Where Elvis Presley's Blue Hawaii Was Filmed

Elvis Presley had already made it to the top of the music business and now, as he strummed a ukulele in a Hawaiian shirt sandwiched between two hula dancers, he was about to prove he was a viable film commodity in Hollywood as well. "Blue Hawaii," the 1961 romantic comedy, became Elvis' top-grossing movie, and the tropical locale certainly helped sell the picture, according to "Elvis Presley: Silver Screen Icon." Among the film's shooting locations was the Coco Palms Resort on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, which was the place to be seen during its heyday, per the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Then, on September 11, 1992, Hurricane Iniki brought howling winds that buffeted Kauai and monster waves that smashed against its shores, devastating the Hawaiian island. Every hotel and resort suffered damage from the storm that brought 160-mph winds and 30-foot waves, stripping its famous beaches of sand and sea life from its coral reefs, according to The Sacramento Bee. One of the worst hit was the Coco Palms Resort, a Hawaiian landmark that never recovered.

'Hawaii done up in a corsage'

Grace Buscher Guslander and her husband Lyle launched the Coco Palm Resort in 1953 and under Grace's management turned it into a world-famous destination where Hollywood royalty came to play, according to The Courier-Journal and "The Old Queen and The King." The resort's site was once the home of Kauai's last queen, Deborah Kapule, who died in 1853. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Coco Palm was the epitome of Polynesian-style hotels. In 1969, the Los Angeles Times called the Coco Palm "Hawaii done up in a corsage" and gushed about the resort's cottages "shaded by hundreds of palms, the entire tropical scene reflected in a tranquil lagoon."

Another hotel, the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu, also lays claim as a filming location for "Blue Hawaii," according to "100 Things Elvis Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die." Elvis stayed at the hotel during the spring of 1961 while filming the movie. But the film's final third — including the well-known wedding scene during the finale — was all set at the Coco Palms Resort. For years after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Iniki the resort slowly decayed, a shell of its former glory, its interiors gutted, its windows broken, and graffiti covering its walls, per SFGate.

Rebuilding the resort

In the aftermath of the 1992 storm, the Coco Palm's owners claimed they would be reopening in a few months, per The Sacramento Bee. It never reopened. Over the years, several ventures attempted to revive the resort with no success, according to the Associated Press. Then in the spring of 2023, a development company from Utah began work on a new 350-room hotel that would replace the decrepit original. Before the most recent attempt to revive the resort, a community group attempted to buy the property to turn it into a park and cultural center without success.

There are problems with the site that may come into play with the new hotel. The developers have already butted heads with the state's Department of Land and Natural Resources over permitting. There are flooding issues, and the site is considered sacred by Native Hawaiians, per SFGate. Whatever becomes of the Coco Palm Resort, it will forever live on on celluloid, a backdrop for Elvis's gyrating hips and famous pout.