Steel Trappings

Steel Guitar Chronicles

The Hawaiian Room at the Hotel Lexington

October 1, 2023 • Geronimo "Geri" ValdrizSteel Guitar History

"HAWAIIAN STEEL" is a weekly radio program that spotlights the Hawaiian steel guitar masters from the past to the present. "The Steel Guitar Chronicles" is a monthly feature of the show that tells the stories, history, and origin of Kīkā Kila.

This month we look at the story of the legendary Hawaiian Room at the Hotel Lexington!

The Hotel Lexington located on Lexington Avenue and 48th Street in New York City opened the "Hawaiian Room" in the basement of their hotel on June 23, 1936. It was the first major showroom for live Hawaiian entertainment in the U.S., and the one that became the most renowned.

The room itself was the first of its kind and featured a large, circular tiered room decorated with murals of Diamond Head and Waikīkī Beach, lifelike tropical palms, flowers, and even raindrops!

The Hawaiian Room at the Hotel Lexington
pc-Images of Old Hawaii

It was New York city after all–the land of Broadway shows, a fast paced lifestyle, ethnic diversity, and celebrities!

The opening night house band was "Andy Iona and his 12 Hawaiians." It included steel guitarist Andy Iona, band leader Lani McIntire and his Orchestra, and featured vocalist Ray Kinney.

The hula dancers from Honolulu were called the "Aloha Maids" and featured Meymo Holt, Pualani Mossman, Mapuana Bishaw, and Jennie Wood. The dancers became the "faces of Hawai‘i" in New York City.

Aloha Maids
pc-Hula Preservation Society

Over the years other notable Hawaiian entertainers at the Hawaiian Room included Alfred Apaka, George Kainapau, Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs, Johnny Pineapple, Hilo Hattie, and many others.

The Hawaiian steel guitar was always out front and in the center of the music played in the Hawaiian Room. Lush intros, single note melodic solos, jazzy chord progressions, throbbing glissandos, hula vamps, and a wide steel vibrato played with a Hawaiian heart! At the Hawaiian Room, the steel guitar was the signature sound of Hawaiian music.

A list of the steel guitarists who played in the house band at the Hawaiian Room is a who's who of Kika Kila. It includes Andy Iona, Tommy Castro, Bobby Nichols, Sam Koki, Eddie Bush, Hal Aloma, Sam Makia, and many others.

The venue became the "place to be" in New York City, and it was the entertainers at the Hawaiian Room who made it such a success. Their talent, island ways, and authentic aloha was felt and loved by all who attended the show.

Hotel Lexington Ads

Guests to the Hawaiian Room could watch the Hawaiian show, dine, and dance! They were given paper flower leis to wear, and the food and drink menu was exotic Polynesian fare.

Hawaiian Room Lunch Menu
Hawaiian Room Lunch Menu. pc-Images of Old Hawaii

As a result of its astounding success, other Hawaiian themed night clubs were opened in New York and across the country. They include the St. Regis Hotel and the Pago Pago Room in New York, The Roosevelt Hotel in Chicago, The St. Francis in San Francisco, the Statler Hotel in Buffalo, the Hotel Roosevelt in New Orleans, the Lord Baltimore in Baltimore, and the Mayfair Casino in Cleveland.

In 1966 the Hawaiian Room at the Hotel Lexington closed its doors due to changing taste in popular music. Over the course of 30 years, millions of people experienced the magic of the Hawaiian Room. Hawaiian music, hula tradition, and the Hawaiian steel guitar was shared with the world!

And that ends the "Steel Guitar Chronicles" for this month, with more stories, history, and the origin of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar to come! Ka ua e ho‘okani ka kīkā kila!

"Hawaiian Steel" with Geri Valdriz is broadcast live every Tuesday from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm (HST) on Mana‘o Radio, Wailuku, Maui, Hawai‘i, KMNO, 91.7FM on the radio dial.

You can catch it on the air, or streaming live at www.manaoradio.com. Listeners can also access our online archives to enjoy previously recorded programs at your convenience. Just search "Listen on Demand" for past shows.

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