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Iolani: Hawaii’s Royal Palace
A short walk from the State Capitol in downtown Honolulu is the seat of Hawaii’s former government. Built in 1882 for King Kalakaua, Iolani Palace is the only restored royal palace in the United States. Until 1893 when the United States government overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy, this Renaissance-style building was the official residence of King Kalakaua and Queen Lili’uokalani, Hawaii’s last two monarchs.
Following the overthrow, the palace was stripped of its furnishings and used by territorial and state governments as an executive building. In 1969 when the State Capitol was completed, the Palace was vacated and Friends of ‘Iolani Palace began a $7.5 million restoration of the building. During the 76 years the palace was used as a government building, more than 10,000 artifacts were sold at auction. About 4,000 of them have been recovered.
Visitors learn quickly that they are expected to enter the palace with proper respect for both its past and present. No water, no candy, no gum. No ball point pens, no photos. Cell phones off. Keep your booties on at all times.
The tour begins in the Visitor Center located in Iolani Barracks where a short video of the palace history is shown. Once inside the palace, the tour moves up a magnificent curved staircase made of hand-carved Hawaiian woods and leading to the second floor living quarters of the royal family. Built at a cost to the Kingdom of Hawaii of $360,000, the palace features 7,000 feet of koa wood. The first floor contains the state dining room, the throne room and the blue room.
The throne room, decorated in crimson and gold, was the scene of royal balls and receptions. But it was not always the scene of merry-making. In 1895, Queen Lili’uokalani was put on trial in this room after she was accused by the Republic of Hawaii of misprision (knowledge of) treason. She was imprisoned for eight months in a bedroom on the second floor of the palace. Later she was confined at Washington Place, until recently the official residence of Hawaii’s governor. It was then that the queen appealed to U.S. President Cleveland asking that the wrongs against Hawaii be corrected.
“That day has never, never come,” said a palace tour guide.
Guided tours of the palace are available Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. Tours are 90 minutes long. (There is a wheelchair ramp leading to the palace and an elevator inside the building.) There is an admission fee and reservations are recommended. Call 522-0822 for more information.
In addition to the palace tour, a self-guided tour through galleries installed in the basement of the mansion is available. The galleries, which are wheelchair-accessible, showcase the crown jewels of Hawaiian royalty and a collection of ancient regalia. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Please note that children under 5 are not allowed inside the main Palace.