Wednesday, November 10, 2010

'Iolani Palace

Iolani Palace
This is the only royal palace on American soil.  It is also across the street from my office.  Despite its fairly ostentatious exterior, up until recently I just assumed it was some government building with a cool gazebo in the yard.  Turns out, it's kind of a big deal.  'Iolani Palace was the official residence of Hawaii’s monarchy (King Kalākaua, his wife Queen Kapi'olani, and later his sister and successor, Queen Lili‘uokalani) in the late 19th century.  It was built in 1882 and is definitely a marvel of  opulence.

Main Double Staircase at Front Entrance of Palace
When the 'Iolani Palace was built, it was actually really modern.  It was outfitted with the most up-to-date amenities, including indoor plumbing.  Gas chandeliers were installed when the Palace was first built, but these were replaced by electric lighting five years later (less than seven years after Edison invented the first practical incandescent bulb). The King also installed a modern communications system that included the recently invented telephone.

Royal Dining Room - Where the King Hosted Foreign Dignitaries/Guests
As a general rule, I don't particularly care for museums.  I am too impatient to read all the plaques and I get bored pretty quickly.  This may surprise some people as I was a history major in college.  Well, the history may be interesting but museums are boring.  I'll still go (cuz you're supposed to be all "cultural" and stuff), but I usually just walk through, glance at stuff, read a plaque or two, and get in and out quickly (insert "that's what she said" joke here).  The Palace was almost worse than a museum.

King Kalakaua
One of the nice things about living in Washington, DC in college was that all the Smithsonian museums were free.  At least if I'm gonna walk through a museum all afternoon to look at a bunch of crap no one really cares about anymore, don't charge me.  Or at the very least, charge me like a dollar.  I won't begrudgingly pay a dollar.  The 'Iolani Palace costs $20! ($15 with a Kama'aina discount) for the guided tour and $13 for self-guided tour w/audio guide.  The self-guided tour is only available at random times, though.  We happened to show up at the wrong time.  If you plan to go, I definitely don't recommend the guided tour.  The tour guides are nice, but not worth an added $7.  What made it worse is that there weren't that many artifacts inside.

But why is it so empty inside? Glad you asked (just because I don't pay attention to history plaques doesn't mean I don't like to write them).  After the overthrow of the monarchy, 'Iolani Palace became the headquarters for the Provisional Government, Territory, and eventually the State of Hawai'i.  During WWII, it served as the temporary headquarters for the military governor in charge of martial law in the Hawaiian Islands.  And of course, any time the government gets involved everything goes to hell and falls into disrepair.  On January 17, 1893, Queen Lili'uokalani was deposed in a coup d'état.  She tried to promulgate a new constitution that was intended to increase the monarch's power and limit citizen influence and suffrage.  This galvanized opposition forces composed of Hawai`i-born citizens, naturalized citizens and foreign nationals (it was mostly businessmen and sugar plantation owners).  Contrary to Wikipedia's uncited claims, this was not an effort by the U.S. Government to control Hawaiian land (that came later).  While it's true that the opposition forces were supported by the American Minister to Hawai`i, the U.S. Government didn't really have much to do with the overthrow (though U.S. Marines eventually came ashore at the request of the conspirators). The queen was then imprisoned at the Palace under house arrest for 13 months (she was only allowed to walk on her balcony at night so her supporters couldn't see her). The U.S. annexed Hawaii 5 years later during the Spanish American War in 1898 in order to control Pearl Harbor.

Queen Lili`uokala

The Hawai'i State Government finally moved to its current Capitol Building in 1969, after which Hawaiian citizens decided to restore the palace.  Today, the inside is gorgeous.  The floors have all be re-done.  Most of the doors and wood paneling are made from Koa Wood (Koa trees are native to Hawaii and are very rare).  Almost all the furniture and artifacts that are in the palace are original and were used by the monarchy.  The only problem is that the restoration committee is trying to only use original contents (remember? the shit that was sold and auctioned?).  As you can imagine, it is difficult to get 100-year-old artifacts that stuff back from around the world.  As a result, a lot of the rooms are still completely or very nearly empty.  So until they re-furnish the Palace more fully it is FAR too overpriced.  Hearing about the process of recovering the artifacts was actually pretty cool, though.  All in all, take some pictures of the outside, read this blog post, Google "Iolani Palace," and call it a day. 

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