Hawaii’s last king, the “Merry Monarch” King David Kalakaua traveled around the globe in 1881, researching how other heads of state lived and conducted their government affairs. Inspired by the grand palaces he saw on his tour, he commissioned his own royal palace to be built on the island of Oahu (in what is now the city of Honolulu) to replace the original ‘Iolani Palace, which was more of a simple stately home than an actual palace. Completed in 1882, the new ‘Iolani Palace ended up costing over $360,000, a sum unheard of during those days.
The palace served as a seat of government and, constructed in the unique American Florentine style, featured an architectural design unseen in the rest of the world. Unlike the earlier palace which had no sleeping rooms (as the preceding king preferred to sleep in huts on the palace grounds), the new palace included an entire upstairs living area complete with libraries and grandly decorated bedrooms. So elite was the palace, in fact, that it was equipped with electricity and telephones four years before even the White House was!
King Kalakaua’s successor, his sister, Queen Liliuokalani replaced him at his death and lived in stately splendor at ‘Iolani Palace until 1893, when the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown. The queen was imprisoned inside the palace until she finally surrendered and Hawaii officially became a territory of the United States.
‘Iolani Palace functioned as the capitol for the provisional government of Hawaii and later, in 1959, when Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state, it served as the state capitol. Ten years later, a new capitol was built on the land bordering the palace grounds, and the government abandoned ‘Iolani Palace. A full-scale restoration project was begun under the leadership of The Friends of ‘Iolani Palace, an organization founded by the grand-niece of Queen Kapiolani, and in 1978 the palace was opened to the public as a historical museum.
The only royal palace in the United States Today, ‘Iolani Palace is the only royal palace in the United States, and for visitors and Hawaiian natives alike is a reminder of the state’s royal heritage. The palace is open five days a week for public tours, and you can even choose Spanish Tours Hawaii if you prefer your tour in Spanish, and hosts a slew of community events and educational programs.