Landscaped grounds popular for informal lawn
picnics and Friday noon band concerts. National Historic Landmark.
In the early 19th-century, this area was known as Pohukaina,
probably from pohu ka ʻāina which in the Hawaiian language means
"the land 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
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
built 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
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 a 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
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.
V envisioned a royal palace befitting of the sovereignty of a modern
state. He commissioned the construction of Aliʻiōlani Hale to be the
official palace of the Hawaiian monarchy. The building was
constructed across the street from the original ʻIolani Palace
structure. It was named after himself (his full name was Lot
Kapuaiwa Kalanikupuapaikalaninui Aliʻiolani Kalanimakua) it means
"House of the heavenly King". At the time, Hawaiʻi sorely needed a
government building, since the government buildings of the time were
small and cramped. Ultimately, Aliʻiōlani Hale became an
administrative building instead of a palace, housing the judiciary
of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi and various other ministries.
By the time David Kalākaua assumed the throne, the
original ʻIolani Palace was in poor condition, suffering from ground
termite damage. He ordered the old palace to be razed.
was the first monarch to travel around the world. While visiting
Europe, he took note of the grand palaces owned by other monarchs.
Like Kamehameha V, he dreamed of a royal palace befitting of the
sovereignty of a modern state such as Hawaiʻi. He commissioned the
construction a new ʻIolani Palace, directly across the street from
Aliʻiōlani Hale, to become the official palace of the Hawaiian
Thomas J. Baker designed the structure, Charles J.
Wall added details, and architect Isaac Moore. The cornerstone was
laid December 31, 1879 during the administration of Minister of the
Interior Samuel Gardner Wilder:204 It was built of brick with
concrete facing. The building was completed in November 1882 and
cost over $340,000 — a vast fortune at the time. It measures about
140 feet by 100 feet, and rises two stories over a raised basement
to 54 feet high. It has four corner towers and two in the center
rising to 76 feet. On February 12, 1883 a formal European-style
coronation ceremony was held, even though Kalākaua had reigned for 9
years. The coronation pavilion was later moved to the southwest
corner of the grounds and converted to a bandstand for the Royal
ʻIolani Palace features architecture seen nowhere
else in the world. This unique style is known as American
Florentine. On the first floor a grand hall faces a staircase of koa
wood. Ornamental plaster decorates the interior. The throne room
(southeast corner), the blue meeting room, and the dining room
adjoin the hall. The blue room included a large 1848 portrait of
King Louis Philippe of France and a koa wood piano where
Liliʻuokalani played her compositions for guests. Upstairs are the
private library and bedrooms of the Hawaiian monarchs. It had
electricity and telephones even before the White House.
as the official residence of the Hawaiian monarch until the 1893
overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Beside Liliʻuokalani, Queen
Kapiʻolani and other royal retainers were evicted from the palace
after the overthrow.
overthrow of the monarchy by the Committee of Safety in 1893, troops
of the newly formed Provisional Government of Hawaiʻi took control
of ʻIolani Palace. After a few months government offices moved in
and it was renamed the "Executive Building" for the Republic of
Hawaiʻi. Government officials carefully inventoried its contents and
sold at public auctions whatever furniture or furnishings were not
suitable for government operations. Queen Liliʻuokalani was
imprisoned for nine months in a small room on the upper floor after
the second of the Wilcox rebellions in 1895. The quilt she made is
still there. The trial was held in the former throne room.
When a proposed annexation treaty up for
ratification, the Hawaiian Patriotic League held a protest rally at
the palace on September 6, 1897. They gathered petition signatures
in an effort to demonstrate the treaty did not have popular support.
On August 12, 1898 US troops from the USS Philadelphia came ashore
and raised the Flag of the United States at the palace to mark the
annexation by the Newlands Resolution. The Queen and other Hawaiian
nobles did not attend, staying at Washington Place instead. The
building served as the capitol of the Territory of Hawaiʻi, the
military headquarters during World War II, and the State of
Hawaiʻi.During the government use of the palace, the second floor
royal bedroom became the governor's office, while the legislature
occupied the entire first floor. The representatives met in the
former throne room and the senate in the former dining room.
there was a fear that all records would be moved to the mainland.
Since an 1847 effort by Robert Crichton Wyllie, a set of archives
had been kept of all kingdom records. A new fireproof building was
built in 1906 on the grounds just to the southeast of the palace. It
included a vault 30 feet by 40 feet with steel shelves. At first it
was to be called the Hall of Records, but the name Archives of
Hawaii made it clear the documents included those from the kingdom.
A new Kekāuluohi building provides digital access to some of the
In 1930 the
interior of ʻIolani Palace was remodeled, and wood framing replaced
by steel and reinforced concrete. The name ʻIolani Palace was
officially restored in 1935. During World War II, it served as the
temporary headquarters for the military governor in charge of
martial law in the Hawaiian Islands.
The Hawaiian soldiers of Japanese ancestry who
were accepted for service in the US Army became the core of the
442nd Infantry Regiment. Before leaving Hawaii for training on the
mainland, they were sworn in during a mass ceremony on the grounds
of the Palace.
Through more than 70 years as a functional but
neglected government building, the Palace fell into disrepair. After
Hawaii became a state, Governor John A. Burns began an effort to
restore the palace in the 1960s. The first step was to move the
former ʻIolani Barracks building from its original position
northeast of the palace. It now serves as a visitors center for the
ʻIolani Palace was designated a National Historic
Landmark on December 29, 1962 and added as site 66000293 to the
National Register of Historic Places listings in Oahu on October 15,
1966. Government offices vacated the Palace in 1969 and moved to the
newly constructed Hawaii State Capitol building on the former
barracks site. In preparation for restoration, the Junior League of
Honolulu researched construction, furnishings, and palace lifestyle
in nineteenth-century newspapers, photographs and archival
manuscripts. Overseeing the restoration was The Friends of ʻIolani
Palace, founded by Liliʻuokalani Kawānanakoa Morris, grand-niece of
Queen Kapiʻolani. Two wooden additions were removed and the interior
was restored based on original plans.
Through the efforts of acquisitions researchers
and professional museum staff, and donations of individuals, many
original Palace objects have been returned. Government grants and
private donations funded reproduction of original fabrics and
finishes to restore Palace rooms to their monarchy era appearance.
ʻIolani Palace opened to the public in 1978 after structural
restoration of the building was completed. In the basement is a
photographic display of the Palace, the Hawaiian crown jewels,
orders and decorations given by the monarchs, and regalia worn by
the high chiefs of the islands.
The grounds of ʻIolani Palace are managed by the
Hawaiʻi State Department of Land and Natural Resources but the
palace building itself is managed as a historical house museum by
the Friends of ʻIolani Palace, a non-profit non-governmental
organization. The birthdays of King Kalākaua (November 16) and Queen
Kapiʻolani (December 28) are celebrated with ceremonies.
On January 17,
1993, a massive observation was held on the grounds of ʻIolani
Palace to mark the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of the
Hawaiian monarchy. A torchlight vigil was held at night, with the
palace draped in black.
On April 30, 2008, ʻIolani Palace was overtaken by
a group of native Hawaiians who called themselves the Hawaiian
Kingdom Government to protest what they view as illegitimate rule by
the United States. Mahealani Kahau, "head of state" of the group,
said they do not recognize Hawaiʻi as a U.S. state, but would keep
the occupation of the palace peaceful. "The Hawaiian Kingdom
Government is here and it doesn't plan to leave. This is a
continuity of the Hawaiian Kingdom of 1892 to today," Kahau said.
In response, the Friends of ʻIolani Palace
released a statement that while they "respect the freedom of
Hawaiian groups to hold an opinion on the overthrow of the Hawaiian
Kingdom, we believe that blocking public access to Iolani Palace is
wrong and certainly detrimental to our mission to share the Palace
and its history with our residents, our keiki (children), and our
visitors." The statement clarified that the original seat of
government of the Hawaiian Kingdom was not ʻIolani Palace. The
Palace was used as the royal residence while government activities
were carried out in the original courthouse (now demolished) and
later in Aliʻiolani Hale.