By 1866, the need for a new courthouse government building in the Hawaiian Kingdom was apparent. The old courthouse, completed in 1852, accommodated not only the judicial needs, but also served as the reception hall for diplomatic ceremonies and official social functions.
The legislature appropriated funds towards a new palace and a new government building. Delays ensued. Plans for a new palace were postponed, but the new courthouse moved forward.
On February 19, 1872, Kamehameha V laid the cornerstone for the new building.
The use of concrete blocks, a fairly new building material, “infinitely superior for both durability and ornament,” was recommended and accepted by Public Works. (The coral foundation supports concrete block bearing walls varying in thickness from 17″ to 22″.)
To increase the work force, convicts were brought from the prison and made to labor on the project. In 1874, during the reign of King Kalākaua, the building was finally completed.
Lively events characterized Aliʻiolani Hale’s first year. Already designated as the home of the Legislature, in May of 1874, the Judiciary Department also moved into the new government building.
In July, the Law Library took up residence on the second floor with “3,000 law books and 2,000 scientific books.” By September, Aliʻiolani Hale housed the first National Museum in the Hawaiian Kingdom.
An appeal made to the public requested the donation of artifacts: “Old Hawaiian ornaments and utensils, Hawaiian minerals and preserved zoological specimens are particularly desired.”
CJ Lyons made scientific use of the building late that year as an observation site for the transit of Venus. The transits of Venus occur only four times in 243 years, and at that time, this astronomical event was the best known means of determining the dimensions of our planetary system.
Aliʻiolani Hale played a role in the Wilcox insurrection. Unhappy with the changes in the constitution of 1887, the young hapa-Hawaiian, Robert Wilcox, and several hundred armed men marched into the neighborhood on the morning of July 30, 1889.
At 6 am, twelve of the men took over Aliʻiolani Hale, and the rest moved into the ʻIolani Palace yard. By noon, volleys of rifle shots were exchanged between Wilcox’s men and government forces.
Wilcox’s men, stationed in the Palace yard, were surrounded by the government troops whose sharpshooters were placed in nearby buildings, including the tower of Kawaiahaʻo church.
The rebellion came to a halt when government authorities hurled homemade dynamite bombs into the Palace yard scattering the rebellious constituent.
In the small room beneath the clock tower, often used as an artist’s studio at Aliʻiolani Hale, a sculptor was working on a bust of Kalākaua. He reported, on that day, that stray bullets created “a disturbing background” for his artistic endeavor.
Seeking to abolish the Hawaiian Monarchy, the Committee of Public Safety took over Aliʻiolani Hale on January 17, 1893. Here, was the reading of the declaration of the Provisional Government of the Hawaiian Islands during the Revolution of 1893.
The Honolulu Rifles, a volunteer group of men who supported the Committee of Safety, assembled there in opposition to the loyalist guard stationed across King Street at the Palace. With horse blankets and boxes of hard tack, the Honolulu Rifles camped in the halls of Aliʻiolani Hale.
Queen Liliʻuokalani, in order to avoid violence, abrogated the monarchy and the troops did not engage in armed conflict. After the establishment of the Republic of Hawaiʻi, most likely to disassociate the new government with the monarchy, the new officials renamed Aliʻiolani Hale, “The Judiciary Building.” The legislature then moved to ʻIolani Palace which was renamed the “Executive Building.”
Hawaiʻi almost lost Aliʻiolani Hale in 1937 when the territorial planning board drafted plans to demolish the structure and build a new Judiciary Building. Former Chief Justice and Governor Walter Frear strongly opposed the idea, and the Honolulu Advertiser picked up the torch in support of Frear announcing that “The Old Judiciary Building is threatened by the march of progress.”
Instead of demolition, repairs and plans for a new wing were approved. Construction began in March of 1941, but was considerably hampered by the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December. The new wing was finally completed in 1944, the same year that Martial law was lifted. In 1949, a second story was added to the new wing to complete the structure that stands today as Aliʻiolani Hale.
By 1951, the building, even with the new wing, was overcrowded and not providing adequate space for the needs of a growing Judiciary. In 1960, it was recommended that a new court building be constructed and that Aliʻiolani Hale retain the Supreme Court, the Land Court, the Administrative Offices, and the Law Library.
In 1965, the interior of the building was refurbished at a cost exceeding the total expenditures for the building in 1874.
Today, Aliʻiolani Hale houses the Supreme Court of Hawaiʻi, the court administration offices, a law library and the Judiciary History Center.
While decisions are made affecting the present and future of Hawaiʻi by the Supreme Court, the Judiciary History Center interprets over 200 years of law and judicial history in the Hawaiian Islands.
From Monarchy to statehood, Aliʻiolani Hale has faithfully served the people of Hawaiʻi. Kings and queens have walked its halls. Revolutions have been lost and won around it. Sensational cases have been tried in its courtrooms. Since 1874, Supreme Court rulings affecting the future of Hawaiʻi and its people have been decided within its walls.
Open to the general public, the History Center reflects the unique legal and judicial history of our islands from the days of kapu to the present.
The inspiration and information here is from the Judiciary History Center (as well as the National Register.) The image shows Aliʻiolani Hale in 1875 (before the Kamehameha Statue.) In addition, I have included other images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.