Inn almost shut down because it could not afford the $1,000 fee to serve alcohol on Sundays and did not make enough during the other days.

Regardless of obstacles and negative press coverage, Waikiki Inn welcomed guests through the 1950s.

Throughout Waikiki Inn’s life, the swampland of Waikiki was drained and became a metropolitan tourist destination with paved roads, buildings, cars, and tourist buses. After Waikiki Inn closed its doors for good, the Waikiki Tavern and Heine’s Tavern took the inn’s place.

Today, no building stands on the inn’s former area, 2437 Kalakaua Ave. Now public property, the area is part of the sandy shores of Waikiki Beach west from the police station and across from the east twin tower of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort and Spa.

– Alice Kim

“Special Sunday dinner — The best the markets afford served and guests have full view of the sea from the dining room.”
Austin’s Hawaiian weekly, December 25, 1899, Image 2

“Ye Waikiki Inn by ye sea — good cheere, good beddes, good entertainment here for thirsty throates, a hungered stomacks, weary headdes.”
Evening bulletin, June 27, 1901, Page 2

Waikiki Inn — now owned by W. C. Bergin. Accommodations, supplies, and attendance absolutely first-class.”
Pacific commercial advertiser, August 17, 1906, Page 5

“Me for a swim at the Waikiki Inn next Sunday says the wise bather.”
Honolulu star-bulletin, April 19, 1913, Page 5

“Thanksgiving at Waikiki Inn — delightful bathing, dancing, refreshments.”
Waikiki Inn Thanksgiving
Honolulu star-bulletin, November 26, 1913, Page 7
“The Hui Nalu Glee Club has some new music … and the dancing is bound to be might enjoyable. … Dancing on Tuesday and Thursday. Special dinner Sunday night. Finest bathing on the beachfront.”
Honolulu star-bulletin, Nov. 24, 1914, Page 3
“Spend Sunday at the Waikiki Inn — best bathing on the beach front. After your afternoon swim, have dinner here. Dancing on Tuesday and Thursday.”
Honolulu star-bulletin, Dec. 2, 1914, Page 7

Search Strategy: Waikiki Inn (within five words)

Articles from Chronicling America

“Waikiki Inn Housewarming”
The Pacific commercial advertiser, July 29, 1901, Page 6

“Waikiki Danger Zone” (first column, bottom)
The Pacific commercial advertiser, October 1, 1909, Page 4

“Mortenson Girl Takes Stand in Bert Bower Case” (statutory rape and adultery)
Honolulu star-bulletin, February 27, 1914, Pages 1 (extreme right column, middle) & 3 (middle, top)

“License Board Halts Inquiry When Revelations Are Expected” (third column, top)
Honolulu star-bulletin, July 8, 1914, Page 8

“Just One Safe Course” (second column, top)
Honolulu star-bulletin, August 19, 1914, Page 4

“Sensational Report Said to Have Been Made by Grand Jury” (second column, bottom)
Honolulu star-bulletin., September 23, 1914, Page 1

“Grand Jury Holds Waikiki Inn Deal Was Conspiracy”
Hawaiian gazette, October 16, 1914, Page 5,

“Mortgage Against Waikiki Inn Will Be Foreclosed Shortly” (second column, top)
Honolulu star-bulletin, December 17, 1914, Page 3