The oft remembered prolific builder, whose rise, fall, and resurrection catapulted him to the heights of construction prominence, had lost it all on the shores of the Del Rey Lagoon in 1929. After recovering from his losses, and along with partners such as Kaiser, Hannon and Marlowe, he went on to build most of Westchester and finish many of his Playa Del Rey projects; including building a seaside home on the sand across from the lagoon.
In 1954, Fritz Burns and his partner, Henry John Kaiser, purchased the Niumalu Hotel, which opened in 1928 on the site Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa now occupies. Together Burns and Kaiser began construction in 1955 on guest cottages and the Ocean Tower (now known as Ali’i Tower) at what was known then as Kaiser’s Hawaiian Village. In what was among the many firsts for the Hawaiian Village, Kaiser erected the first public dome in Honolulu with the 1957 construction of a geodesic dome showroom. The showroom opened on February 17, 1957 during a 2.5-hour gala broadcast by NBC to an estimated 20 million people. Over the next three years, two more towers were added, including the Ocean Tower (now known as Tapa Tower) and the Diamond Head Tower. They also developed the 5-acre man-made lagoon fronting the Hawaiian Village.
On January 19, 1961, the late legendary hotelier Conrad Hilton agreed to buy most of what was then the Kaiser Hawaiian Village Hotel for $21.5 million in one of the biggest hotel transactions of the time. The purchase included close to 18 acres of property, plus another three acres of adjacent property. In addition, Hilton received a complex of nine buildings containing 1,100 rooms. Hilton Waikoloa Village, a Hilton Resort nestled on 62 acres of oceanfront property along the Kohala Coast and Hilton Waikiki Beach, a 601-room hotel with award winning restaurants, would later join the Hilton Hotels & Resorts portfolio. Fritz Burns was Co-chairman of Hilton Hotels Corp. and its largest stockholder.
Hilton properties in Hawaii have been the site of many milestones throughout Hawaii’s history and popular culture, including the world-renowned Blue Hawaii cocktail was invented at Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa in 1957 by legendary Hilton bartender Harry Yee.
In 1968, Hilton Hawaiian Village’s famed Rainbow Tower opened with the world’s largest ceramic-tile mosaic spanning 286 feet high by 26 feet wide on each end of the tower. More than 16,000 colorful tiles were used to complete the mosaic that has appeared in multiple television shows and movies.
Featured in the many television shows, including Hawaiian Eye, Wheel of Fortune, Baywatch Hawaii, Soap Talk, Magnum P.I. and Hawaii Five-0, the hotel and lagoon remains a central tourist site at Waikiki Beach.
And it all began in Playa Del Rey.