Friday, July 17, 1998

Abigail Kawananakoa
may resign from
palace ‘Friends’

Her posing on the throne
for a photo shoot has led
to staff dissent

By MIke Yuen


Facing something akin to a palace rebellion, a descendant of Hawaiian royalty says she may step down as president of the nonprofit support group for Iolani Palace.

Abigail Kawananakoa last night said some trustees of Friends of Iolani Palace and volunteers who serve as palace guides want her out. More than 150 of the volunteer docents are threatening to resign en masse, she said.

The push for her ouster follows a flap she had with Jim Bartels, who subsequently resigned as the palace's managing director.

Kawananakoa said she sat on the palace throne in April to comply with a request from a Life photographer doing a spread on royalty around the world, which appeared in a recent special issue.

"Jim came into the room, saw I was still sitting on the throne, and he carried on like I had desecrated something," Kawananakoa said. She added that he shouted at her and accused her of "'vandalism.' That's a little hard to take. He completely lost it."

As reported yesterday, the Life photographer, Harry Benson, told the Star-Bulletin that Bartels, upon seeing Kawananakoa sitting on the throne, told her not to sit there. Benson said Bartels did not yell and the dispute was "not a big deal."

Kawananakoa insisted she made the correct decision to agree to sit on the throne, and she did so for less than five minutes. The result was "good coverage" on Iolani Palace and Hawaiian royalty from a national publication, she said.

Bartels, who's popular with the docents, overstepped his authority when he made his accusation against her, Kawananakoa said.

"Does the tail wag the dog, or does the dog wag the tail? ... As long as I'm here, the dog is going to wag the tail," she said.

If the docents get their way and Bartels comes back, she definitely won't return, Kawananakoa insisted. "There's not enough room for both of us," she maintained.

Bartels last night refused to say if he wants his old job back, if he wants Kawananakoa out or what his future plans might be.

Both Kawananakoa and Bartels, who is part Hawaiian, have been instrumental in the restoration and preservation of Iolani Palace, which was the seat of Hawaii government from the monarchy to statehood.

Bartels confirmed that one of his uncles was married to one of Kawananakoa's aunts. Both are now dead.

"Our families have been close for a long time," said Bartels, who served as palace curator for 21 years before becoming managing director.

"I hired him," Kawananakoa said.

The Friends of Iolani Palace manage the palace under a lease from the state.

Kawananakoa said if the majority of the group's directors and the docents want her to step down, she will do so if she can get assurances that the palace "will be taken care of." She is "saddened," she said, that she may be leaving a major symbol of Hawaii that has long been a part of her family and her life.

Speaking on behalf of the board of directors, which held a closeddoor meeting last night, Robert Hite, a Friends vice president, praised both Kawananakoa and Bartels.

The board is looking at the entire situation and trying to figure out what would be best for the palace, Hite said. It is scheduled to meet with docents on Monday.

Prior to the board meeting, one Friends director, attorney Beatrice "Beadie" Dawson, said: "It is unacceptable to lose Jim Bartels. His history and knowledge of the palace is without equal. He had done a great deal for the recognition and establishment of the palace in the museum world."

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