Wahi Pana: ʻIolani Palace

#162 in the Moʻolelo series

The original ʻIolani Palace was a wooden structure on the same site as the present Palace. Built by Kamehameha III when the capitol of Hawaiʻi was moved from Lāhaina to Honolulu, the name honored Kauikeaouli’s older brother, Kalani-kua Liholiho ʻIolani, Kamehameha II. (ʻIolani School, in contrast, honors Alexander Liholiho ʻIolani, Kamehameha IV). ʻIo-lani means “heavenly hawk,” or “chiefly hawk.”

According to the website of ʻIolani Palace, administered by Friends of ʻIolani Palace, a non-profit organization:

The cornerstone for Iolani Palace was laid on December 31, 1879 with full Masonic rites and construction was completed in 1882.


Kalākaua was a Freemason, and attained the 33rd degree in Scottish Rite Freemasonry the year he became king (1874). The palace was partly built while Kalākaua was on his World Tour in 1881. The palace famously had electricity before the White House or Buckingham Palace, running water, flush toilets, telephones, stained glass and was very well furnished with pieces that are now priceless. At least one piece was recognized by a visitor who saw that a palace piece was now in their living room. The Friends of ʻIolani Palace arranged for its purchase and return.

Built in the architectural style called American Florentine, Kalākaua sought to make a bold statement with its design, as Stacey Kamehiro notes:

‘Iolani Palace … is the most monumental example of Hawaiian participation in symbolic nation-making. Commissioned by King David Kalākaua who reigned from 1874-1891, the palace declared his political legitimacy and attracted international notice of Hawaiian modernity.

Kamehiro, 2011, “Hawaiʻi at the World Fairs, 1867-1893,” World History Connected.
King David Kalākaua

While the current palace only housed the monarch for eleven years, it was the scene of much drama. Liliʻuokalani was imprisoned in the room at the top right, if one is looking at the palace from the front:

In 1895, an unsuccessful attempt by Hawaiian royalists to restore Queen Liliuokalani to power resulted in the Queen’s arrest. She was forced to relinquish all future claims to the throne and was put on trial before a military tribunal in her own throne room. Liliuokalani was convicted, fined and sentenced to five years in prison at hard labor, which was later reduced to imprisonment in an upstairs bedroom of the Palace for nearly eight months.

Queen Lili’uokalani

After stealing the Crown Jewels, the Provisional Government, Republic and later the Territory used the Palace as its capitol. When the State Capitol was built in 1969, the palace fell into disrepair, and was even used for storage, before a restoration effort was made, led by the Kawānanakoa family:

The Friends of Iolani Palace, [was] founded by Mrs. Liliuokalani Kawananakoa Morris, grandniece of Queen Kapiolani. Today, The Friends leads the efforts to provide caring stewardship of the Hawaiian landmark and national treasure.


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