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Iolani palace is the only royal palace on US soil. The palace grounds date back to the ancient Hawaiians where a heiau (temple) once stood. King Kamehameha III built his home here in 1845.
The Kamehameha dynasty came to an end and King Kalākaua replaced Kamehameha’s residence with the larger and more elaborate Iolani Palace in 1882. Kalākaua was the first of Hawaii’s kings to travel extensively. He was influenced by Victorian England and other European monarchies in his plans for Iolani Palace.
The lavish architectural style is considered American Florentine. The palace cost $340,000 to build…a huge sum at the time.
As we toured the rooms with our guide Isaac, he pointed out the extensive woodwork using Koa…a native, and pricey, hardwood. He told us that the palace had electricity…the first building in Hawaii to have it. There was also indoor plumbing, a telephone and a European style throne room.
A few months after the palace was completed, an official coronation ceremony was held for the king and his wife, even though Kalākaua had already been the ruling monarch for nine years. The pavilion where the coronation took place is still on the grounds and is now used for the inauguration of Hawaii’s governors.
Isaac told us, while we toured the royal bedrooms upstairs, that the royal family didn’t live here full time. If they weren’t receiving guests or entertaining foreign dignitaries, they stayed in a more modest house across the street.
Queen Liliʻuokalani succeeded her brother after his death in 1891. In 1893, the monarchy was overthrown. After a failed attempt to restore Queen Liliʻuokalani, she was tried, convicted and sentenced to imprisonment and hard labor.
Her sentence was reduced to house arrest and she spent eight months locked in one room of the palace with nothing to do but make a quilt from scraps of fabric smuggled in. That room is kept empty as it was during her imprisonment and the quilt she made is on display there.
The Provisional Government took over Iolani Palace for its offices. It was then used as the capitol building once Hawaii was annexed by the United States. In 1969, it was vacated by the government.
The Friends of Iolani group, founded by descendants of the royals, reclaimed the palace and began the long painstaking process of restoring Iolani to its former grandeur. The exterior had been altered by the government over the years and those changes had to be undone. The original furnishings were auctioned off after the overthrow, but the Friends located many of the items and reacquired them.
Iolani Palace opened to the public in 1978 and the restoration is an ongoing process. There is a museum in the basement with many of the royal artifacts on display. Throughout the rooms on the guided tour, many of the gowns worn by Queen Liliʻuokalani are featured.
Location: 364 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96813
Designation: National Historic Landmark
Date established/designated: December 29, 1962
Date of my visit: April 13, 2019