Owing to the importance of the harbor of Honolulu, its central position in the Island chain and its increasing population, the principal chiefs and councilors convinced Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) to move the seat of government from Lāhainā to Honolulu. (Taylor)
By 1843, the decision was made to permanently place a palace in Honolulu. At about that time, Governor Mataio Kekūanāoʻa was building a house for his daughter (Princess Victoria Kamāmalu.)
Victoria Kamāmalu was the sister of Prince Alexander Liholiho and Prince Lot Kamehameha, who afterwards became, respectively, Kamehameha IV and Kamehameha V. Her mother, the High Chiefess Kīnaʻu, the Premier of the kingdom, was a half-sister of Kamehameha III, all being descendants of Kamehameha I. (Taylor)
The original coral block and wooden building called Hanailoia was built in July 1844 on the grounds of the present ʻIolani Palace. (Thrum) It has been said that in olden times a large heiau or temple existed on this spot, the name of which was Ka‘ahaimauli.
“The flight of stone steps leading to the hall, is just completed. Underneath the building is a deep cellar and outside of that, below the spacious verandah, the floor of which is raised six feet from the ground, are extensive accommodations for the guards and household servant.”
“The main-hall occupies the entire depth of the house, but disfigured at one end by an enclosed flight of stairs leading to the upper rooms.”
“On either side of the hall are lofty and spacious apartments of larger size, with broad and high windows reaching to the floor, and so constructed that they can be thrown entirely up, and give free access to the verandah, which entirely encircles the house.”
“The view from the upper story is very fine. It commands an extensive prospect, not only of the town, but the mountains and vallies, and seaward. It is divided into two rooms, and is, we believe, designed for smoking and lounging, during the heat of the day …”
“… for which, from its elevated position and coolness, the mountain breezes sweeping most delightfully through it, it is admirably calculated. With an eye to our own comfort, we could not help thinking what a nice editorial sanctum it would make.”
“The whole house, from its massive walls and deep verandah, must necessarily be very cool, in the hottest weather. The governor intends to lay out the grounds with taste, planting them with trees, &c, and has already prepared several wells to give the necessary supply of water.” (Polynesian, November 9, 1844)
“To a person who has ever visited any of the abodes of European sovereigns, such a term (‘palace’) would at once convey an idea of regal magnificence; but the residence of the Hawaiian monarch produces nothing that is superfluous, or even splendid.”
“On the contrary, every thing about it is plain, even to plebeianism, and induces a visitor to think that he may be treading the apartments of a chief rather than the palace of a sovereign. The grounds on which it stands cover between two and three acres, and are inclosed with a heavy wall of rough coral.”
“A visitor enters on the south side, between lodges occupied by sleepy sentinels. A small but beautiful grove of trees wave their stately foliage on either side of the path leading up to the royal apartments, and their cool shade reminds one of the groves of the Academy and the Lyceum, where so many of the old masters read, studied, and rambled.”
“A few steps bring you in front of the palace proper. It has a very simple, rustic appearance. The walls are composed of coral procured from the reefs along the shore of the harbor. The ground-plan covers an area of seventy-four feet by forty-four. The building is a story and a half high.”
“A noble piazza, eight or ten feet wide, and raised a few feet above the ground, entirely surrounds the building. The chief apartment is the one in which the king holds his levees. In the centre of the eastern wall of the apartment stood the chair of state. Its unpretending aspect led me to invest it rather with republican simplicity than monarchical aristocracy.” (Bates)
Various residences were placed around the grounds, the Palace being used principally for state purposes. ‘Hoihoikea’ was the name given to the large, old-fashioned, livable cottage erected in the grounds a little to ewa and mauka of the old palace, in which Kamehameha III, Kamehameha IV, and Kamehameha V resided. (Taylor)
The former Hanailoia, named Hale Ali‘i, was the palace used by Kings Kamehameha III, IV, V and Lunalilo. However, when Alexander Liholiho (Kamehameha IV) died November 30, 1863, his older brother Lot Kapuāiwa (Kamehameha V) became King and he considered a name change.
Minutes of the December 7, 1863 Privy Council note that Chancellor EH Allen “expressed the wish of the King to give a name to the Palace and that he wished it should be called St Alexander Palace.”
“After some discussion, Mr Wyllie moved that the following resolution be passed. … (However) after duly considering the Question, they would prefer the ‘‘Iolani Palace’ to the ‘Alexander Palace’ but that they respectfully defer to His Majesty right to give to his own Palace what ever name may best please himself.”
The minutes reflect that shortly thereafter, Acting Chamberlain, John O Dominis wrote, “I am ordered by His Majesty to inform You that he has styled His residence ‘‘Iolani Palace’ and you are instructed so to record it in the Minutes of the Privy Council.” (Privy Council, December 7, 1863)
So, Hanailoia was not only Honolulu’s first royal Palace, it was also the first ʻIolani Palace (although the Privy Council minutes refer to it as ‘ʻIolani Hale Ali‘i.’) It was torn down in 1878 to make way for the present ʻIolani Palace.