By Burl Burlingame
When is a house not a home? When it's owned by the taxpayers and most of them want to see you in your jammies.
We're talking about Washington Place, across the street from the state Capitol and, since 1921, the residence of record for Hawaii's governors. That will likely end soon, according to a news conference held this morning by Hawaii first lady Vicky Cayetano and Washington Place director Jim Bartels.
Their plan is to create a museum and meeting place out of the residence and to build a new residence for the governor nearby.
"As you study the history of this place, it's bigger and more powerful than we initially realized," said Bartels, during a sneak peek around the grounds yesterday. "It's largely the story of interesting women, from Mary Lambert Dominis -- a tough lady! -- who built the place, to her daughter-in-law Lydia, also known as Liliuokalani, to first ladies such as Jean Ariyoshi."
No matter how many women have run the Hawaii governors' households, Washington Place has been largely preserved in the spirit of Liliuokalani. She spent most of her life there, and died in the downstairs bedroom, where the actual bed -- an all-American, ornate mahogany piece -- still occupies pride of place.
A painting of the queen on the wall that was originally hung in an East Coast bordello will be moved elsewhere.
Quicktime VR Panoramas
These panoramas were photographed Jan. 5, 2001
inside Washington Place, the governor's residence. The residence is slated to
become the Queen Liliuokalani Museum.
Click on the panorama to see a virtual reality image
which can be panned and zoomed.
"This is the only room in Washington Place that is purely resonant of the queen," said Bartels. "The time period we'll largely go for is 1910, using Liliuokalani's dark, Edwardian and jumbled decor. But that was typical of the period. The challenge will be interpreting the entire history of the house, inch by inch."
Formerly a director of Iolani Palace, Bartels has learned not to tie the building too closely with a particular time period. The palace is freeze-dried in the 1880s, with little of its subsequent history interpreted. Washington Place will be interpreted more organically, he said. "There's 153 years of history here."
Which means that the queen's bedroom co-exists next to "this horror," as Bartels puts it, a 1970s-era ladies' restroom with colors that are not for the faint of heart.
Vicky Cayetano has a homemaker's sense of practicality. Although she was mightily impressed last year when thousands of Hawaii citizens trooped through the place during a rare open house, she realized opening up the house would mean no privacy at all for governors and their families.
"I also learned not to stand for four hours in 3-inch heels!" she laughed.
An answer, suggested by Bartels, was to keep Washington Place as a working house of state, adding museum interpretation and moving the family out but nearby. The plan calls for a new residence to be built on the site of a 1940s-era servants quarters.
"It'll be two-story, though, because the Secret Service demands it," said Bartels.
The big challenge is funding.
"It was difficult times in the 1990s to keep the house up, because there were other priorities," said Cayetano. "The kitchen, for example, hasn't been renovated in 35 years."
Their solution is to enable a private foundation to work in conjunction with state government, similar to the system enjoyed by Iolani Palace.
"There has to be accountability," said Cayetano.
They estimate it will cost about $1 million -- raised privately -- to build a state-of-the-art governor's residence, and about $2 million -- split between private and government money -- to restore and interpret Washington Place. There will be some sort of low-key merchandising as well.
"I hope everyone bought a Washington Place Christmas ornament this year," said Cayetano. "That's typical of the way we'd approach fund raising."
If everything falls into place, look for a major debut on Liliuokalani's Sept. 2 birthday in 2002. Many of the secrets of Washington Place will be revealed.
"Look at this," said Bartels, pointing out a clunky gold bracelet. "That was a gift from the Duke of Edinborough to Queen Liliuokalani, and she wore it nearly every day for 40 years. Why? Well, that's a story we'll have to get into later! But it's juicy."
Washington Place was built in 1842 by Capt. John Dominis, who was lost at sea en route to China to purchase household goods.
His widow made ends meet by renting out rooms. One of her tenants, the American ambassador to Hawaii, told such enlightening stores about George Washington that they inspired King Kamehameha III to dub the residence "Washington Place" in 1848.
The captain's son, John Owen Dominis, married Lydia Kamakaeha Paki, a noted composer who enjoyed playing music in the large home. When her brother Kalakaua was elected king of Hawaii, she was named heir, and became Queen Liliuokalani in 1891. She was deposed in 1893, and after being kept under house arrest at nearby Iolani Palace, she returned to Washington Place and spent the rest of her life working for Hawaiian rights, holding vast receptions in the home.
Before Liliuokalani passed away, she insisted that the American flag be flown over her home every day. In 1921, at the instigation of Prince Kuhio, the Territory of Hawaii took over the residence as living quarters for standing governors.
The Cayetanos are the 12th gubernatorial family to occupy Washington Place.
Burl Burlingame, Star-Bulletin