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‘Iolani Palace

‘Iolani Palace, in downtown Honolulu, is the only royal palace used as an official residence by a reigning monarch in the United States and is a National Historic Landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Two monarchs governed from ʻIolani Palace: King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani. After the monarchy was overthrown in 1893, the building was used as the capitol building for the Provisional Government, Republic, Territory, and State of Hawaiʻi until 1969. The palace was restored and opened to the public as a museum in 1978.

In the early 19th-century, this area was known as Pohukaina, probably from pohu ka āina which in the Hawaiian language means “the land is is calm”. It may also been named for the chief of the same name (sometimes spelled Pahukaina) who was from Hawaii island. The land was to Kekauluohi, who later ruled as Kuhina Nui, as her birthrights.

The missionary Hiram Bingham I was allowed to build a missionary compound of his house and what became the Kawaiahaʻo Church outside of the old town. Some thatched huts were built for royalty to be near a school that the missionaries ran for the royal family at the church. Another missionary William Ellis build his home there, and Prime Minister Kalanimoku decided to build the first stone house on the site, naming it “Pohukaina”. After Kalanimoku’s death, the building, often referred to as a palace, became the meeting hall for the council of chiefs.

Oral history told of an ancient heiau (temple to the Hawaiian religion) called Kaʻahaimauli that was destroyed in the area.

After 1825, the first Western-style royal tomb was constructed for the bodies of King Kamehameha II and his queen Kamāmalu. They were buried on August 23, 1825. The idea was heavily influenced by the tombs at Westminster Abbey during Kamehameha II’s trip to London. The mausoleum was small house made of coral blocks with a thatched roof. It had no windows,, and it was the duty of two chiefs to guard the iron-locked koa door day and night. No one can enter the vault except for burials or Memorial Day, a Hawaiian national holiday celebrated on December 30.

Although Kamehameha III lived in the compound for a while, he had no permanent capital, and left in 1837 for Maui. Over time, as more bodies were added, the small vault became crowded, so other chiefs and retainers were buried in unmarked graves nearby. In 1865 a selected 20 coffins were removed to the Royal Mausoleum of Hawaii called Mauna ʻAla in Nuʻuanu Valley. But many chiefs remain on the site including: Keaweikekahialiʻiokamoku, Kalaniopuu, Chiefess Kapiolani, and Timothy Haalilio.

After being overgrown for many years, the Hawaiian Historical Society passed a resolution in 1930 requesting Governor Lawrence Judd to memorialize the site with the construction of a metal fence enclosure and a plaque. Tradition holds that the tomb was on the site of a former cave.

The ʻIolani Palace structure that exists today is actually the second to sit on the grounds. The original one story wooden building called Hanailoia was built in July 1844, only one-third the floor area of the present palace. Mataio Kekūanāoʻa, who was long-time Royal Governor of Oʻahu, built it for his daughter Princess Victoria Kamāmalu. It was purchased by King Kamehameha III from Kamāmalu (the King’s niece) when he moved his capital from Lahaina to Honolulu in 1845. Kekūanāoʻa built his own house directly to the west, and Kekāuluohi built hers to the south near the Pohukaina mausoleum.

It was constructed as a traditional aliʻi residence with only ceremonial spaces, no sleeping rooms. It just had a throne room, a reception room, and a state dining room, with other houses around for sleeping and for retainers. Kamehameha III slept in a cooler grass hut around the palace. He called his home Hoʻihoʻikea in honor of his restoration after the Paulet Affair of 1843.

The palace building was named Hale Aliʻi meaning (House of the Chiefs). During Kamehameha V’s reign it was changed to ʻIolani Palace, after his brother Kamehameha IV’s given names (his full name was Alexander Liholiho Keawenui ʻIolani). It literally means “royal hawk.” The Palace served as the official residence of the monarch during the reigns of Kamehameha IV, Kamehameha V, Lunalilo, and the first part of Kalākaua’s reign. The original structure was very simple in design and was more of a stately home than a palace, but at the time, it was the grandest house in town.

Theodore Heuck, who had earlier designed the new Mausoleum, designed a building called ʻIolani Barracks, completed in 1871, to house the royal guards. Over time the other houses on the grounds were removed and replaced with grass lawns.




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