THE FIFTH WONDER:
Iolani Palace glowed with colorful lanterns in honor of Queen Kapiolani's birthday on Dec. 28, 2006.
The only royal residence in the U.S. celebrates the lost Hawaiian monarchy
The wonders of Hawaii, it seems, are largely created by the divine hand of nature. Except, that is, for the only building on our list, and even that took three architects, the near bankruptcy of the Hawaiian kingdom and a king besotted with visions of European royalty to complete.
And so: Iolani Palace, a historic, ornate and much-beloved Victorian Christmas present of a Wonder; a festive, decorative centerpiece in downtown Honolulu; the only royal residence in the United States; an oasis that acts as a portal to the past and a self-portrait of the present.
"It is a place we preserve and protect as a museum," explained Kippen de Alba Chu, executive director of the Friends of Iolani Palace. "And we also celebrate it as a living symbol of the Hawaiian monarchy."
Kamehameha V first created a grand structure to proclaim the coming of age of Hawaii's royalty. Called Aliiolani Hale, the Victorian building was immediately drafted as a government office instead of a royal residence, and it was up to King David Kalakaua to create another.
The Royal Guard marched on the palace grounds during a Nov. 16, 2005, ceremony marking King Kalakaua's birthday.
Across King Street -- naturally -- was the acting palace of the Hawaiian monarchy, a grand place called Iolani "palace," but it was really more of a stately home modeled on the English style. Kalakaua had been to Europe and knew what palaces really looked like, and besides, the original place had termites.
Drawn up by "court architects" Thomas J. Baker, C.S. Wall and Isaac Moore, the structure opened in 1882 and cost more than $360,000. Newspapers invented the phrase "American Florentine" to describe the architectural style, and no other building in the world looks quite like it.
Iolani Palace is made of brick, faced with cement and then coated with concrete block, all of which is a shell for the amazingly ornate wood motifs of the interior. A lover of modern technology, Kalakaua installed electricity and telephones even before the White House and Buckingham Palace boasted such refinements.
The grand hall dominates the first floor. It is framed by a glowing staircase of polished koa, and the "official" portions of the first floor are largely occupied by a throne room, the "blue" meeting room and a dining hall.
Kalakaua only lived in the palace for a half-dozen years, and was then succeeded by Queen Liliuokalani, who became the focal point of an 1893 political revolution. Liliuokalani was subjected to house arrest in the palace.
Until the new state Capitol was constructed just behind the residence, Iolani Palace was the seat of power in Hawaii, as well as the fictional headquarters for "Hawaii Five-O."
Gov. John A. Burns kicked off a decades-long restoration of the site, beginning by kicking out all the government offices. The palace reopened in 1978.
Go up the stairs, and it's the residential area, including bedrooms and library.
"This last year we had about 76,000 visitors," said de Alba Chu, adding that the number was an increase, likely due to the opening of the palace grounds for more public events and to newly designed audio tours.
And restoration continues. "In the next few months, we'll have some major unveilings of draperies and carpeting."
» To visit: Tours of Iolani Palace, 364 S. King St., are offered 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; no children under age 5 admitted. A 45-minute Galleries Tour is $6 ($3 children); the longer Grand Tour is $20 ($5 children). Call 522-0832 or visit www.iolanipalace.org.
ABOUT THIS SERIES
Each day through Saturday, the Star-Bulletin will introduce one of Hawaii's Seven Wonders. Save the pages in the print edition and assemble them into an oversized poster.
» The First Wonder: Kilauea Volcano
» The Second Wonder: Diamond Head
» The Third Wonder: Hanauma Bay
» The Fourth Wonder: Haleakala
» The Fifth Wonder: Iolani Palace