Waioli Tea Room, Stevenson Hut Reopen

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HONOLULU -- The Waioli Tea Room in verdant Manoa Valley was a popular stop for the Honolulu sightseeing tours of yesteryear.

After consuming pastries, visitors would view a bit of old Hawaii in the tree-shaded gardens: Robert Louis Stevenson's Grass Hut. The visiting Scotsman, it is said, lived and wrote -- including a portion of the "Master of Ballantrae" -- in this shack. But with the growth in more prominent tourist attractions, buses began to bypass an attraction that has been closed more often than open in the past two decades.

However, last September, the tea room reopened under new management after being closed for three years. In November, the Salvation Army, the tea room's owner, held ceremonies to celebrate its 75th anniversary. Image

After being managed by a succession of catering companies through the years, the tea room now is operated by a Honolulu wedding firm. The move is a natural one. The firm, Exclusive Inc., has run the Salvation Army's adjacent Waioli Chapel since 1972. Every day, a succession of limousines delivers Japanese couples for wedding ceremonies at the lava rock chapel, notable for its stained-glass windows.

"We're running the tea room more as a support service for our weddings, for functions and a place where people can relax," said Denny Walker, Exclusive Inc.'s president. "It's not a profit center for us," he said.

Before the reopening, the tea room was repainted, and minor repairs were made. The building underwent a major restoration in the early 1990s.

Just 15 minutes from Waikiki, at 2950 Manoa Road, it offers a spot to mellow out during the rigors of city sightseeing. The tea room and this part of Manoa, one of Hawaii's oldest residential districts, have changed little over the years.

The team room is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays, and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m., when high tea is served. It has a selection of sandwiches and salads, bakery items and Hawaiian gift souvenirs for sale. Three rooms are available for meetings and functions, two with a capacity for 25 persons and one for up to 50.

Although Walker wants to increase business, he is not expecting the crowds of the old days when tour vehicles stopped. In the early 1970s, he noted, the tea room could have had 15 tour vehicles parked at one time for the buffet lunch.

The Salvation Army, in Hawaii since 1894, opened the tea room in 1922 with a bakery as its focal point. The tea room was used for vocational training for girls at its orphanage, and it produced meals for delivery in Honolulu and, during the war, for military posts. The chapel was built in 1939.

No longer needed with the development of social services, the orphanage closed in the 1960s (a handful of ladies, trained at the tea room in the early days, most now in their 80s, turned up for the 75th anniversary celebration). The grass hut remains.

The Salvation Army acquired it in 1926 from the Ainahau estate in Waikiki. The estate once covered the beachfront area between the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel and Hawaiian Regent back to the Ala Wai Canal. It was the home of government minister Archibald Cleghorn, another Scotsman, and his daughter, Princess Kaiulani.

Robert Louis Stevenson, who stayed in Hawaii five months in 1889, when the princess was 13, and five weeks in 1893, was a family friend. He arranged for the princess to be educated in Scotland and wrote her a poem. The hut has undergone restoration work at various times and, although there is no way to verify authenticity, it is believed some furniture could be the real thing.

Exclusive Inc. is involved in planning 5,500 weddings a year, ranging from complete weddings to handling components, including renting out its limousines and the chapel to other wedding planners. About 70% of Exclusive's wedding couples are Japanese visitors.

Walker said few local weddings are booked at the chapel because it holds only 60 people, and mainland couples prefer beach and ocean locations.

Exclusive's commissionable wedding package prices range from around $600 to $5,000, depending on components, with the average price around $1,500 to $2,000.

Exclusive Inc., Phone: (800) 722-1152

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