Back in the mid-1800s, the growth of steamship travel between Hawai‘i and the West Coast of the United States, Australia and New Zealand caused a large increase in the number of visitors to the islands.
The arrival and departure of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain,) the Duke of Edinburgh and others included envoys, politicians, merchants and opportunists, created the need of good hotel accommodations to lodge similar visitors.
“There had been earlier talk about the need for a first class hotel in Honolulu, and in 1865 a public meeting had been held and a committee appointed to study the question but no material result emerged.”
“The subject was under discussion again, in the community and in the king’s cabinet, about the beginning of 1870, a suggestion having been made that private parties loan money to assist the government in erecting a hotel.”
“Nothing was done immediately, but some six months later the king said to his ministers, ‘I think favorably of the Govt. building a Hotel.’”
“At a cabinet meeting on December 5, the subject for consideration ‘was the building of a Hotel at the public cost. . . . After much discussion it was resolved – That it was advisable to commence a building for this purpose of stone or other incombustible material, and that the Minister of Interior [Dr. F. W. Hutchison] be charged with the duty of procuring plans …’”
“‘… and it was further resolved that the expense should not exceed say ($50,000) Fifty Thousand Dollars—and further that the necessary funds should be procured by issuing Hotel Bonds—or stock, and the Minister of Finance [Dr. J. Mott Smith] be charged with the duty of procuring funds.’”
“From later minutes of the cabinet council and from other sources, we learn that the whole management of the hotel project soon devolved upon Dr. Smith, as he wished it to be; that he had the active support and co-operation of Minister of Foreign Affairs Harris …”
“… that these two selected the site for the hotel on the corner of Hotel and Richards streets and bought the land, a purchase which was then assumed by the government; that private parties subscribed $42,500, for which they received ‘Hotel Bonds’ paying, in lieu of interest, a due ‘proportion of the rent received from the hotel.” (Kuykendall)
The Hawaiian Hotel was proposed in 1865, but not laid down until 1871. The Hotel was located on the Mauka-Ewa corner of Hotel Street and Richards Street and was formally opened by a ball on February 29, 1872. The hotel was leased to Allen Herbert for a term of years;
The King “took great interest in the building of the Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu”. The hotel was later called the Royal Hawaiian Hotel; reportedly, King Kalākaua renamed it to give it a regal feel.
Therefore, first “Royal Hawaiian Hotel” was not in Waikīkī;l rather, it was in downtown Honolulu (the later one, in Waikīki, opened over fifty years later, in 1928.)
In 1879, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel was surrounded by dwellings, including several thatched-roof hale, but the hotel expanded over the next twenty years and replaced most of the residences.
Reportedly, Kalākaua kept a suite there; the Paradise of the Pacific noted it was “one of the coolest buildings in the city.” It “was an ornament to the city and filled a real need in the community, for which it became an important social center.”
“Under the capable management of Allen Herbert, the hotel won praise from travelers and from local residents who patronized it. In course of time it passed into private hands.” (Kuykendall)
By 1900, the last dwellings and a doctor’s office were located on the corner of Beretania and Richards Streets. These were all gone by 1914.
In November 1917, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel was purchased by a group of local businessmen and became the official headquarters of the Armed Services YMCA in Hawai‘i.
In 1926, the hotel was demolished and the present building was constructed. The Army and Navy YMCA building was erected on the site of the former Royal Hawaiian Hotel in 1927.
Through the middle of the century, the downtown “Y” was a popular destination for service men from all branches of the military. By the mid-1970s, an increasing number of junior enlisted personnel were married with children.
The Armed Services YMCA responded to the changing needs of the military by opening family centers at Aliamanu Military Reservation, Iroquois Point Housing, Marine Corps Base Hawaii-Kaneohe, Wheeler/Schofield and Tripler Army Medical Center.
The building was rehabilitated in the late-1980s by Hemmeter Corporation, when it was renamed No. 1 Capitol District Building.
This remodeled office complex became the Hemmeter Corporation Building. After completion in 1988, the historic building served as Hemmeter Headquarters for several years.
Hemmeter Design Group earned national awards for the redevelopment of the historic YMCA building in downtown Honolulu.
Today, the Hawai’i State Art Museum (managed by the Hawai’i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts) and several State offices are housed in the historic Spanish-Mission style building.
The Hawai‘i State Art Museum opened in the fall of 2002. The museum is located on the second floor of the No. 1 Capitol District Building. The museum houses three galleries featuring (and serves as the principal venue for) artworks from the Art in Public Places Collection.