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ISLAND HISTORY: Larry Rivera’s early days at the Coco Palms Hotel

In 1951, Lawrence “Larry” Rivera (1930-2023), was hired at the Coco Palms Lodge, which Alfred and Veda Hills had opened for business that same year as a lodge of 24 rooms with five employees.

His job at the Coco Palms Lodge was determining how many check-ins there were and setting the tables for dinner in the lobby.

But he wasn’t there very long before he quit and joined the Army.

While he was gone in 1953, Lyle Guslander bought the Coco Palms Lodge, and Guslander’s manager, Grace Buscher, would begin transforming that sleepy, roadside lodge into the best-known resort in Hawai‘i — the Coco Palms Hotel.

When Larry returned home to Kaua‘i in 1955, Guslander hired him at Coco Palms and he remained there until it closed in 1992.

In 2007, while being interviewed by David Penhallow for Penhallow’s book, “The Story of the Coco Palms Hotel,” Larry recalled his early days at Coco Palms: “At first I did everything from dishwashing, busboy, and waiter. Then Grace heard me sing and wanted me to sing in the lounge and create a trio. So it was Lilly Bender, Kapeka Prigge and Mokihana Hanahano. We went from table to table from six to seven in the dining room and cocktail lounge.

“After the trio, we started employee shows on Saturday nights. We had a little show with an international flavor and called it “The Coco Palms Chorus.” Eunice Kinoshita did a Korean number; Gladys Hashimoto and a trio of girls did a Japanese number; Alex Maglinti, the bartender, did a Filipino butter knife dance, and for every show I sang the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” with Lilly Bender.

“Next we formed the “Hui Kane” – the men’s group. We only had the bellmen, waiters, bus boys, and guys at the desk. Also, Mrs. Guslander wanted me to play in the bar after the show was over in the dining room. I called it “Nightcap with Larry,” but I always added ‘but the drinks are on you!’”

Larry Rivera became world famous at Coco Palms and continued performing long after Coco Palms closed.
Source: The Garden Island

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