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ISLAND HISTORY: Grace Buscher Guslander, renowned manager of Kaua‘i’s Coco Palms Hotel

When Lyle Guslander bought the Coco Palms Hotel and hired Grace Buscher as manager in 1953, the hotel contained only 24 rooms and employed a staff of four.

But Grace Buscher, who would marry Guslander in 1969, would transform that sleepy, roadside Wailua hotel into the best-known resort in all of Hawai‘i, with 35 acres of property and 393 guest rooms.

It was Grace who adapted a legend to create the Coco Palms torch-lighting ceremony.

This ceremony, called the “Call to Feast,” which Grace Guslander narrated, took place at 7:30 p.m. every evening at dinnertime for many years.

During the torch-lighting ceremony, young men carrying lighted torches would jog along the hotel’s paths in the evening darkness, stopping to light torches along their way that illuminated the night.

Also on the Coco Palms property are fishponds that once belonged to Queen Deborah Kapule, which Grace promoted as being the Royal Fishponds of Kaua‘i’s rulers.

Elsewhere, in the hotel lobby, a conch-shell-blowing doorman would greet guests when they checked in.

When Grace’s guests complained about the croaking of frogs in the fishponds that kept them awake at night, she looked for a Hawaiian legend to justify the commotion and even glorify the frogs.

Finding none, she commissioned a legend and had it posted in her guests’ rooms to their satisfaction.

There was even a tree-planting ceremony performed to replenish the property’s grove of coconut trees that had originally been planted by copra grower William Lindemann in 1896.

And, in 1978, she hired artist James Stickney to paint a huge wall mural of Deborah Kapule and a portrait of King Kaumuali‘i that was hung in one of the dining rooms at Coco Palms.

Kaua‘i entertainer Larry Rivera got his start at Coco Palms.

Singer and actor Elvis Presley made Coco Palms world-famous in 1961 when he starred in the popular movie “Blue Hawai‘i,” which was filmed partly on the grounds at Coco Palms.

Thousands of couples exchanged wedding vows at the Coco Palms Wedding Chapel.

Grace Buscher Guslander managed Coco Palms until 1985, and passed away on April 5, 2000.
Source: The Garden Island

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