Apr 28, 2013

America’s Royal Palace

Set on spacious grounds in the center of downtown Honolulu, Hawaii, is the only building in the United States ever to serve as an official royal residence. The building is stately Iolani Palace, where monarchs once ruled the kingdom of Hawaii. The palace, built in the late 1800's, was the seat of royalty for just a little more than ten years. Today it's a museum that offers a fascinating glimpse of the last days of the Hawaiian kings and queens.

The Hawaiian monarchy was founded by Kamehameha I in 1796. By 1810, after having fought a series of wars, he unified the islands. He was followed on the throne by a succession of relatives. But in 1872, King Kamehameha V died and left no heir. And so William Charles Lunalilo became the first elected king of Hawaii. In just thirteen months, however, he too died without an heir. Another election was held, and in 1874 David Kalakaua was chosen king.

Kalakaua wanted to help the economy of the islands grow, and one of his first acts was to travel to the United States to establish a trade agreement. He left instructions that the royal residence , an aging building , should be spruced up while he was away. But workers soon discovered that termites had destroyed so much of the building that it wasn't worth saving. When Kalakaua returned, he found that his palace had been torn down!

King Kalakaua
It took Kalakaua several years to convince the Hawaiian legislature to appropriate money for a new palace. But in 1879, work on the new Iolani Palace finally began.

Kalakaua wanted the palace to be large and modern, to befit the king of an important island country. Architects from Australia and the United States had a hand in the design, and most of the materials were imported - cedar from Oregon, etched glass from California, slate roof tiles from Pennsylvania. The king saw to it that the building had the latest modern gadgets - toilets, sinks with running water, telephones.

Kalakaua and his wife, Queen Kapiolani , moved into the new palace in 1882. The building quickly became the center of Hawaii's political and social life. Kalakaua loved parties, big dinners, and other social events. Among the people he entertained were European princes and famous writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson. The king also continued to improve the palace with the latest modern inventions. Electric lights were installed in 1887 - Iolani Palace had electricity before the White House did.

When Kalakaua died in 1891, his sister, Liliuokalani, came to the throne. It was a time of turmoil in the islands. The influence of the United States was growing stronger, and business interests attempted to dominate government policies. Liliuokalani tried to limit these influences. But in 1893 she was forced to turn over the government to a group of businessmen who wanted the United States to annex Hawaii. They formed a provisional (temporary) republic. The queen moved out of the palace, and it was converted into a government office building.

Two years later Liliuokalani returned to her palace - but not to rule. In 1895, a group of her supporters staged an uprising, hoping to re store the monarchy. The attempt failed , and Liliuokalani was arrested and convicted of having known about the plot. For almost eight months she was confined to a room in Iolani Palace.

It was a lonely life. During the day she was permitted to have just one of her ladies with her. She wasn't allowed to have newspapers or books. But she could enjoy her favorite pastime-music. The queen played several instruments and was also a songwriter. She had earlier written one of Hawaii 's most famous songs, "Aloha Oe" ("Farewell to Thee"). And in her prison room she composed the words and music of the "Queen's Prayer," which speaks of her sorrow.

After Liliuokalani was released, Iolani Palace continued to serve as a government building while the islands became first a U.S . territory and then a state. Kalakaua 's bedroom and library were the governor's office. Legislators met in the dining and throne rooms.

It wasn't until 1969, after a new state capitol was built next to the palace grounds, that government officials moved out. Then a careful restoration of Iolani Palace began. Once again, termites had damaged the structure. Steel supports were added , and workers created exact reproductions of the original woodwork and plaster decorations. Original furnishings were found and returned to the palace. In all, the program cost more than $7 million - twenty times what it had cost to build the palace in the 1880's.

Today Iolani Palace is restored to its original grandeur. Visitors tour the building and stroll through the parklike grounds, which are filled with stately palms and brilliant tropical flowers. As they do, they catch a glimpse of a colorful and important chapter in Hawaii's history. (Grolier Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia)