Waikiki's Ilikai Hotel and Suites Turns 50
One of Waikiki’s most iconic landmarks celebrates its 50th anniversary this month. Here’s the story of how this hotel/condo hybrid came to be.
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Ho to the Rescue
The mauka side of The Ilikai as it appeared at its opening (inset) and today.
Photos: Courtesy The Ilikai Hotel, Olivier Koning
The Price of Staying in Paradise (1964):
April 1963 found Chinn Ho on the cover of Hawaii Business and Industry magazine, in suit and bow tie, holding his signature cigar and sitting in a boat at sea, with Makaha right behind him, where he was attempting to develop a resort project. “His daring land ventures have made him a millionaire and won the respect of the business community,” the magazine declared.
By then, Ho was the ultimate postwar local success story, a rags-to-riches tale often repeated: how his grandfather had moved to Hawaii in a 65-day journey in 1875, to become a rice farmer; how his father, Ho Ti Yuen, clerked by day at the Pacific Club—at a time when Asians were not accepted as members—then attended Iolani School at night to gain the skills needed to open an import-export business; how Chinn Ho himself, born in 1904, one of nine children, formed his first investment group with friends while still a McKinley High School student.
That group, Commercial Associates, started out funding school dances before dabbling in the more grown-up world of real estate and life insurance. After high school, Ho worked day jobs at Bishop Bank, then with Honolulu stockbrokers Duesenberg-Wichman, just before Dean Witter purchased that firm. He stayed with Dean Witter until 1944 when he went out on his own, forming the Capital Investment Co. and enjoying his first major success with former sugar lands in Waianae in 1946.
Ho seemed to have the Midas touch. He bought and refurbished the Queen’s Surf for $2.70 per square foot, for example, only to score big when the city condemned the property—and paid him $12 per square foot for it.
By the time the Ilikai opened, Ho was the owner and publisher of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and was described by Paradise as “president of five companies, vice president of four, and director of three … one of the most dynamic figures ever to sprout from the fertile greening soil of Hawaii … [H]e is also responsible for bringing minor league baseball back to Honolulu. While the stock market is his basic business, he is interested in a hotel in Hong Kong, a resort in Bora Bora, and the personal financial well-being of an uncounted number of Oriental widows who are said to trust their savings to him.”
The Ilikai, in concept, had already been underway when Ho signed on in 1959. Promoters Guy Harrison and John Driver had optioned a Dillingham property made of landfill where the Ilikai now stands. Using pretty renderings in brochures and full-page ads—but no actual blueprints—they had been attempting to sell the Ilikai as a co-op apartment building. Not successfully, it turned out. They claimed to have sold 800 units, but, really, most of those “sales” were just $100 deposits.
What Ho acquired when the troubled project became available was the land; he was no under no obligation to continue developing the Ilikai. But he saw potential and pressed ahead in early 1961, with real blueprints from architect John Graham & Co., new financing and a new sales campaign.