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StarBulletin.com

Aloha to the Hawaiiana


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POSTED: Friday, November 13, 2009

Year after year, a circle of about a dozen friends and family from as far away as Alaska, Canada and Oklahoma have been reuniting at the Hawaiiana Hotel in Waikiki for their annual November vacation.

But they will go down in history this week as the last remaining guests at the 54-year-old hotel, which will close down when the last guest has gone.

“;We love the location, the service, the people,”; said Nancy Walsh, of Squamish, British Columbia, a guest at the hotel for four decades. “;The staff are really a wonderful group of people.”;

Besides the laid-back ambiance, longtime guests, like Cy Pollock of Vancouver Island, Canada, say they love the open courtyard, and the staff has continued to remain helpful despite the awkward situation.

The Hawaiiana Hotel Corp. has become yet another vicim of the economy, and is winding down after failing to pay its lease rent for the last few months.

The president, listed as Yoshimi Nakamura in business records, could not be reached for comment. Beach Walk Management Inc., which managed the hotel, has been dissolved, according to records.

No new reservations were taken as of Oct. 27, according to Lisa Hookano-Holly, manager of the property for almost 29 years. She received notice of the closure that same day with shock.

Hookano-Holly, who knew many of the guests by name and greeted them with a generous aloha spirit, was heartbroken by the news. Many of the guests stayed long term, typically two weeks or more, and returned year after year.

“;It's been a home for a lot of us,”; she said, referring to about 14 other longtime employees. “;Everyone's been there a long time.”;

A throwback to the '70s era, the low-rise Hawaiiana offered 93 rooms in five buildings set among lush gardens, with two swimming pools, and custom-made tiki statues between Beach Walk and Saratoga roads. Flanking both sides of the Hawaiiana are the Trump Tower and 280 Beach Walk, a new retail center by the Honu Group.

Three different landowners own the parcels on which the hotel sits: the Florence Cooper Trust, the Nancy Walter Trust of California and a man by the surname of Lee.

Honolulu developer Peter Savio, who leases the Cooper parcel to run the Beach Walk Student Suites, said the hotel was foreclosed upon by the landowners when rent was not paid in the summer.

Savio recently acquired the 96-unit White Sands Hotel, a similar low-rise in Waikiki, which he will run as a combination hotel-dorm. He hired Hookano-Holly as manager and said he offered jobs there to other Hawaiiana employees.

The Hawaiiana, an economy-class hotel, had struggled to fill its rooms since last year's holiday season, when visitor numbers plummeted, resulting in cancellations. At the same time it was hit with higher land lease rents.

Hotel analyst Joseph Toy of Hospitality Advisors said there had been attempts to sell the hotel a few years ago, but difficulties included the leasehold terms.

Savio said the Hawaiiana was too small to work as a hotel.

“;You still pay property taxes and lease rents as if you had a 30-story building,”; he said. “;Taxes are paid based on the highest and best use.”;

Savio says he will continue to run his student dorm and that Lee likely will rent his units out as apartments.

Donna Walden, a real estate entrepreneur and philanthropist, recently purchased the L-shaped building and swimming pool fronting Saratoga Road from the Walter Trust.

She will convert the property into a combination hotel with apartment rentals — and said they are currently available, for $150 per night.

But the Hawaiiana Hotel as longtime guests knew it is now history.

The company reportedly is bankrupt, according to several sources, but no filings have yet been recorded in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Ralph Reichmann of Fairbanks, Alaska, has been bringing his family to the hotel since 1955, and keeps a photo with him from that year, when his son and daughter, now grown with their own children, were just toddlers.

Four generations were together at the hotel last week. Even Reichmann's best friend's ashes are scattered at the Hawaiiana.

Having paid up to eight months in advance, some guests hope to recoup their money, up to $3,000 or more, through their credit card companies, but said the hotel informed them there would be no refunds.

There was no advance notice of the hotel's closure, said Reichmann, and only upon arriving were they told of an extra $45-a-day charge in addition to the prepaid reservation.

It is unclear exactly which day the last remaining guest will be gone.

Walsh, who prepaid for a stay up to Dec. 9, said she would move to the White Sands because she was unsure of whether she could remain.