Historic House Museums of Hawaii

Washington Place, home of Queen Lili’kiloulani

Located just across the street from the Hawaii State Capitol Building (itself well worth a visit for all fans of mid-century design) stands Washington Place. Captain John Dominis, who died before the house was completed, built this elegant house in 1834. His son later married Queen Lili’uokalani.

When Washington Place was constructed, it was only one of a very few homes built in a foreign style, and it was situated in a rural area outside of Honolulu.

Queen Lili’uokalani became Queen of Hawaii in 1891, but the monarchy was overthrown by non-native businessmen in 1893. The Queen was arrested in this house, and imprisoned in ‘Iolani Palace for eight months. She later was released and allowed to once again live here. After her death in 1917, Washington Place became the official residence for the Governor of Hawaii in 1921.

Inside Washington Place are five large, main floor rooms that are open to view, with many historic furnishings and artifacts. Visitors are welcomed by knowledgeable guides and given a good understanding of the life of Queen Lili’uokalani.

From the porte cochere of Washington Place, you can glimpse the Hawaii State Capital building across the street and beyond it, to the right, Iolani Palace.

For more information on the Queen’s life, read her book “Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen”. She gives a detailed personal history of her life and other members of Hawaiian Royalty, as well as the events and incidents surrounding the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. A fascinating read about a little-known part of American history.

More recently, a new residence for Hawaii’s  Governor was constructed to the rear of the historic house, and Washington Place is now used for official receptions and tours. To apply for permission to tour the house you must phone the Governor’s office 48 hours in advance for an appointment to tour the house and to make sure the house is not previously booked for an official function.

Washington Place was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2007. It is preserved with both public and private funds. To inquire about visiting Washington Place, please call the Governor’s Office at (808) 586-0240.

For more information, please see: http://hawaii.gov/gov/washington_place/

‘Iolani Palace, Honolulu, Oahu

The main front and driveway of Iolani Palace, Honolulu. The Palace was home to the last monarchs of Hawai’i from 1882 – 1893.

Built in 1882 in the Italianate style, ‘Iolani Palace is an imposing building set in its own grounds in the heart of Honolulu. It was the official residence of King Kalakaua and his successor Queen Lili’uokalani.

After the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, ‘Iolani Palace was used for government offices and legislative halls for the U.S. territory of Hawaii. After 1959, when Hawaii became the 50th state, a new State Capital Building was constructed, and the official offices were moved out of the old Palace.

‘Iolani Palace had been badly treated as government offices. The many balconies had been filled in with temporary offices, looking like industrial trailers. Inside floors were damaged, rooms divided, and interior details destroyed.

After extensive restoration, ‘Iolani Palace reopened to the public in 1978 as a historic house museum, as a tangible reminder of the Hawaiian monarchy.

The now-restored central Grand Hall and Stairway of ‘Iolani Palace. The staircase is built using Hawaiian woods. Images from the Palace website. Photographer Milroy/McAleer

Historic Photograph of the Grand Hall with original carpet. Image from the Palace website -Hawai’i State Archives

The restoration of ‘Iolani Palace has been meticulous, and several rooms have been carefully refurnished. The curators are particularly searching for the original artifacts that were sold and dispersed after the government took over the Palace.

The Friends of ’Iolani Palace are searching for original furnishings so they can continue to restore the Palace to its original splendor. A notice on the Palace website is below:

Worldwide Search for Missing Artifacts

Palace objects sold and dispersed at public auction have been recovered from 36 states and 4 foreign countries –from porcelain plates returned from Australia, and a table found in the Governor’s mansion in Iowa, to a chair in a local thrift store. The quest to find original Palace furnishings and artifacts continues. Many original furnishings are still missing.

If you think that you can help with the search, there is much more information regarding this search on the Palace website. Clues, photographs and Royal marks can be found at at: http://www.iolanipalace.org/index.php/history/palace-collections.html

The north entrance to ‘Iolani Palace. The pillars are cast iron, and the walls are made of brick and covered with decorative concrete work. The roof is Mansard, or Second Empire in design, and the main building details are Italianate.

Visitors are welcomed to the shady verandah on the north side of the Palace, where they are introduced to the history of the building and issued protective booties to cover their shoes to protect the floors inside the Palace.

The North Verandah has a screen of Corinthian columns, geometric tile floor, and a fine plaster ceiling. The columns are made of cast iron, and were imported from San Francisco during the construction of the Palace. [For more information on geometric tile floors, please see: Victorian Decorative Tile Flooring Part 2]

A closeup of the North verandah. The windows could open and let breezes through the interior shutters. Unusual light fixtures are placed between the windows. See detail below.

Original light fixtures face onto the verandahs of the Palace. ‘Iolani Palace was very up to-date, and had its original gas lights changed to electricity in 1887 before either the White House or Buckingham Palace had electricity. These light fixtures would double the illumination produced by reflecting the light of the two incandescent lightbulbs in the circular, bevelled mirror behind.

The Palace had plumbing installed in 1880, and one of the first telephones in Hawaii was installed at the Palace in 1880.

The fine ceiling of the verandah features the Coat of Arms of Hawaii cast in plaster from a carved wooden original. The Hawaiian motto on the Coat of Arms is: “Ua mau ke ea o ka ‘aina I ka pono” which translates as “The life of the land is prepetuated in righteousness” 

Today, ‘Iolani Palace is preserved and operated by the “Friends of `Iolani Palace” organization, which supports, guides, and manages Palace activities, providing caring stewardship for this Hawaiian landmark and national treasure.

The Friends of ‘Iolani Palace currently administers the Palace under a lease with the State of Hawai`i.

For more information about ‘Iolani Palace and visiting it, please see:


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