X MARKS THE SPOT
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Washington Place, formerly home to Hawaiian royalty and Hawaii's first families, is now preserved as a historic residence.
Historic residence is being preserved
Capt. John Dominis didn't get much of a chance to live in his new house. Begun in the late 1830s, when the roving seafarer decided to make Honolulu his home port, the coral-block structure was finished in 1842. Dominis sailed off to China to purchase household goods but was, alas, lost at sea en route.
The widow Dominis made do by endless puttering in the garden and making ends meet by renting out rooms. The American ambassador to Hawaii proved he wasn't one of her idle roomers by telling such entertaining stories about George Washington that they inspired King Kamehameha III to dub the house "Washington Place" in 1848. And so it has been known ever since.
It is a Greek Revival mansion -- typical of large American homes of the mid-1800s -- and over the years, additions and various lanais were slathered onto the structure. Framed by its flowing green grounds and canopied trees, the face it presents to downtown Honolulu is largely unaltered from the widow Dominis' day.
Son John Owen Dominis married royally to Lydia Kamakaeha Paki, known then primarily as a music composer who enjoyed concertizing in the parlor. When brother Kalakaua was elected king of Hawaii, she inherited the mantle and became Queen Liliuokalani in 1891 and moved the short distance to nearby Iolani Palace. After some political upheaval -- an overthrow, house arrest, a counterrevolution, that sort of thing -- Lydia returned to the home she knew best and spent the rest of her life working for Hawaiian rights. Interestingly, she insisted that the American flag be flown over her home every day.
After her death, at the suggestion of Prince Kuhio, the Territory of Hawaii took over Washington Place as living quarters for standing governors.
Twelve gubernatorial families occupied Washington Place; the Cayetanos were the last. Vicky Cayetano spearheaded a drive to build a more modern -- and better-secured -- governor's house.
Washington Place's historic nature demanded regular tours by nosy visitors, which made living there a goldfish bowl existence. (You just know that in the new digs, Gov. Lingle has pizza boxes and video games scattered everywhere.)
Washington Place is gradually being reconditioned as a historic residence and reception area, largely preserved in the spirit of the queen who spent her life there.
"X Marks the Spot"
is a weekly feature documenting historic monuments and sites around Oahu. Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org