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The Legacy and History of Halekulani

Since its inception more than a century ago, Halekulani has endured many changes, but one thing has always remained the same – the hotel’s commitment to warm hospitality. History tells us that early Hawaiians viewed Waikiki as a place for hospitality and healing. Waikiki Beach was known for its healing waters, and the name Waikiki fittingly means “freshwater springs.” Fronting Halekulani is a special natural channel of water that runs through the reef below, where large amounts of fresh healing spring water bubble up. This is known as the healing waters of Kawehewehe.

Looking back in time, in 1883, businessman Robert Lewers built a two-story house and welcomed fishermen to beach their canoes under the hau trees along the water’s edge. These fishermen felt so welcomed by the Lewers family that the locals named the location “house befitting heaven” or Halekulani. Twenty years later, Robert Lewers leased his home to Honolulu journalist Edward Irwin who converted the home into a small hotel, which he named the Hau Tree. This original structure has now become the main building. 

Once Irwin’s lease had expired in 1907, Clifford and Juliet Kimball took over the property, and in 1917, they were able to purchase the hotel. While gradually expanding it and establishing it as a stylish resort for vacationers, the Kimballs returned the hotel to the name locals originally knew it as, Halekulani. When Juliet Kimball died in 1962, the Kimball sons sold the hotel to the Norton Clapp family who built the first 190 rooms of Halekulani in 1978. Due to the massive renovations, the Clapp family decided to sell the Halekulani property to Mitsui Fudosan Inc. in 1981. The Mitsui Fudosan Inc. later formed what is now the Halekulani Corporation.

When Halekulani reopened its doors to guests in 1984, it did so with the expectation of redefining luxury hospitality in Waikiki. Patricia Tam, Chief Executive Advisor of Halekulani, and former General Manager remembers the early days of the property. 
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“When we opened in 1984, people thought we were crazy,” says Tam. “No one thought you could provide a luxurious hotel with excellent service in Waikiki. We were either going to be a great success, or a failure. But we knew that our name was our promise, and when your name means House Befitting Heaven, you know that your service needs to live up to that name.”  

As many staff members embrace Halekulani’s philosophy of providing exceptional service, Tam recalls Susan Koki’s story as a perfect example.

“A guest called the Concierge desk, extremely upset. She and her family just returned from their vacation at Halekulani. They had taken their nine rolls of film to be developed and the store had lost them all. She asked Susan if she would take a few photos of the hotel staff and send them to her, as a souvenir of their trip. Susan did not feel that was enough. Instead, she spent her day off driving around the island taking photos of the places that the guest had mentioned they had visited. Susan put the photos in an album and mailed it to the family, so they would have a tangible keepsake of their time in Honolulu.”

Taking care of guests was as important then as it is today, and the property is still considered to be the finest of Hawaiian resorts. “Thirty years from now, I want Halekulani to keep setting the standard for excellence,” Tam says, “and to continue to provide a sincerity of service to our guests that’s not about words but about actions.”