How Honolulu’s Pink Palace Invented the Shirley Temple

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Jun 13, 2017

by LARISSA DUBECKI, Writer

It has hosted Hollywood’s finest but on its 90th birthday, Honolulu’s Pink Palace is the star.

The world’s biggest (yet smallest) movie star was at the height of her fame when she alighted from the steamship Mariposa onto a Honolulu pier to the cheers of thousands of fans. It was July 29, 1935. Shirley Temple, just seven years old, was riding on the crest of her breakthrough performances in Stand Up and Cheer! and Bright Eyes. In the space of 12 months, the girl with the signature ringlets had become Hollywood’s most bankable actor. 

Accompanied by her parents, George and Gertrude Temple, the starlet was taking a well-deserved 18-day holiday at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Oahu island. The so-called Pink Palace of the Pacific, which opened in 1927, was designed in Spanish-Moorish style with cupolas and striking belltowers (allegedly influenced by the films of Rudolph Valentino). It was catnip to the Hollywood glitterati, who first arrived by sea then by air when Pan American Airways began its weekly service in 1936.

Keen to please their popular young guest, bartenders served a new drink (ginger ale and a dash of vibrant pink grenadine, garnished with a maraschino cherry) to Temple while she dined in the hotel’s opulent Persian Room.

Another famous visitor drawn to the Pink Palace’s charms was American president Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was such a fan of the hotel that it was dubbed the Western White House. And you could chart the tides of popular culture via the stream of celebrity guests, from Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio to Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner, Frank Sinatra and The Beatles. 

Today, you can stay in the historic original wing, where the rooms are decorated with brocade wallpaper and plush carpets, much like they were in young Temple’s day. The Persian Room, where the 14-piece Royal Hawaiian Orchestra once played beneath crystal chandeliers, is now the Monarch Room, which hosts banquets, balls and celebrations – few more important than the 90th birthday of this local icon. A Shirley Temple, anyone? 

SEE ALSO: First-timer’s Guide to Honolulu