RICHARD BORRECA / RBORRECA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th president of the United States, is honored with two plaques affixed to a boulder at Mililani Mall in downtown Honolulu. Cleveland was praised by the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs for his opposition to the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and his support of Queen Liliuokalani.
Mililani Mall site dedicated to friend of Hawaiians
: In the Mililani Mall at Queen and Mililani streets, there is a large rock with two plaques on it dedicated to President Grover Cleveland. One plaque shows his face, the other contains words regarding the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. The mid-section of the inscribed plaque calls the area the President Grover Cleveland Court. There is no indication who put the plaque there and neither the city nor state parks department knows anything about it. It is dated March 18, 1994. What is the story behind this?
Answer: We'd bank on it that very few people know about the tribute to President Cleveland and why he was so honored.
Jalna Keala, past president of the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, told us that that organization initiated the move to honor Cleveland because of his friendship with Queen Liliuokalani and his support of the Hawaiian monarchy.
A state office building was the first recommended site for the Cleveland tribute, but it was rejected because of opposition from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
According to Keala, the tribute to Cleveland was the result of a resolution passed by the state Legislature in 1991. She said Annelle Amaral, one of the vice presidents of the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, as well as a state representative, at the time, introduced the resolution.
The resolution, which honors "an American President who stood for justice for the Hawaiian people," was forwarded to the state Department of Transportation, she said, and then-Director Edward Hirata "was very supportive of it. He assigned his deputy, Joyce Omine," to help, Keala recalled.
Subsequently, Rex Johnson became transportation director and he also was supportive, she said.
"Why it went to DOT, I don't know," Keala said. "But it was karma."
Because Mililani Mall is under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Accounting and General Services, we asked Russ Saito, the head of DAGS, if he could explain how Grover Cleveland Court came to be located there.
His staff uncovered a Jan. 6, 1994, memo sent to then-Gov. John Waihee by Johnson, then the chairman of the Grover Cleveland Commemoration Task Force, that laid out the sequence of events.
The memo noted the resolution adopted by the Legislature called for the naming of a government building, park, highway or other "appropriate facility on Oahu" in honor of Cleveland "for his efforts to prevent the annexation of the independent nation of Hawaii."
Grover Cleveland memorial downtown
One plaque reads:
By an act of war committed with the participation of the United States and without authority of Congress, the Government of a feeble but friendly and confiding people has been overthrown. A substantial wrong has thus been done which a due regard for our nation's character as well as the rights of the injured people requires we should endeavor to repair. -- President Grover Cleveland Message to the U.S. Congress December 18, 1893
Soon after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy on January 17, 1893, Grover Cleveland took office and withdrew the Treaty of Annexation. The people of Hawai'i dedicate this Court to President Grover Cleveland, with appreciation and aloha. March 18, 1994
At the request of Keala and other community members, DOT Director Hirata sent a memo to Waihee in 1991 recommending that a task force be appointed to effect the intent of the resolution.
The task force's first recommendation was to rename Hale Auhau (the state Attorney General's Office building at 425 Queen St.) in honor of Cleveland.
However, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs' Education and Culture Committee did not support the renaming proposal, the memo said, because of "their past and consistent support of the maintenance, preservation and perpetuation of the Hawaiian language."
Ultimately, the proposed location of the 1.5-acre landscaped area on the Queen Street side of Keelikolani Building on Mililani Mall won the "full support of the Hawaiian community -- the Hawaiian Civic Clubs, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs."
The task force selected a 6-foot by 5-foot by 3-foot boulder to hold an 18-inch circular bronze plaque with Cleveland's face and a bronze plaque with descriptive information. One-third of the boulder is underground.
The Transportation Department paid for the plaques (about $2,000) and transported the rock from its Halawa baseyard.
Keala recalled it was Omine who suggested getting a rock from Halawa Valley.
"A Hawaiian kahu from a Hawaiian church in Kalihi and I went up to look at all the big boulders and chose one," Keala said. "He blessed it. We walked around it, we talked to the boulder and said it was going to go to a good place. We didn't want anyone hurt in moving it," she said, recalling there was "so much controversy involved" in the H-3 freeway project in Halawa Valley.
Keala doesn't know why Mililani Mall was chosen as the site to place the boulder, but whatever the reason, it turned out to be "a good place."
From the site of the boulder, she said, you can see the corner of Mililani and Merchant streets, where Marine forces set up Gatling guns, facing Iolani Palace in 1893. Shortly thereafter, Liliuokalani was removed from her throne.
"We were lucky we had two (transportation) directors who supported it and Annelle in the Legislature who supported it," Keala said. "By golly, something came of it."
The task force recommended President Grover Cleveland Court be dedicated on Mililani Mall on March 18, 1994, to coincide with the 156th anniversary of his birth.
We asked Keala to explain why Hawaiians felt Cleveland needed to be honored.
"First of all, he sent Mr. (James) Blount to do a report on the whole overthrow," she said. "Secondly, he was the one president that wanted to return the queen to her power. ... He and his wife were very, very kind to the queen when she went to Washington. She talked about that in her memoirs."
Keala said the story of Cleveland's part in Hawaii's past is "one of those vignettes of history that kind of gets overlooked unless you really are into details."
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