The first three rulers of the sovereign Hawaiian Kingdom had no permanent capitol. Government shifted from Lahaina to Honolulu to Kailua-Kona, depending on maritime and economic activity along with the pleasure of the king.
, Kamehameha III established a permanent seat of government in Honolulu. He acquired for his capitol a one-story coral building built for his sister Victoria Kamamalu by their father. Called Hale Ali`i, this building stood on the site of the present palace. While official events took place here, Kamehameha III also built a home next door called Hoihoikea, where he could live more comfortably and informally.
Kamehameha V renamed Hale Ali`i `Iolani Palace in 1863
to honor his deceased brother Kamehameha IV. `Iolani (bird of heaven) was one of Alexander Liholiho's Hawaiian names and was also a name belonging to Kamehameha II.
|`Iolani Palace contained numerous European and Asian works of art, many received as gifts from world leaders. The largest painting in the palace collection was a full-length portrait of Louis Philippe of France. It arrived by boat in 1848 and required 12 men to carry it from the wharf to the palace.|
By the time of Kalakaua's reign, the old `Iolani Palace was termite-ridden and in disrepair. The government funded a new palace on the same site. Kalakaua laid the cornerstone of the new `Iolani Palace December 31, 1879
- Queen Kapi`olani's 45th birthday - and the palace was completed in 1882
. Designed in an "American Florentine" style, the four-story palace included an attic and basement, two central and four corner towers with open lanai on all sides. The rich interior used native koa, kou, kamani, and ohia woods plus American walnut and Oregon white cedar. Furnishings came from America, Europe and Asia. It was one of the first buildings in Hawai`i fitted with electric lights.
, Kalakaua also built a bungalow called Hale Akala that stood between Hoihoikea and the Palace. Like Hoihoikea, it was a more informal residence for everyday living. Hawaii's last monarch, Queen Lili`uokalani, also preferred to live elsewhere while using the palace for formal occasions, continuing to reside at Washington Place, her nearby home of many years.
During the monarchy, `Iolani Palace hosted many grand parties, balls, ceremonies and state functions. After the overthrow of the monarchy, it took on new roles. Following the failed counter-revolution, an upper floor corner room served as Lili`uokalani's prison for eight months. After Hawai`i was annexed to the United States, the palace throne room served as the house of representatives chamber while the state dining room housed the senate. During World War II, rooms were partitioned, false ceilings added, the wood floors and staircases painted over in Army green, and the throne room was used as a Red Cross dressing station.
In 1969, a new capitol building was erected just inland of the old palace. With the removal of government offices, the Friends of `Iolani Palace began a multi-phase restoration of the palace building. Today `Iolani Palace is open to the public.