This was my third trip to the Iolani Palace. Same old, same old? No! Each visit I have found that the preservationists have found more objects, restored more places and things to look like the era the Hawaiian Royalty lived here. King David Kalakaua built this version of the Iolani Palace after a smaller version started to crumble from decay. King David aka the "Merry Monarch" and his wife Queen Kapiolani lived here until his death. His sister Queen Lili’uokalani succeeded him. During her reign the monarchy was overthrown. She was forced to abdicate. The papers were signed in the Blue Room. After an uprising to restore her to the throne failed, Lili’uokalani was held prisoner in one of the upstairs bedrooms. On our tour we saw a quilt that she worked on while imprisoned. With the royalty gone, the building became an office building for the new government. The palatial size rooms where chopped up into a rabbit warren of small offices. Architectural details were removed or covered over. Furniture and carpeting were sold off, stolen, or destroyed.
After a few years of construction the King took residency in 1882. You can see why it took so long to build. There is a magnificent koa wood stairway that is a woodworkers dream. Unfortunately (my opinion) they have now covered it with ugly blue carpeting. The carpet is a replica based on photos. Other carpets throughout the building are also replicas or in some cases reconstructions. The throne room carpet was so huge it was sold off in sections. Many of those pieces have been rewoven together along with new pieces to fill in. The preservationists have done a marvelous job. Our docent spoke to us on the front lanai while we put on little blue booties. Even these have been improved since my last visit. They now are adjustable and a whole lot safer to wear. Inside our tour started with the Blue Room a parlor, continued on to the formal dining room. I noticed a lot of details that reoccur throughout the palace. One is Kalakaua’s favorite symbol of a quatrefoil. We no longer can walk up the central staircase, as engineers are concerned about the damage thundering herds of tourist might cause. Personally, I figure if it survived years, as a government building a few tourists shouldn’t be a problem. But then I am not in charge. We all rode a small elevator, a few people at a time to the second floor. On this level we saw changes in the Kings and Queens bedrooms. Both had new reproductions of curtains and bed linens. In the Kings Office we now are allowed to peek into his private bathroom and see the "royal throne". The yellow room was used for the enjoyment of music. The wide central hallway was where the royal family had most of their meals and it also served at a lounge, reception area. The corner bedroom was Liliokalani’s prison cell. Back on the main level we entered the Throne Room. The last time we were here the kahilis had been removed to an exhibit at the Bishop Museum. I noticed they are back in place beside the thrones, or reproductions have been made. The King and Queens crowns are on display in cases, I don’t remember that from previous visits. One thing they are quite proud of about Iolani, it had electric light fixtures before the White House did.
Our docent led us back to the lanai where they collected our booties. After that we were invited to visit the Basement Gallery Exhibits. Bill bought just a ticket for the Basement Exhibit only. Here we saw many of the crown jewels, historic photos, cases of koa wood special presentation pieces, the palace kitchen and the office of the Chamberlain’s Office. We have visited Iolani on three other trips. One time they were closed so we just walked the grounds and found the uniquely shaped Hawaii State Capitol. Not until this visit did we notice that the Palace has what appears to be a moat. Our docent explained it wasn’t a moat, it never held water. It was a light tunnel that allowed those areas the servants worked in to be filled with natural light. How clever!
Iolani is open Monday-Saturday 9:00 am –4:00 pm. It is closed on nine holidays. It is a good idea to reserve a tour time by calling ahead (808-522-0832) or request via e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Arrive early and check in at the Iolani Barracks gift shop. There are a couple of ways to tour. Docent guided tours ($21.75) and Self Led – audio tours ($14.75). The audio tours are available in several languages. Admission for children is only $6.00. Basement Gallery tour is only $7.00.
When you are done with the tour, take time to look around the neighborhood. In every direction you will find a jewel be it a statue, a church, a gallery museum, mission house or a historic site.