To better appreciate the hotel’s seminal role, the enraptured national press effused glowing accolades in its efforts to capture the spirit of incredible originality and quality of design which had been set before it in remote Hawaii. An article in Sports Illustrated espoused the basic context, Mauna Kea typifies the wondrous things that happen when a Rockefeller with his own philosophy of recreation begins tearing up the orthodox ideas about what a resort must have---and tearing up his budgets, too. (5) Richard Joseph in Esquire went a bit further and declared the Mauna Kea to be, "The greatest resort hotel on earth. It is in fact, a compendium of superlatives . . . Its cost of $15,000,000 for a hundred-fifty-four-room hotel puts its unit cost at about $100,000 per room, certainly the highest of any resort hotel." Nobody but a Rockefeller can spend that sort of money, and nobody but Laurance Rockefeller could have spent it with such superb taste. (6)
Caskie Stinnett, writing for Holiday magazine, further elaborated, "For a long time now I have stubbornly held to the view that anything Laurance S. Rockefeller can do, God can do as well. But my first glance from a plane window at Mauna Kea, the resort that Rockefeller created amid the lava rock and desert waste of Hawaii’s west coast, caused me a moment’s hesitation. If nothing else, one had certainly picked up nicely where the Other had left off . . . It is a Godforsaken landscape running from the foot of Mauna Kea [volcano] to the sea, and on this wasteland the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel has been placed, like a diamond tiara in the hair of a pygmy. It is an Olympian thing that has been done, but it has been done simply, gracefully and in a way that makes Mr. Rockefeller seem infinitely remote. The gleaming white four-story hotel nestles in a green oasis of palms and flaming Hawaiian foliage, a half-moon of beach lies in front of the hotel, a three-million-dollar golf course stretches along the sea and extends on volcanic rock out into the ocean, and a swimming pool and cork-turf tennis courts are hidden in the palms. After this, I presumed, Mr. Rockefeller rested." (7)
The hotel remains a joy, well worth at least a journey across the Pacific to experience.
Horace Sutton of the Saturday Review was one of three hundred people who attended the opening of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in July 1965. He called the hotel, “one of the most elaborate playlands ever constructed in the United States,” and declared the hotel to be, “one of the greatest great houses ever conceived by anyone less than a Pharaoh.”(8) Sutton’s allusion to the great country houses of the affluent was not by chance. Mr. Rockefeller had indeed, in many ways, taken the word “hotel” back to its French origins when the term referred to large private residences, mansions. The recreations offered at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel were those which the affluent enjoyed at their country houses, tennis, swimming, golf, and the riding of horses. Here guests could anticipate the quality of life the rich enjoyed at their private retreats. The Mauna Kea Beach was their country home in Hawaii, and Laurance Rockefeller their host.
The motivation behind constructing the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel was to share Kaunaoa Bay’s beautiful, sparkling white sand and turquoise waters with visitors. However, Laurance Rockefeller, perhaps unconsciously, went much further. He had, in essence, created a completely human designed environment, using the beach and bay as a foundation, and heralded the modern transformation of a resort hotel into a destination unto itself. At the time of the hotel’s opening, Paradise of the Pacific went so far as to claim Mr. Rockefeller, “is more responsible than anyone else for the renaissance of the destination resort.”(9)
Over the next few decades, the total transformation of the landscape would become the norm, undertaken at resort after resort, and the design lead of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel would undergo a variety of permutations, while encircling the globe.
This essay was excerpted and revised from a larger chapter in Don Hibbard’s "Designing Paradise, the Allure of the Hawaiian Resort," New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006.
- Gwilym S. Brown, “Pioneers in Every Sense,” Sports Illustrated, June 28, 1965, p 75
- AIA Journal, June 1967, p 60
- “Hawaiian Hotel Opens to Landscape,” Architectural Review, August 1966, p 79 and “Hawaiian Hotel at Mauna Kea Beach,” Architectural Record, October 1964, p 174-175
- For information on the Esquire and Fortune articles see, Jim Becker, “Jim Becker’s Hawaii,” Star Bulletin, December 15, 1966, p H20; “Two Island Hotels Win High Rating,” Honolulu Advertiser, November 18, 1967, p C12; and Richard Joseph, “The Three Greatest Hotels in the World,” Esquire, December 1967, p 205 ff
- Brown, “Pioneers in Every Sense,” p 79
- Joseph, “The Three Greatest Hotels in the World” p 122
- Caskie Stinnett, “Mauna Kea----One on the Isle,” Holiday, March 1966, p 26
- Horace Sutton, “The Mauna Kea Caper,” Saturday Review, August 21, 1965, p 34
- Colby Black, “Rockefeller’s Regal Roost,” Paradise of the Pacific, July-August 1965, p 26
About the Author
Don Hibbard worked for twenty-four years in the Hawaii State Historic Preservation Office, first as an architectural historian and then as division administrator and Deputy SHPO. Two of his books, The View from Diamond Head, (Honolulu: Editions Limited, 1986), and Designing Paradise (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006); consider the development of Hawaii’s visitor industry and architecture as a conveyor of history and a sense of place. He has also co-authored a book on Honolulu architect Hart Wood (2010), and authored Buildings of Hawaii (2011). He holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii, and Prentice Hall published his dissertation, The Role of Rock (1983), which examines the social function of rock music. He has taught courses at the University of Hawaii and Hawaii Pacific University in the fields of historic preservation and architectural history. For the past seventeen years he has provided heritage specialist services for various architectural firms, governmental agencies, and individuals in Hawaii.
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