Hilton Hawaiian Village Unveils Restored Mosaic

EDITOR'S NOTE: Members of Local 1 Hawaii installed more than 31,000 ceramic tiles to restore the iconic rainbow mosaic on the side of Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. The article below by Allison Schaefers, published on June 17, 2014, is reprinted with permission of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort will celebrate the lengthy, $4.25 million restoration of its iconic two-part rainbow mosaic Monday with an invitation-only blessing and dedication.

The celebration comes just two weeks after The Taubman Co. LLC, redeveloper of the International Market Place, started taking down the colorful three-story tile mosaic on the Miramar at Waikiki Hotel. The Miramar mosaic depicted the Bodhisattva Guanyin, or Quanying. There was no reprieve for the Miramar mosaic because the artwork did not fit into redevelopment plans, the company said.

Hilton, however, elected to save the more famous rainbow mosaic because it's an iconic part of its Hawaii branding. The unveiling of the original rainbow mosaic in 1968 was attended by politicians, business tycoons and the glitterati. Gov. John A. Burns and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye were among those catching the first glimpse of the vibrant tiles along with Barron Hilton, then president of Hilton Hotels Corp.

"The rainbow mural on Oahu is the iconic equivalent to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco or the Statue of Liberty in New York," said Jerry Gibson, area vice president of Hilton Hawaii. "It is synonymous with Waikiki and is actually a celebrity in its own right. It has been the backdrop in many movies, TV shows and thousands of vacation photos taken on Waikiki Beach."

The original mosaic, which was designed by Millard Sheets, encompassed more than 16,000 hand-painted ceramic tiles and was touted as the world's tallest mosaic at the time. Over time the mosaic's brilliant colors dimmed, and some of its tiles fell, inspiring Hilton to take the unusual tack of embarking on a multiyear restoration.

"We see this happen rarely because it takes years of planning. There's design work, entitlement and permitting, and that's before you even get to the demolition and installation phases," said Paul Brussow, executive vice president of Rider Levett Bucknall, Hilton's project manager for the restoration. "I'm really grateful to Hilton for doing this project, which is a symbol of Hawaii across the world. It was amazing to be a part of this project. I don't think that I'll ever be a part of something like this again."

All told, Brussow said, it took about 100 individuals representing about 10 different contracting firms to demolish the existing mosaic and design and install the reproduction tiles, which were individually replicated by United Kingdom-based Johnson Tiles.

"The rainbow mural is a huge part of the heart and soul of Hilton Hawaiian Village," said Gibson. "Once we decided to proceed with the restoration, it was critical to do it right."

Demolition started in September with Johnson Tiles and subcontracting experts conducting a detailed tile-by-tile review and extensive photographic comparisons to ensure the new mosaic was historically accurate and would stand the test of time.

"The rainbow mural has such great significance not just to the Hilton Hawaiian Village, but to the people of Hawaii," said Darren Clanford, creative director at Johnson Tiles.

"We invested considerable resources to ensure the digital tiles we produced convey the passion and character of Millard Sheets' original work."

The new 286-foot-high, 26-foot-wide reproductions feature more than 31,000 tiles, and the base of the mountainside mural incorporates new artwork by the original artist's son, Tony Sheets.

"This was one of my dad's major pieces, and I appreciate Hilton's dedication to preserving this important part of my dad's legacy in Hawaii," Tony Sheets said.

The elder Sheets, who died in 1989, created nearly 200 murals for both public and private entities and was most famous for such works as "Word of Life" at the University of Notre Dame Library; the U.S. Department of the Interior Building, Washington; the Los Angeles City Hall; the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota; and the Detroit Public Library. However, his Oregon-based son said he always had a particular soft spot for the Hawaii mural.