Princess Ruth wrote to Lot Kamehameha and asked that he “fence the lot at Kaakopua with boards and to put up a gate large enough for carriages to enter”, as well as “furnish lumber for a house”. (Zambucka)
“The two storied wooden frame residence of Emma St. of Princess Ruth was destroyed by fire during the absence in Hawaiʻi. A valuable wardrobe, mementos of chief families, jewelry etc. was lost.” (Honolulu Advertiser, October 18, 1873; Zambucka)
Having lost her house, Princess Ruth Luka Keanolani Kauanahoahoa Keʻelikōlani sought to rebuild. The area where the home was located was known as Kaʻakopua.
“It is said … that in looking over various plans for the construction of a mansion on Emma Street, she was particularly struck with those of a normal school building in the States.” (Hawaiian Gazette, October 1, 1895)
“Drawing those plans from among many others she said in her imperious manner to the architect standing nearby, ‘Build me a house like that.’” (Hawaiian Gazette, October 1, 1895) Thus began the construction of a home; she named it Keōua Hale.
The main architect behind new structure was Charles J. Hardy, an American from Chicago, employed at the Enterprise Planing Mill in Honolulu. The gaslit interior of the mansion was celebrated for its ornate plaster work and frescoes. It was the most expansive residence of the time; it was larger than ʻIolani Palace.
The house was completed in 1883; however, Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani never lived in the palace. She became ill immediately after the house warming and birthday luau.
She returned to Huliheʻe, her Kailua-Kona residence, where they believed she would more quickly regain her health. On May 24, 1883, Keʻelikōlani died at the age of fifty-seven, in her traditional grass home in Kailua-Kona.
At her death, Keʻelikōlani’s will stated that she “give and bequeath forever to my beloved younger sister (cousin), Bernice Pauahi Bishop, all of my property, the real property and personal property from Hawaiʻi to Kauaʻi, all of said property to be hers.” (about 353,000 acres, which established the land-base endowment for Pauahi’s subsequent formation of Kamehameha Schools.)
The palace was inherited by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop; she and her husband, Charles Reed Bishop lived in house. Pauahi passed away in the house a year later (October 16, 1884.) “(F)rom the hour of her death until the morning of her funeral, it rained continuously, until, at the appointed time the heavens cleared, and the sun shone brightly”. (KSBE)
In her will, Pauahi initially intended to devise Kaʻakopua to Queen Emma. However, in her later codicils (amendments,) Pauahi devised “the Ili of “Kaʻakopua”, extending from Emma to Fort Street and also all kuleanas in the same, and everything appurtenant to said premises” to her husband, “to hold for his life, remainder to my trustees.” (KSBE)
On April 9 1885, the first meeting of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Trust Board of Trustees was held at Keōua Hale 21 Emma Street with Bishop chosen chairman for the evening. (KSBE)
But the house was not destined to be the home for Kamehameha Schools. Rather, it had the honor of serving as the campus of the first public high school in Honolulu.
“The Board of Education used every means in its power to obtain the building” (Hawaiian Gazette, October 1, 1895) “(D)uring talks to make the house into a school, there soon were people approving and praise this conversion into a high school. The Board of Education immediately sought to obtain the house, and were fortunate to get it at a fair price ($600,000.)” (Kuokoa, October 12, 1895)
However, the idea of the purchase was not without its detractors.
“The stupidity of the Board of Education has been made clear. The Legislature has not approved the money to purchase Kaʻakopua and Keōua Hale. This is a huge sum of money, and it is better if they purchased some other land and built buildings for the high school, and not that beautiful house which will cost a lot to clean it up, as a place for a few people to live haughtily and snobbily off the money of the Government. It is true!” (Makaʻāinana, 8/12/1895)
The DOE purchased the property from the Bishop Estate on June 27, 1895. (DOE, Star Advertiser) “(E)verything (moved) forward, expeditious preparations (were) made to begin school soon, when regular school starts. The nation is proud to obtain this schoolhouse to enroll and teach children in higher learning than that taught at the other schools which teach general knowledge.” (Kuokoa, October 12, 1895)
So began Kula Kiekie o Honolulu (Honolulu High School.)
“The instructors of this school are, Prof. M. M. Scott, principal; J. Lightfoot, teacher of Mathematics and Latin; Miss Brewer and Miss Needham, grammar teachers; Miss Beckwith, art teacher; and Miss Tucker, a teacher of singing.” (Kuokoa, October 12, 1895)
“This institution has been developing satisfactorily during the period under review. It is not accredited at any of the universities of America, and in my opinion it is not desirable that it be so accredited. The plan of leaving each of our graduates to enter college or fail to do so on his own merits, as recent experience indicates, will produce results creditable to all concerned.”
“Besides, the preparation of candidates for college entrance examinations is but a small part of the work of a high school in Honolulu. The course of study should be such as will fit for life, and the matter of fitting for college should be relegated to its own subordinate place.”
“The Honolulu High School is especially adapted to the needs of those who speak the English language as a mother tongue and to no others. It accommodates but passably a few of the exceptionally bright pupils of the much larger class who have the language to learn after entering school. Taking into account the number of English speaking persons in Honolulu, it will be observed that the high school is of very creditable size.” (Report of the Minister of Public Instruction, 1899)
In 1907, Honolulu High School moved out of Keōua Hale to the corner of Beretania and Victoria Streets. The school’s name was then changed to President William McKinley High School, after President William McKinley, whose influence brought about the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands to the United States.
The educational needs of Honolulu exceeded the space of Princess Ruth’s palace for several reasons. In 1920, a report was published on the survey of schools conducted by the Bureau of Education of the Federal Department of the Interior.
The report noted that typical middle class families in America were sending their children to public secondary schools, but in Hawaii, public schools were so few and geographically isolated, that many had to go to private schools or were forced to drop out.
Therefore, the commission recommended the establishment of secondary or junior high schools which should offer more academic and vocational choices to feed various high schools. And Hawaii, at this time, tried very hard to be American. (NPS)
Later, at Kaʻakopua, new school buildings replaced Keōua Hale. Upon its official opening in 1927, the Advertiser news article described the layout which has remained relatively intact:
“Entering the main portal of the new plant, the visitor finds the principal’s office at the left and teachers’ room at the right. … Four large classrooms flank the main corridor and behind them are the kitchen and the dining pavilions. …”
“There are 11 classrooms in the old wing and in the new wing there are six classrooms on the main floor and seven on the second story. … The 31 classroom building had room for 1,500 pupils.” (NPS)
Though called Central Middle School, as you drive down South Kukui Street (between Queen Emma Street and Nuʻuanu Pali Highway) the name “Keʻelikōlani School” is noted on the building.
DOE suggests the school there was never called that. (Unfortunately, DOE records were lost in a fire.) However, a July 2, 1917 Star Bulletin article notes Pedro Augusta as the Keʻelikōlani School janitor (no other school was named Keʻelikōlani.)
In October of 1994 the buildings of Central Intermediate were placed on the Hawaiʻi Register of Historic Places. The school continues to honor Princess Ruth’s generosity in providing a location for their school by celebrating her birthday February 9 of each year. (Central Middle School)
In September 2021, the Hawaiʻi State Board of Education (BOE) approved the restoration of Central Middle School to its former name honoring Princess Ruth Keanolani Kanāhoahoa Keʻelikōlani. The change was effective immediately. Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani Middle School currently serves 336 students in grades six through eight.