The oldest — and one of the most beautiful — residences in Honolulu, Washington Place was named in honor of George Washington, the first president of the United States. The historic home was built in 1846 by Captain John Dominis, a New England trader and father of John Owen Dominis, husband of Queen Lili’uokalani.
After it was completed, Washington Place was the residence of Mary Lambert Jones Dominis, wife of Capt. John Dominis. The home was later the residence of Queen Lili’uokalani (until her death in 1917) and all of Hawaii’s state governors from 1960 through 2002, when Gov. Linda Lingle moved into a new residence built behind the mansion.
On Christmas Eve in 1858, Mary Dominis invited 100 keiki (children) to her mansion. According to historical accounts, a Douglas fir Christmas tree was set up in the second-floor parlor with gifts on the tree for the keiki, who for the first time heard carols and sleigh bells signaling the arrival of a man in red.
Then the keiki were sent home, and their parents celebrated Christmas with dinner and dancing at the mansion.
“It must’ve been a delightful event,” Washington Place docent Don Painter said of the first sighting of Santa Claus in Hawaii.
Mary Dominis “brought America to Hawaii and the mansion became the hub of American culture here,” Painter said.
Four years later, King Kamehameha IV officially proclaimed Christmas as a holiday in his kingdom.
Except for rare occasions, Washington Place is open to the public by appointment only, Mondays to Fridays, and to groups not larger than 12 people at a time. Tour times vary. Interested guests must call 48 hours in advance: 808-586-0248. The guided tour takes 30 to 45 minutes, and guests are required to have a valid photo ID. Washington Place does not require an admission fee, but donations to the Washington Place Foundation for the historic research, preservation and restoration of the home are welcome.
Located on Beretania Street slightly west and across the street from the Capitol Building, in downtown Honolulu.