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ʻIolani Palace

ʻIolani Palace
ʻIolani Palace is the hallmark of Hawaiian renaissance architecture
Location Honolulu, HI
Area 10.6 acres (4.3 ha)
Built 1879
Architect Thomas J. Baker, Charles J. Wall, Isaac Moore
Architectural style American Florentine
Governing body State of Hawaii
Part of Hawaii Capital Historic District (#78001020)
NRHP Reference # 66000293[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 15, 1966
Designated NHL December 29, 1962[2]

The ʻIolani Palace was the royal residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Hawaii beginning with Kamehameha III under the Kamehameha Dynasty (1845) and ending with Queen Liliʻuokalani (1893) under the Kalākaua Dynasty, founded by her brother, King David Kalākaua. It is located in the capitol district of downtown Honolulu in the U.S. state of Hawaiʻi. It is now a National Historic Landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Kamehameha III, IV, V, and Lunalilo had their official royal residences in this location as well.

After the monarchy was overthrown in a coup d'état by Americans in 1893, the building was used as the capitol building for the Provisional Government. Following that, the Republic, Territory, and State of Hawaiʻi used it as the capitol until 1969. The palace was restored and opened to the public as a museum in 1978.


  • History 1
    • Pohukaina and the House of Kamehameha 1.1
      • Tomb 1.1.1
    • Hale Aliʻi 1.2
      • ʻIolani Palace 1.2.1
    • Aliʻiōlani Hale 1.3
    • Seat of government 1.4
  • Kalākaua's ʻIolani Palace 2
    • Design and construction 2.1
    • Royal imprisonment and trial 2.2
    • Archives 2.3
  • Palace restoration 3
    • Contemporary events 3.1
  • Representation in media 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Pohukaina and the House of Kamehameha

Pohukaina with the Royal Tomb to the left, Hale Aliʻi directly behind with the two-story home of Kana'ina and Kekauluohi to the far right, where Lunalilo was born

In the early 19th century, the area near an ancient burial site was known as Pohukaina.[3] It may also have been named for the chief of the same name (sometimes spelled Pahukaina) who, according to legend, chose a cave in Kanehoalani in the Koʻolau Range for his resting place. The land belonged to Kekauluohi, who later ruled as Kuhina Nui, as part of her birthright.[4] She lived there with her husband Charles Kanaina. Kekūanāoa also had his home just west of Kekauluohi, called Haliimaile, and Keoni Ana lived in Kīnaʻu Hale (which was later converted into the residence of the royal chamberlain). All were members of the House of Kamehameha.

This area was a sacred burial site for aliʻi nobles.[5] Kekāuluohi and Kanaʻina's original aliʻi-style home was similar to that of the other estates in the neighborhood, consisting of small buildings used for different purposes. The sitting and sleeping area had a folding-door entrance of green painted wood under glass upper panels. The house had two rooms separated by a festooned tent door of chintz fabric and was carpeted with hand-crafted makaloa mats. In the front was a lounge area opposite a sideboard and mirror. In the middle they placed a semi-circle of armchairs around a center table where the couple would write. Four matching cabinet-bookshelves with glass doors were set in each corner of the room, with silk scarves hanging from each.[6] In his book, A Visit to the South Seas, in the U.S. Ship Vincennes: during the years 1829 and 1830, Charles Samuel Stewart describes the area and homes in detail.[6]

Next to the couple's home was an old estate called Hanailoia, where the main building had been demolished.[7] This was the spot described by oral history as having had an ancient heiau (temple to the Hawaiian religion) called Kaʻahaimauli; it was destroyed.[8][9]

In July 1844 Kekūanāoa began building a large home here as a gift to his daughter Victoria Kamāmalu. Instead, Kamehameha III bought the estate to use as his Royal Residence after moving the capitol of the kingdom to Honolulu. It became known as the Iolani Palace.[5] As each family member died, the lands were passed on or sold. After Kekāuluohi died, she left the lands she had to her son, not her husband Kanaʻina. However, he had his own land awards as well as the estate for life. He was the last of the family to live in his original estate, now part of the Iolani Palace Walk. When Kalakaua rebuilt the palace to replace the old, decaying structure, the Kingdom acquired the former Kanaʻina estate. It built an archive building on the grounds, dedicated and named after the former owner Kanaʻina.


After 1825, the first Western-style royal tomb was constructed for King Kamehameha II and his queen Kamāmalu. They were buried on August 23, 1825. Kamehameha II was inspired to create this tomb by having seen the tombs at Westminster Abbey during a trip to London. The mausoleum was a small house made of coral blocks with a thatched roof. It had no windows. Two chiefs guarded the iron-locked koa door day and night. No one can enter the vault except for burials or Memorial Day, a Hawaiian national holiday celebrated on December 30.[4]

Over time, as more bodies were added, the small vault became crowded, so other chiefs and retainers were buried in unmarked graves nearby. In 1865 a selected 20 coffins were removed to the Royal Mausoleum of Hawaii called Mauna ʻAla in Nuʻuanu Valley. But the remains of many chiefs are still interred on the site, including: Keaweʻīkekahialiʻiokamoku, Kalaniopuu, Chiefess Kapiolani, and Timothy Haalilio.

After the site became overgrown, the Hawaiian Historical Society passed a resolution in 1930 requesting Governor Lawrence Judd to memorialize the site with the construction of a metal fence enclosure and installation of a plaque explaining its history. Tradition holds that the tomb was on the site of an ancient sacred cave.[4][10]

Hale Aliʻi

The original ʻIolani Palace, the grandest house of its time in Honolulu, built by Mataio Kekuanaoa for his daughter, Princess Victoria Kamāmalu

The home built by Kekūanāoʻa was a wood and stone building called Hale Aliʻi, meaning (House of the Chiefs).. It had one-third the floor space of the present palace. Mataio Kekūanāoʻa, who was long-time Royal Governor of Oʻahu, was the husband of Kīnaʻu, the daughter of Kamehameha I. He built the large home for his daughter Princess Victoria Kamāmalu who, from birth, was expected to rule in some capacity. King Kamehameha III purchased the house in 1845 from Kamāmalu (the King's niece) when he moved his capital from Lahaina to Honolulu.

This house was constructed as a traditional aliʻi residence with only ceremonial spaces, no sleeping rooms. It had a throne room, a reception room, and a state dining room. Houses nearby were used for sleeping and as residences for retainers. Kamehameha III slept in a cooler grass hut near the palace. He called his home Hoʻihoʻikea[11] in honor of his restoration after the Paulet Affair of 1843.[8]

ʻIolani Palace

The House of Kamehameha established and named the Iolani Palace. Kamehameha III with Queen Kamala to the left and Victoria Kamāmalu (original owner of the first palace) to the right with future monarchs Kamehameha IV, top left and Kamehameha V, top right

The original structure was very simple in design and was more of a stately home than a palace, but at the time, it was the grandest house in town. The palace was used largely for receiving foreign dignitaries and state functions. The monarch preferred to sleep in private homes.

During Kamehameha V's reign, the name of Hale Aliʻi's was changed to ʻIolani Palace, after his brother Kamehameha IV's given names (his full name was Alexander Liholiho Keawenui ʻIolani). It means "royal hawk."[12] The Palace served as the official residence of the monarch during the reigns of Kamehameha III, Kamehameha IV, Kamehameha V, Lunalilo, and the first part of Kalākaua's reign.[12]

Aliʻiōlani Hale

King Kamehameha V envisioned a royal palace befitting of the sovereign of a modern state. He commissioned the construction of Aliʻiōlani Hale to be the official palace of the Hawaiian monarchy. The building was constructed across the street from the original ʻIolani Palace. He named it after himself (his full name was Lot Kapuaiwa Kalanikupuapaikalaninui Aliʻiolani Kalanimakua); it means "House of the heavenly King". At the time, Hawaiʻi needed a government building, since the structures of the time were small and cramped. Ultimately, Aliʻiōlani Hale was used as an administrative building instead of a palace, housing the judiciary of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi and various other ministries.

Seat of government

Kamehameha I had formed his official government at Lahaina, Maui in 1802, where he built his royal palace. The Lahaina palace remained the seat of government under the first three Kamehameha monarchs until 1845, when Kamehameha III moved the royal court to Honolulu, Oahu.[13] Lahaina had been the seat of government, where the royal courts of many chiefs of Maui had been located, including Kahekili II until 1794.[14]

In 1845, when Kamehameha III moved the Royal Court and capitol to Honolulu,[15][16] he designated Hale Ali'i as the seat of government; it would retain this function through the subsequent Kamehameha monarchs. After 1874, the main seat of government was transferred to the new central government building left by Kamehameha V. After the overthrow, the provisional government used the Iolani Palace as the seat of government. While Hawaiʻi had the status of a territory, the palace was called the Capitol of the Territorial Government. It also served as the first state capitol building.[17] This area has been culturally significant as a seat of government for many reasons, including the palace's size, orientation, and other factors of religious importance. It bridged the ancient history of Hawaii to the new 19th-century monarchy.[18]

Kalākaua's ʻIolani Palace

The palace shortly after construction

By the time David Kalākaua assumed the throne in 1874, the original ʻIolani Palace was in poor condition, suffering from ground termite damage. He ordered the old palace to be razed.

Kalākaua was the first monarch to travel around the world. While visiting Europe, he took note of the grand palaces owned by other monarchs. Like Kamehameha V, he dreamed of a royal palace befitting the sovereignty of a modern state such as Hawaiʻi. He commissioned the construction of a new ʻIolani Palace, directly across the street from Aliʻiōlani Hale, to become the official palace of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Design and construction

Thomas J. Baker designed the structure, Charles J. Wall added details, and architect Isaac Moore. The cornerstone was laid December 31, 1879 during the administration of Minister of the Interior Samuel Gardner Wilder.[19]:204 It was built of brick with concrete facing. The building was completed in November 1882 and cost over $340,000 — a vast fortune at the time. It measures about 140 feet (43 m) by 100 feet (30 m), and rises two stories over a raised basement to 54 feet (16 m) high. It has four corner towers and two in the center rising to 76 feet (23 m). On February 12, 1883 a formal European-style coronation ceremony was held, even though Kalākaua had reigned for 9 years. The coronation pavilion was later moved to the southwest corner of the grounds and converted to a bandstand for the Royal Hawaiian Band.[12]

ʻIolani Palace features architecture seen nowhere else in the world. This unique style is known as American Florentine. On the first floor a grand hall faces a staircase of koa wood. Ornamental plaster decorates the interior. The throne room (southeast corner), the blue meeting room, and the dining room adjoin the hall. The blue room included a large 1848 portrait of King Louis Philippe of France and a koa wood piano where Liliʻuokalani played her compositions for guests. Upstairs are the private library and bedrooms of the Hawaiian monarchs.[12] It had electricity and telephones before the White House of the United States.

It served as the official residence of the Hawaiian monarch until the 1893 overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Beside Liliʻuokalani, Queen Kapiʻolani and other royal retainers were evicted from the palace after the overthrow by Americans. Today, the palace is the only official state residence of royalty on US soil.[20]

Royal imprisonment and trial

Newspaper depiction of the trial of Queen Liliuokalani

Upon the overthrow of the monarchy by the Committee of Safety in 1893, troops of the newly formed Provisional Government of Hawaiʻi took control of ʻIolani Palace. After a few months, the new government moved its offices in and renamed this as the "Executive Building" for the Republic of Hawaiʻi. Government officials carefully inventoried its contents and sold at public auctions whatever furniture or furnishings were not suitable for government operations. Queen Liliʻuokalani was imprisoned for nine months in a small room on the upper floor after the second of the Wilcox rebellions in 1895. The quilt she made is still there. The trial was held in the former throne room.[12]

When a proposed annexation treaty was up for ratification, the Hawaiian Patriotic League, led by many royal women, held a protest rally at the palace on September 6, 1897. They gathered petition signatures in an effort to demonstrate that the treaty did not have popular support. On August 12, 1898 United States troops from the USS Philadelphia came ashore and raised the Flag of the United States at the palace to mark the annexation by the Newlands Resolution. The Queen and other Hawaiian nobles did not attend, staying at Washington Place instead.[21]

The building served as the capitol of the Territory of Hawaiʻi, the military headquarters during World War II, and the capitol of the State of Hawaiʻi. During the government's use of the palace, the second-floor royal bedroom was used as the governor's office. The legislature occupied the entire first floor: the representatives met in the former throne room and the senate in the former dining room.[12]


After annexation, Hawaiians feared that all records would be moved to the mainland. Since an 1847 organiziing effort by Robert Crichton Wyllie, a set of archives had been kept of all kingdom records. A new fireproof building was built in 1906 for the archives on the grounds to the southeast of the palace. It included a vault 30 feet (9.1 m) by 40 feet (12 m) with steel shelves. At first it was to be called the Hall of Records, but the name Archives of Hawaii was chosen to demonstrate that documents from the kingdom were included in the holdings.[22] In the 21st century, a new Kekāuluohi building provides digital access to some of the collections.[23]

Palace restoration

In 1930 the interior of ʻIolani Palace was remodeled, and wood framing replaced by steel and reinforced concrete. The name ʻIolani Palace was officially restored in 1935.[12] During World War II, the palace served as the temporary headquarters for the military governor in charge of martial law in the Hawaiian Islands.

The Hawaiian soldiers of Japanese ancestry who were accepted for service in the US Army became the core of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, whose battlefield achievements became notable. Before leaving Hawaii for training on the mainland, they were sworn in during a mass ceremony on the grounds of the Palace.[24]

Through more than 70 years as a functional but neglected government building, the Palace fell into disrepair. After Hawaii became a state, Governor John A. Burns began an effort in the 1960s to restore the palace. The first step was to move the former ʻIolani Barracks building from its original position northeast of the palace. It now serves as a visitors center for the palace.

ʻIolani Palace was designated a National Historic Landmark on December 29, 1962[2] and added as site 66000293 to the National Register of Historic Places listings in Oahu on October 15, 1966.[1] Government offices vacated the Palace in 1969 and moved to the newly constructed Hawaii State Capitol building on the former barracks site. In preparation for restoration, the Junior League of Honolulu researched construction, furnishings, and palace lifestyle in nineteenth-century newspapers, photographs and archival manuscripts. Overseeing the restoration was The Friends of ʻIolani Palace, founded by Liliʻuokalani Kawānanakoa Morris, grand-niece of Queen Kapiʻolani. Two wooden additions were removed, and the interior was restored based on original plans.[25]

Through the efforts of acquisitions researchers and professional museum staff, and donations of individuals, many original Palace objects have been returned. Government grants and private donations funded reproduction of original fabrics and finishes to restore Palace rooms to their monarchy-era appearance. ʻIolani Palace opened to the public in 1978 after structural restoration of the building was completed.[25] In the basement is a photographic display of the Palace, orders and decorations given by the monarchs, and an exhibit outlining restoration efforts.

The grounds of ʻIolani Palace are managed by the Hawaiʻi State Department of Land and Natural Resources. The palace building is managed as a historical house museum by the Friends of ʻIolani Palace, a non-profit non-governmental organization. The birthdays of King Kalākaua (November 16) and Queen Kapiʻolani (December 28) are celebrated with ceremonies.[26]

Contemporary events

On January 17, 1993, a massive observation was held on the grounds of ʻIolani Palace to mark the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. A torchlight vigil was held at night, with the palace draped in black.[27]

On April 30, 2008, ʻIolani Palace was occupied by a group of native Hawaiians, identifying as the Hawaiian Kingdom Government, to protest what they consider illegitimate rule by the United States. Mahealani Kahau, "head of state" of the group, said they do not recognize Hawaiʻi as a U.S. state. They vowed to have a peaceful occupation. Kahau said, "The Hawaiian Kingdom Government is here and it doesn't plan to leave. This is a continuity of the Hawaiian Kingdom of 1892 to today."[28][29] Friends of ʻIolani Palace released a statement stating: "We respect the freedom of Hawaiian groups to hold an opinion on the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, we believe that blocking public access to Iolani Palace is wrong and certainly detrimental to our mission to share the Palace and its history with our residents, our keiki (children), and our visitors."[30]

Representation in media

A movie titled Princess Kaiulani about Princess Victoria Kaʻiulani Cleghorn was filmed at the palace in 2008.[31][32]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Pohukaina
  4. ^ a b c
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b (extracts of address at cornerstone ceremony in 1879)
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Hoihoikea (historical)
  12. ^ a b c d e f g
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ Coffman, Tom et al. (2006). The First Battle: the Battle for Equality in War-time Hawaii, Script, Act II.
  25. ^ a b
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^

External links

  • Photo essay on residences of Hawaiian Kings
  • Iolani PalaceʻFriends of
  • Pacific WorldsIolani Palace oral history on ʻ
  • Pacific WorldsIolani Palace and the Overthrow of the Monarchy on ʻ
  • Coffman, Tom, (2006).David Hoole; Nyla Fujii; Eric Nemoto and Gary Ontai. (2006). The First Battle: the Battle for Equality in War-time Hawaii. San Francisco: Center for Asian American Media. OCLC 72700683
  • Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) No. HI-1, "Iolani Palace, King & Richards Streets, Honolulu, Honolulu County, HI", 57 photos, 23 measured drawings, 2 data pages, 3 photo caption pages
    • HABS No. HI-2, "Iolani Bandstand, King & Richards Streets, Honolulu, Honolulu County, HI", 8 photos, 3 measured drawings, 6 data pages, 1 photo caption page
    • HABS No. HI-3, "Iolani Barracks, Richards & Hotel Streets, Honolulu, Honolulu County, HI", 17 photos, 6 measured drawings, 6 data pages, 1 photo caption page
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