50 years for Sheraton Maui

Half a century ago, the Sheraton Maui Hotel opened its doors as the first hotel in the Kaanapali Beach Resort.

A special introductory rate was $15 per night, and the hotel was the only high rise along the beach in the planned resort community, said hotel officials and those who remember the hotel’s beginnings.

Fifty years later, rates have climbed with the times, with a check online of available hotel rooms today going for $360 per day to more than $800.

What is today known as the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa is no longer a loner. It is surrounded by other hotels and time shares in the resort area, designed by Amfac Inc., which derived from American Factors, one of the so-called “Big Five” companies in the Territory of Hawaii.

Yet some things remain, such as the nightly cliff dive ceremony off of Pu’u Keka’a, or Black Rock, the massive lava flow that juts out to the ocean next to the resort. The cliff dive is a tradition dating back to the days of Hawaiian royalty and Maui Chief Kahekili.

To commemorate its history and birthday, a 50th anniversary Celebration Maui Nui Luau by Tihati Productions will be held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday on the hotel’s ocean lawn. Tickets are $63, as in 1963, when the hotel opened.

The event, which is open to the public, will feature the history and culture of Maui and Kaanapali through song and dance of Maui and the Pacific.

Reservations may be made at 877-4852 or via the Internet at sheraton-maui.com.

Events such as the luau and special anniversary packages, including promotional rates for family-friendly ‘Ohana suites, are part of the yearlong celebration, the hotel said.

The hotel boasts an award-winning architectural design that incorporated the resort’s prime natural feature, Black Rock, that was a whale lookout in the 1800s, the hotel said.

Those who remember the Sheraton in the beginning said the lobby was on top of Black Rock with the hotel tower built up against the natural feature. Visitors had to head “down” to their rooms. The current, more traditional lobby is in a separate structure south of Black Rock.

The Sheraton was recognized for its use of Black Rock in its design and was the first Hawaii hotel to receive an award for architectural enhancement of a natural locale, the Sheraton said.

In 1968, Hawaii Visitors Bureau designated the Sheraton-Maui Hotel as one of the leaders in the development of Maui, particularly Lahaina-Kaanapali, as a major tourist destination resort.

Just three years after its opening, the hotel had 240 rooms. The resort currently has 508 rooms, with 83 percent of its rooms and suites facing the ocean.

Although the Sheraton is Kaanapali’s oldest resort, the hotel is one of the “newest,” having closed from 1995 to 1997 for a $160 million complete redevelopment, resort officials said.