After Kuakini’s death in 1844, the Palace passed to his adopted son, William Pitt Leleiohoku. Leleiohoku died a few months later, leaving Hulihe‘e to his wife, Princess Ruth Luka Ke‘elikōlani. It became a favorite retreat for members of the Hawaiian royal family.
Hulihe‘e Palace is Kona’s only existing royal residence and one of three palaces in the United States. (The other two are ‘Iolani Palace and Queen Emma’s Summer Palace, both on O‘ahu.)
Hulihe‘e, built in 1838, was the residence of Governor John Adams Kuakini and a favorite retreat for Hawai‘i’s royal families.
The Palace was constructed by foreign seamen using lava rock, coral, koa and ōhi‘a timbers. Kuakini oversaw the construction of both Mokuaikaua Church and Hulihe‘e Palace and these landmarks once shared a similar architectural style with exposed stone.
Flanked to the north by Niumalu and to the south by Kiope Fish Pond, Hulihe‘e Palace was also the site of the observation of the Transit of Venus (when the planet Venus crosses between the Earth and the Sun) in 1874 by British astronomers, one of the most important astronomical observations of the 19th century (helping to calculate the distance between the Sun and the Earth.)
When Princess Ruth passed away in 1883 leaving no surviving heirs, the property passed on to her cousin, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. Princess Bernice died the following year and the home was purchased by King David Kalākaua and Queen Kapi‘olani.
Extensive remodeling by King Kalākaua and Queen Kapi‘olani in 1884 transformed the original structure to suit the Victorian tastes of the late 19th century (with stucco and plaster, widened lanai, and much to the interior décor.)
Early description of Hulihe‘e Place (Hawai‘i Nei, by Mabel Clare Craft Deering – 1898:)
”There is a fine royal residence there, now the property of the dowager Queen Kapiolani. It is a big house with a wide hall and immense rooms. The kitchen and servants’ quarters are detached, and there is an open lanai a little way from the house where Kalakaua gave famous luaus and hulas, and where his celebrated red chairs were set in rows.”
“The house is marked by the tabu-sticks set up at the doors, sticks with white balls at the top, in imitation of the old days when balls of white kapa at the top of the sticks marked the residence of the king, within which common people could not go on pain of death.”
“Inside, the house is a marvel of polished woods. There is a table of satiny koa, the mahogany of the Pacific, the” royal tree,” fit to make you weep. This table stands in the center of the drawing-room, and around the walls are elaborate carved chairs, vases, and fine pottery from China and Japan. There are portraits of Kalakaua, Kapiolani, and Liliuokalani, as well as busts of royalty. At the windows are exquisite lambrequins of the finest kapa I saw on the islands, painted in patterns, and some of it extremely old.”
“The big dining-hall across the vestibule has a fine carved sideboard, and on it are a number of koa calabashes, polished, and marked inside with the crown and royal coat – of- arms, etched with a poker. These calabashes all have covers, and were designed for pink poi.”
In 1925, Hulihe‘e was purchased by the Territory of Hawai‘i to be operated as a museum by the Daughters of Hawai‘i. (My mother was a Daughter.)
Most of the furnishings were originally in the Palace during the Monarchy. Hulihe‘e Palace was placed on the National Register of Historic Sites in 1973.
Hulihe‘e Palace contains a fine collection of ancient Hawaiian artifacts, as well as ornate furnishings that illustrate the lifestyle of the Hawaiian nobility in the late 19th century. Intricately carved furniture, European crystal chandeliers and immense four-poster beds fill the rooms.
Hulihe‘e Palace reveals the Hawaiian nobility’s passion for western fashions and is a reminder of Kailua’s past as a favorite royal residence.
The image shows Hulihe‘e Palace and Princess Ruth’s hale on the palace grounds (while she used and enjoyed the Palace, she typically slept in the grass hale – 1885.) In addition, I have added other images of Hulihe‘e place in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook page.