Eccentric Businesses at the Blaisdell Hotel

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Honolulu Icon Blaisdell Hotel’s timeline reflects Downtown’s history

1911 – A pamphlet announces the future building as “Hawaii’s Handsomest Hostelry.”

Traffic was heavy on Fort Street on Oct. 1, 1955, when this picture was taken looking mauka from Hotel Street. The Blaisdell Hotel’s sign is faintly visible on the left side of the street, near the end of the block, across from the Kress store. Below, the building in 1926, next to a gas station.

Photo: Hawaii State Archives

1912 – Designed by the architectural firm Emory & Webb, the hotel costs $90,000 to build: a four-story concrete structure with a central courtyard. Originally owned by Charles M. Cooke Ltd. and managed by the Blaisdell family. Reportedly, the young Neal Blaisdell scrubs the hallways for 25 cents a week, long before he becomes mayor of Honolulu.

February 1913 – Upon opening for business, the hotel boasts, “Absolutely fire resistant, 27 baths, millinery shop, grocery store, barbershop, manicure and hairdressing parlors, hatter, tailor. Telephone in every room.” Leased to J. Francis Child the same year.

1920s – Blaisdell’s heyday. The hotel is popular among sailors and budget visitors. Prices start at $2.50 a night and dinner at the Mural Room costs 50 cents. Meals and the 4 o’clock tea are announced by three bronze bells on the rooftop.

1928 – The central courtyard opens as Palm Garden.

April 1933 – Blaisdell Hotel is the first establishment in Hawaii to obtain a liquor license after the end of Prohibition. The bar becomes one of the highlights of Honolulu’s nightlife.

1938 – Charles M. Cooke Ltd. sells the establishment to Selma Hoerman Spitzer for $150,000. This is Hawaii’s largest sale of the year and, according to contemporaries, “proof of confidence in the future of Honolulu.” The hotel is still managed by the Child family.

1940s – Blaisdell Hotel is jointly managed by Walter D. Child Sr. and Dr. Donald Burlingame.

1954 – Management by A.M.M. Osorio begins. First major renovation.

1967 – Rooms priced at $5 to $11 a night. The next year Fort Street is converted to a pedestrian mall, which hurts the hotel business. Ala Moana Center’s opening in 1959 and the development of Waikiki in the 1960s also channel commerce and visitors away from Downtown.

The Blaisdell and Fort Street in the early 1960s.

Photo: Gerell Management Partners

Early 1970s – Double room is $11.50 a night. Elevator operator’s pay is around $2 an hour.

1977 – The long-term lease is bought by Jorgen Skov and Peter Birnbaum of SBS Corp. They begin a $350,000 renovation, though one of nearly $1 million had been proposed. The planned new 24 rooms and 16 suites are supposed to range from $10 to $15 a night, but financial complications abort the project midway.

March 1980 – Ownership changes hands again, as Fort Street Venture Inc. buys the lease and announces the refashioning of the hotel into an office building, though everyone to this day still calls it the Blaisdell Hotel. The Palm Garden is uprooted and the central court turns into a restaurant. Local artist Sunny Aigner Pauole paints a mural inside the elevator shaft.

1990 – Veteran Chinatown developer Bob Gerell acquires the lease and restores the elevator and parts of the building to pre-1980 looks.

Summer 1998 – Hawaii Pacific University successfully opposes a proposal for housing a facility for the mentally ill.

Today – The building is assessed by the city at a little more than $1 million, with the land assessed at $3,338,600.


Box Office Rent

The Blaisdell Hotel does not offer the cheapest rents downtown. For instance, the Union Plaza, a 9-storey class C building on Bishop Street just makai of the Finance Factors building, has rents starting at 45 cents a square foot per month, according to loopnet.com.

The Blaisdell Hotel offers rents ranging from about $1.20 to a little more than $2 a square foot for 2nd, 3rd and 4th floor offices, which is comparable to rents offered by more prestigious buildings downtown.

What makes the Blaisdell attractive is that it can offer spaces as small as 250 square feet room. Plus, the building’s laissez faire attitude welcomes all kinds of tenants, including those who might not please their neighbors if located in most other downtown office buildings.

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