Iolani Palace: The Only Royal Palace in the USA

Iolani Palace: The Only Royal Palace in the USA

The American Palace

There is no such thing as American royalty. But, thanks to the acquisition of Hawaii in 1959, there is such a thing as an American palace. Iolani Palace in Honolulu, Hawaii, was the home of the Hawaiian royal family before Hawaii became a US state. It is the only official state residence of royalty on US soil.

Even though that location included a royal Hawaiian building for several hundred years. On New Year’s Eve 1879, builders laid the cornerstone for the current palace. King David Kalakaua, the the first monarch to travel around the world, commissioned the building.

While visiting Europe, Kalakaua took note of the grand palaces owned by other monarchs and dreamed of a royal palace befitting of the sovereignty of a modern state such as Hawaii. Iolani Palace features architecture seen nowhere else in the world, known as American Florentine. In addition to its unique architectural style, Iolani Palace had all of the latest and greatest technology for its time. In fact, it had electricity and telephone service even before the White House did!

iolani palace throne room honolulu hawaii oahu
Throne Room of Iolani Palace

Turmoil in the Tropics

Kalakaua’s sister, Lili’uokalani, became queen upon Kalakaua’s death in 1891. Strengthening the political power of the Hawaiian monarchy was her primary goal. Her attempts to affect change caused great opposition from the Committee of Safety, who orchestrated the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893. At that time, the palace became the headquarters of the provisional government. Government officials carefully inventoried its contents and sold at public auctions whatever furniture or furnishings were not suitable for government operations.

In 1895, an unsuccessful attempt by Hawaiian royalists to restore Queen Lili’uokalani to power resulted in the Queen’s arrest. A military tribunal took place in her own throne room, where Lili’uokalani was convicted, fined and sentenced to five years of hard labor in prison. She also had to relinquish all future claims to the throne. The sentence was later reduced, but she would never return as a monarch. Queen Liliʻuokalani lived as a prisoner for nine months in a small room on the upper floor of the palace. The quilt she made during her confinement is still there.

Iolani Palace Queen Quilt Honolulu hawaii oahu

The palace remained a functional but neglected government building for more than 70 years.  After Hawaii became a state, restoration efforts began.  Such efforts included the return of original objects from the palace, but many are still missing.  Government grants and private donations funded the reproduction of original fabrics and finishes to restore palace rooms to their monarchy era appearance. The work to preserve Iolani Palace continues today.

Iolani Palace staircase honolulu hawaii oahu
Staircase of Iolani Palace, made from koa wood.

Iolani Palace is located at 364 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96813.  Telephone 808-522-0822. The palace is open Monday through Saturday, 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.  


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