Sunday, November 11, 2001


Iolani Palace's restoration began in 1969. Much of it
has been returned to its former splendor.

Kings’ history in
our own back yard

Iolani Palace visitors get
a close-up glimpse into the
isles' glittering past

If you go

By Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi
Special to the Star-Bulletin

We're intrigued by royalty. Stories of kings and queens enthrall us. So it is with Hawaii's alii. In the late 19th century, they lived lives marked by all the drama, romance and excitement of an epic novel.

Iolani Palace was the official residence of Hawaii's last two monarchs, King Kalakaua (who ruled from 1882 until his death in 1891) and his sister Queen Lili'uokalani (who reigned from 1891 until the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893). The cornerstone of the imposing structure was laid on the last day of 1879, and construction was completed three years later at a cost of just under $360,000.

Kalakaua played an active role during the palace's construction, overseeing the installation of devices innovative at the time, such as toilets, sinks with running water, electric lights and telephones. A magnificent stairway, hand-carved of koa and trimmed with walnut and kamani, connected the main floor to the second floor, where the private quarters of the royal family, a library, music room and sitting room were located. Here, too, was the room in which Lili'uokalani was imprisoned for nine months after an unsuccessful attempt by loyal supporters to restore her to the throne in 1895.

Following the demise of the Hawaiian monarchy, Iolani Palace became the headquarters for the republic, territory and, finally, state of Hawaii. Kalakaua's bedroom and library were transformed into the office of the governor; legislators convened in the dining and throne rooms. Increased public traffic took its toll on the historic building, and over the decades it slipped into disrepair.

Once transformed into part of the governor's office,
King Kalakaua's library has been restored.

In 1969, government officials moved into a new Capitol adjacent to the palace grounds, and Iolani Palace was vacant for the first time since it was built 87 years earlier. Under the supervision of the nonprofit community group the Friends of Iolani Palace, an effort was launched to restore it to its original grandeur.

The floors of the palace were stripped and replaced, plumbing systems and electrical wiring were redone, and intricate decorative plaster designs on the ceilings were duplicated by an expert brought out of retirement in Italy. Carpets, draperies and upholstery fabrics were re-created by craftsmen who often had only photographs or fragments of original materials to use as clues. In 1978 the palace, once again fit for a king, reopened to the public.

Guests on the Grand Tour are escorted through three floors of the four-story palace, which is slowly being re-furnished with period furniture, art and artifacts, many owned by alii. Most impressive is the Throne Room, adorned with glittering chandeliers, ornate mirrors, gilded cornices, satin drapes trimmed with velvet, floor-length lace window curtains, and escutcheons displaying four Hawaiian royal orders and 12 foreign orders bestowed on Kalakaua.

Many a lavish party was held in this elegant hall. This also was where the king's body lay in state, his bier covered by a feather cloak upon which rested his sword, scepter and crown. You can admire this crown -- studded with 521 diamonds, 54 pearls, 20 opals, eight emeralds, eight rubies and other sparkling gems -- in the Galleries, an exhibit of rare and wonderful treasures unveiled in the palace's basement a year ago.

Other highlights include a temple drum owned by Kamehameha I that was carved from a coconut tree and inlaid with human teeth; a cloak made from iiwi and apapane feathers that was the property of Kalakaua's wife, Queen Kapiolani; and a diamond-and-ruby butterfly brooch that Lili'uokalani purchased in London in 1877 to wear to the Jubilee of Britain's Queen Victoria. There are centuries-old calabashes, striking kahili (feather standards) and a stunning collection of lei niho palaoa, whale-tooth pendants suspended on braids woven from thousands of strands of human hair.

As funds are raised, the Galleries will be expanded to spotlight more treasures. "The effort to collect artifacts is ongoing," says Alice Guild, executive director of the Friends of Iolani Palace. "Every year, things return to the palace. Either families decide that it's time for something to come back, or someone finds something at an auction or learns of a person who has a piece. We like the word to get out that we're always looking, because if there's awareness then there's a chance something will come back."

Guild hopes more local residents will tour the palace, especially because admission is free for them on Kama'aina Sundays, the first Sunday of every month.

"They know the palace is here, but they say, 'Oh, I'll visit it someday.' Someday is now; we invite them to come now! The history of the Hawaiian people is unique in the world, and they have the opportunity to experience an important part of it here. The reigns of Kalakaua and Lili'uokalani -- it was a fabulous time and it was a sad time, and Iolani Palace tells the whole story."


Iolani Palace

Address: 364 S. King St.
Open: Tuesdays through Saturdays
Call: 522-0832
Admission: The 90-minute Grand Tour includes a video presentation at the adjacent Iolani Barracks, a guided tour of the palace, and browsing in the Galleries. Tickets are $20 for adults ($15 for kamaaina) and $5 for children ages 5 to 17. Children under 5 are not accommodated on this tour, which begins every 30 minutes from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The self-guided Galleries Tour takes about 45 minutes. It includes the video presentation and admission to the Galleries, which is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults ($5 for kamaaina) and $5 for children ages 5 to 17. Children under 5 are admitted free.
Web site:

Honoring the king

The Friends of Iolani Palace's annual commemoration of King Kalakaua's birthday will take place Friday at the palace. All events are free and open to the public. Here are the events:

>> 11:30 a.m.: Monarchy-era music by the Royal Hawaiian Band.
>> 11:50 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.: Review of the Royal Guard at the palace front steps.
>> 1 to 1:45 p.m.: Hula and a music performance by the Kahauanu Lake Trio.

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