‘Iolani Palace: A storied past and living history


Stately and dignified among the modern lines of skyscrapers in Downtown Honolulu, ‘Iolani Palace remains the crown jewel of the Hawaiian monarchy, a distinction it has held since its construction, which was commissioned by King David Kalakaua. The palace’s cornerstone was laid in 1789 and construction was completed in 1882. The architecture is unique, known as American Florentine.

‘Iolani Palace is actually the second palace to be constructed on the site. The original palace, a more modest structure, fell into disrepair following the construction of Ali’iolani Hale nearby, originally a royal residence commissioned by King Kamehameha V. Over time, due to the need for a government building for the functions of the monarchy, Ali’iolani Hale became an administrative building.

Following his ascension to the throne, King Kalakaua ordered the original ‘Iolani Palace demolished, and the ‘Iolani Palace we know today was built. It remains the only royal palace in the United States, and was wired for electricity and telephones even before the White House in Washington D.C.

Two monarchs, King Kalakaua and Queen Lili’uokalani, resided at ‘Iolani Palace until the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893. Following the overthrow, the Provisional Government of Hawai’i assumed control of the palace and installed administrative offices. The palace’s contents were inventoried, and, in some cases sold at auction. Lili’uokalani was placed under house arrest in a small upstairs room in the palace.


‘Iolani Palace was first officially restored in 1935, but after decades of administrative use and neglect it fell into disrepair. Governor John A. Burns began new restorations in the early 1960’s and the palace was designated as a National Historic Landmark and added to the National Registry of Historic Places as a result of those efforts.

The palace was opened to the public in 1978 after the completion of structural renovations. ‘Iolani Palace is now a state of the art museum, and home to some of the most important cultural and historical artifacts in Hawai’i.

Through extensive acquisitions research, many palace objects lost to time have been returned and restored, and can be seen on daily public tours of the palace and its 10-acre grounds. Much of the palace itself is open to tours, during which visitors can see a quilt sewn by Queen Lili’uokalani during her captivity and some of the royal crown jewels.


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