Hawaiian Royalty

Iolani Palace Honolulu Hawaii

It’s good to be the king.

When David Kalakaua ordered a new palace built in 1879 in Honolulu, the Hawaiian kingdom’s capital and an increasingly important hub for international trading, the monarch mandated that no expense be spared. The building was intended to impress, lest overseas VIPs think his realm in the middle of the Pacific was a backwater.

Iolani Palace was decked out with cutting-edge amenities like indoor plumbing, a telephone, and electric lighting, which it had before the White House or Buckingham Palace. Constructed in a unique architectural style, the building melds European-inspired features with traditional Hawaiian elements such as wide, wrap-around lanais.

The only official state residence in the U.S. once occupied by royalty, Iolani Palce looks like the domain of an Italian duke rather than a dwelling in the tropics. While admiring the architecture and décor is reason to visit the residence, it’s more than just a pretty façade. Roaming its gilded rooms with a self-guided audio tour reveals intriguing stories about what played out within them, well before Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state.

Grand Hall

 Iolani Palace Grand Hall Staircase Honolulu Hawaii

When illustrious guests like Scottish novelist and adventurer Robert Louis Stevenson arrived at Iolani Palace, they crossed the threshold into the Grand Hall. Competing for attention in the entryway are a staircase crafted from koa, a wood endemic to Hawaii (and soft enough that present-day visitors are required to wear booties over their shoes to protect the floor); portraits of Hawaiian kings and queens; and statuary and other adornments from far-flung locales.

Gold Room/Music Room

 Iolani Palace Music Room Honolulu Hawaii

The royal family gathered in this chamber to revel and to kani ka pila (make music). King Kalakaua’s fondness for a good party and his patronage of the arts—including encouraging a revival of the hula, once barred by missionaries—earned him the nickname the “Merrie Monarch.” An avid traveler and the first-ever king to circumnavigate the globe, he received the two-tusked table in the background as a gift on his fiftieth birthday.

Blue Room

Blue Room Iolani Palace Honolulu Hawaii

This “modest,” sapphire-hued parlor was where smaller or more informal gatherings took place, and where guests cooled their heels while waiting to be summoned for an audience with the monarch.

Throne Room

Iolani Palace Throne Room Honolulu Hawaii

Once the site of diplomatic receptions and other big galas, this lavish space was turned into a courtroom for the trial of Queen Lili‘uokalani, who ascended to the throne in 1891 upon the death of King Kalakaua, her brother. After proposing a new constitution that would strengthen the monarchy, she was overthrown by an opposing group of foreign businessmen and local sugar plantation owners who feared a loss of influence and a hit to their wallets.

The coup was backed by the U.S. Foreign Minister, who called in the Marines to assist, and ended royal rule in Hawaii. After an unsuccessful attempt to regain power, the queen surrendered to avoid bloodshed and was imprisoned for eight months in an upstairs bedroom at the palace—a dark side beneath the glitz and glamour.

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10 Comments on “Hawaiian Royalty”

  1. chichlee September 20, 2013 at 8:40 am #

    Love the history added to the post. Enlightening — thanks!


  2. digger666 September 20, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    Reblogged this on digger666 and commented:
    Why is it, despite all their pretensions to status and “good taste”, Royal Kitsch” is universally recognisable?


  3. Betty Londergan September 20, 2013 at 11:23 am #

    I love this post — and you should read UNFAMILIAR FISHES by Sarah Vowel (i think) — it’s a fascinating history of Hawaii!! Have been loving your Hawaiian posts!!!


    • Shannon September 22, 2013 at 11:43 am #

      Hi, Betty. We’ve been back from Hawaii for a couple of months now, and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s definitely high on my list of favorite places. I’ll check out UNFAMILIAR FISHES. Thanks for the recommendation!


  4. cravesadventure September 20, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    OMG – The Pink Room is Gorgeous – Beautiful Place to explore and admire!!! Happy Weekend:)


  5. Tish Farrell September 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    Thank you for this extraordinary ‘inside’ view.


  6. skycastles September 20, 2013 at 6:04 pm #

    Haven’t been here since a primary school field trip and it looks the same, which is attributed to the care and maintenance of the staff. Love it!


    • Shannon September 22, 2013 at 11:45 am #

      Yes, the preservation is extraordinary. And museum staff has been working for years on tracking down and acquiring pieces, like the two-tusk table, that were once in the palace but then auctioned off.


  7. Alisa September 21, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    It”s a pretty sad history actually, and walking through there made me realize how the Hawaiian people got swindled out of their heritage. That palace and all it represents was the ultimate undoing of the Hawaiian royal family by American business interests.


  8. gpcox September 26, 2013 at 5:49 am #

    The history and the palace are spectacular.


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