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Update Aug 30 2023: I paid a visit to the old site of Hawaiian Gardens today and all that was left were some paved sections that were once part of the parking lot and buildings. The man made lakes are still there and some cool paths that go through the vegetation.
This place used to be in my neck of the woods and I never knew about it until today (Aug 27, 2023). It was quite something else as the photos and articles indicate. I feel cheated having never seen it when it was standing. The name survives as a mobile home community in Holly.
Eric Fish | Flint Journal - March 2009
HOLLY, Michigan -- There was a time not too long ago when Holly was the place to be. With a bustling downtown business district and a nightspot deemed to be the "social hub of southeast Michigan" lying just on the outskirts of town, things were good.
To those who didn't live in Holly at the time, it may be surprising to learn that an establishment called Hawaiian Gardens existed in Holly Township. Nestled back on the north side of Grange Hall Road just west of Quick Road, the Hawaiian Gardens Inn attracted crowds from all over including people like Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo and Mohammad Ali.
The Polynesian resort was built by the late Fred Barton, local famed inventor of the Bar's Leaks compound. Barton died in 1975."He was an idea man," Barbara Soloko said of her father, Barton. Soloko, 70, still makes Holly her home and said it was her father's dream to build a Polynesian resort.
"He wanted to give the skiers who visited Mt. Holly a place to stay because there wasn't a hotel in Holly at the time," Soloko recalled. "He and his wife Jane had a special love for Hawaii and the Polynesian culture, so they brought Hawaii to Holly."
Barton used his special lake building skills to provide his resort with scenic Lake Oahu -- a place where resort-goers could fish, boat and, in winter, ice skate.
"He brought a huge dredge in on the railway from Florida," said Don Winglemire, owner of Winglemire Furniture and close friend of Barton. "He called it Sand Bar #1 and he was so proud of that thing, he christened it with a bottle of champagne and everything."
The impressive lobby of the Hawaiian Gardens boasted a waterfall against an authentic lava rock wall. Strategically placed tropical plants and vines gave guests the feeling that they had just stepped into a tropical paradise.
Although the facility was designed by Jim Livingston and James H. Livingston Associate Architects, the Bartons had a great deal of input with the interior design, trying to capture the true feeling of Polynesia. So, focused on making the Hawaiian Gardens Inn authentic, at great cost the Bartons shipped island timbers, thatch, lava rock and stone directly to Holly.
A long glass-walled Huki-Lau Restaurant was built at water's edge, overlooking Lake Oahu and an in-ground swimming pool. The restaurant served Americanized Polynesian cuisine. The Bartons spelled out their intentions for diners on the inside cover of the Huki Lau Restaurant Menu.
"Our dishes will be directed toward excelling in American Cuisine with a touch of Polynesian because, after all, Hawaii is American and aside from a few variances, the food is of American character." The Huki-Lau was suited to feed the masses, having three separate dining rooms -- the Banyan Court, the Polynesian Longhouse, and the Kahili Room. All three dining rooms could seat up to a total of 600 guests.
Adjacent to the restaurant was the Waitoma Grotto Lounge, a cocktail lounge inspired by the Bartons' travels to Glowworm Grotto in New Zealand. With the back wall of the lounge made of variegated lava rock and simulated glowworms hanging from the ceiling, an armchair bar and cocktail lounge rounded out the place. "Fred paid a Girl Scout troop a penny per bead to make the glowworms for the ceiling," Winglemire said. "I know because it was my daughter's troop that did all the work. The kids must have strung three or four thousand beads."
Hawaiian music filled the rafters as dancers enjoyed a lighted glass dance floor near the bar. During certain times throughout the evening, a taped audio recording of a volcano eruption could be heard. Beginning with a slight rumble, the sounds would crescendo into a full blown roar. Lights would dim in the bar as the glass dance floor glowed red and began to shake. "It was really something," Winglemire said. "He had it all done electronically, and everybody loved it."
When it came to building the Hawaiian Gardens in 1960, Winglemire said Barton always used local businesses. "Contractors, electricians, plumbers -- just about everybody involved in building the Hawaiian Gardens was local," Winglemire said. "All of the furnishings in the Hawaiian Gardens came through Winglemire Furniture. All of the furniture in the restaurant and bar, all the motel furniture, the beds, light fixtures, televisions -- everything right down to the Kleenex tissue holders were furnished by us.
"It kind of became a joke, but there was never really a set of plans for the Hawaiian Gardens," Winglemire said. "Most of his ideas were drawn out in the sand with a stick, (Barton) was an incredibly intelligent guy."
With the restaurant and lounge, a gift shop, 40 air-conditioned deluxe motel rooms, a honeymoon cottage, and a par three golf course, in its heyday, Hawaiian Gardens employed 40 people. Luau nights called for more bartenders and wait staff, pushing the number to upwards of 60 people.
Like many Holly business owners today, Barton began running into local opposition against some of his other business ventures, including a multi-million dollar mobile home retirement park. Fed up with the red tape, Barton threatened to move some of his industrial endeavors to New York and sold Hawaiian Gardens in 1965.
"For him it wasn't fun anymore," Winglemire said. "So he decided to move onto other things."
For the next 10 years, Hawaiian Gardens changed ownership four times, eventually evolving into a short-lived disco called the Electric Crater in 1972. Shortly after that, it became the Governor's Gardens before reverting back to the Hawaiian Gardens.
In 1976, Vladimir Sarcevich bought the Hawaiian Gardens and transformed it into Vladimir's Inn, changing its look and theme into that of an Alpine mountain lodge. Sarcevich sold the business in 1979 when it briefly became the Lake Valley Inn. Within months, Lake Valley Inn experienced legal problems, forcing them to close their doors.
In 1984, the property was taken over by Holly Gardens -- a non-profit drug and alcohol rehabilitation center that would stay open until the late 1990s. In November of 2003, the abandoned buildings that were once such a rich part of Holly's history were torched by an arsonist. All that remains now is an abandoned parking lot.
"It's too bad Hawaiian Gardens is gone now," Soloko said. "But my dad loved the life he lived and lived his dream. Not a lot of people ever get that chance, but he did."