Moana Surfrider Hotel

Moana Hotel

The Moana Hotel, also known as the First Lady of Waikīkī, is a famous historic hotel on the island of Oahu, located at 2365 Kalākaua Avenue in Honolulu, Hawaii. Built in the late 19th century as the first hotel in Waikiki, the Moana opened its doors to guests in 1901, becoming the first large hotel in Waikīkī. The Moana Hotel is regarded as the flagship in Hawaii tourism, and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In Hawaiian, moana means "open sea" or "ocean."

Early Years

The wealthy Honolulu landowner, Walter Chamberlain Peacock, in an effort to establish a fine resort in the previously neglected Waikiki area of Honolulu, incorporated the Moana Hotel Company in 1896. Working with a design by architect Oliver G. Traphagen and $150,000 in capital, The Lucas Brothers contractors completed the structure in 1901. Construction of The Moana marked the beginning of tourism in Waikiki, becoming the first hotel amidst the bungalows and beachouses.

The Moana's architecture was influenced by European styles popular at the time, with Ionic columns and intricate woodwork and plaster detailing throughout the building. The Moana was designed with a grand porte cochere on the street side and wide verandas on the ocean side. Some of the 75 guest rooms had telephones and bathrooms (unusual at the time), and the hotel featured a billiard room, saloon, main parlor, reception area, and library. Peacock installed the first electric-powered elevator in the islands at the Moana, which is still in use today.

Design features of the original structure that survive to this day include extra-wide hallways (to accommodate steamer trunks), high ceilings, and cross-ventilation windows (to cool the rooms prior to air conditioning).

The Moana officially opened on March 11, 1901. Its first guests were a group of Shriners, who paid $1.50 per night for their rooms. Peacock did not find success with his endeavor, and sold the hotel to Alexander Young, a prominent businessman with other hotel holdings. The Young estate operated the hotel until the Matson Navigation Company bought the property in 1932 for $1.6 million.

The Hotel's Growth

Over the course of Matson's ownership of the Moana, it grew along with the popularity of Hawaiian tourism. Two floors were added in 1928 along with Italian Renaissance-styled concrete wings on each side of the hotel, creating its famous H shape seen today.

The hotel's outward appearance was altered slightly over the years, including "updates" to such designs as Art Deco in the 30's and Bauhaus in the 50's.

From 1935 to 1975, the Moana's courtyard hosted the Hawaii Calls live radio broadcast. This historic program brought the sounds of Hawaii to listeners around the globe. Legend has it that listeners mistook the hiss of the radio transmission as the waves breaking on the beach. When learning of this, the host instructed the soundman to run down to the waterfront to actually record the sound, which became a staple of the show.

Matson sold all of its Waikiki hotel properties to the Sheraton Company in 1959. Sheraton then sold the hotel in 1974 to Japanese industrialist Kenji Osano and his Kyo-Ya Company, though they continued to manage it.

In 1952, Matson built a new hotel adjacent to the Moana on the east side, called the Surfrider Hotel. After the sale to Sheraton, a new tower was built on the Moana's west side in 1969. This new tower was named the Sheraton Surfrider Hotel and the old Surfrider building was made into a wing of the Moana. Finally, in 1989, a $50 million restoration (designed by Hawaii architect Virginia D. Murison) restored the Moana to its 1901 appearance and incorporated the two adjacent buildings into one beachfront resort with a common lobby, renaming the entire property the Sheraton Moana Surfrider.

The Hotel Today

The restoration has cemented the Moana as Waikiki's premier hotel. Its 793 rooms, including 46 suites, freshwater swimming pool, three restaurants, beach bar, poolside snack bar, and historic room are not to be missed.

The property has been recognized with the President's Historic Preservation Award, the National Preservation Honor Award, Hawaii Renaissance Award, and the Hotel Sales and Marketing Association International Golden Bell Award. The main historic section of the hotel, The Banyan Wing, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2007, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, management company of the Moana, rebranded the hotel from a Sheraton Hotel to a Westin Hotel. The official name of the hotel is now "Moana Surfrider - A Westin Resort".

The Banyan Tree

In the center of the Moana Surfrider's courtyard stands a majestic Banyan tree. The Indian Banyan tree was planted in 1904 by Jared Smith, Director of the Department of Agriculture Experiment Station. When planted the tree was nearly seven feet tall and about seven years old. It now stands 75 feet high and spans 150 across the courtyard.

In 1979 the historic tree was one of the first to be listed on Hawaii's Rare and Exceptional Tree List. It has also been selected by the Board of Trustees of America the Beautiful Fund as the site for a Hawaii Millennium Landmark Tree designation, which selects one historic tree in each state for protection in the new millennium.

Hotel Lore

Rich and famous

As soon as the Moana Hotel opened, a non-stop flood of tourists from the mainland United States poured through the Moana's doors. Its most famous guest came in 1920. The Prince of Wales, who would later become King Edward VIII, galavanted around the Moana Hotel property and reportedly fell in love with the private pier from which he frequently dove into the ocean.

Duke Kahanamoku, the legendary Olympic swimmer and popularizer of the sport of surfing, frequented the Moana Hotel restaurants and private beachfront. The Moana Hotel became a favorite stomping ground for Kahanamoku's famed group, dubbed the Waikīkī Beach Boys.

Murder Mystery

In 1905, the Moana Hotel was at the center of one of America's legendary mysteries. Jane Stanford, co-founder of Stanford University and former wife of California Governor Leland Stanford, died in a Moana Hotel room of poisoning.

An account of events says that on the evening of February 28 at the hotel, Stanford had asked for bicarbonate of soda to settle her stomach. Her personal secretary Bertha Berner prepared the solution, which Stanford drank. At 11:15 p.m., Stanford cried out for her servants and Moana Hotel staff to fetch a physician feeling that she had lost sensations. Robert W. P. Cutler, who wrote the book, The Mysterious Death of Jane Stanford, recounted what took place upon the arrival of Moana Hotel physician, Dr. Francis Howard Humphris:

As Humphris tried to administer a solution of bromine and chloral hydrate, Mrs. Stanford, now in anguish, exclaimed, "My jaws are stiff. This is a horrible death to die." Whereupon she was seized by a tetanic spasm that progressed relentlessly to a state of severe rigidity: her jaws clamped shut, her thighs opened widely, her feet twisted inwards, her fingers and thumbs clenched into tight fists, and her head drew back. Finally, her respiration ceased.

Stanford was dead from strychnine poisoning. Who killed her, remains a mystery. Today, the room no longer exists; it was stripped for expansion of the lobby.

The Osano Empire

The hotel's owners, Japanese businessmen and brothers Kenji Osano and Masakuni Osano purchased the Moana Hotel from the Sheraton Corporation in 1974, along with Sheraton's two other former Matson Line hotels, the Princess Kaiulani Hotel and the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and the Waikīkī Hotel for US$10.7 million. The market price for the property was undervalued and the Osano brothers made millions of dollars in profit.

The Osano brothers formed Kyo-Ya Company Limited, a subsidiary of Kokusai Kogyo Company Limited, as the corporate entity charged with overseeing the hotel properties. By 1974, the Osano brothers would purchase all the Sheraton properties including: All are managed today under the Sheraton brand, except the Moana Surfrider, which is a Westin. The purchases put the Osano brothers on the Forbes 400 list of the World's wealthiest people in 1999.

After the death of the Osano brothers, Takamasa Osano inherited billions of dollars in properties. The Moana Hotel continues to be the flagship hotel in the Osano corporate empire and is the part-time residence of Eiko Osano, widow of Kenji Osano.


  • Stan Cohen. 1996. A Pictorial History of the Sheraton Moana Surfrider, Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Inc.
  • Robert W. P. Cutler. 2003. The Mysterious Death of Jane Stanford, Stanford University Press.
  • Glen Grant. 1996. Waikīkī Yesteryear, Mutual Publishing Co.
  • Don Hibbard and David Franzen. 1995. The View from Diamond Head: Royal Residence to Urban Resort, Editions Ltd.
  • George S. Kanahele. 1996. Waikīkī, 100 BC to 1900 AD: An Untold Story, University of Hawaii Press.
  • Pukui, Mary K., Samuel H. Elbert, and Esther T. Mookini. 1976. Place Names of Hawaii, Revised & expanded edition. Univ. Press of Hawaii, Honolulu. 289 pp.
  • Schaefers, Allison "Starwood redo to give Moana new branding". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved on 2007-01-25.

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