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Historic Honolulu

Getting There: From Waikiki, take Ala Moana Boulevard in the Ewa direction. Ala Moana Boulevard ends at Nimitz Highway. Turn right on the next street on your right (Alakea St.). Park in the garage across from St. Andrews Church after you cross Beretania Street. TheBus: 1, 2, 3, 4, 11, 12, or 50.

Start: St. Andrew's Church, Beretania and Alakea streets.

Finish: Same place.

Time: 2 to 3 hours, depending on how long you linger in museums.

Best Time: Tuesday through Saturday, daytime, when the Iolani Palace has tours.

The 1800s were a turbulent time in Hawaii. By the end of the 1790s, Kamehameha the Great had united all the islands. Foreigners then began arriving by ship -- first explorers, then merchants, and in 1820, missionaries. The rulers of Hawaii were hard-pressed to keep up. By 1840 it was clear that the capital had shifted from Lahaina, Maui, where the Kingdom of Hawaii was actually centered, to Honolulu, where the majority of commerce and trade was taking place. In 1848, the Great Mahele (division) enabled commoners and eventually foreigners to own crown land, and in two generations, more than 80% of all private lands had shifted to foreign ownership. With the introduction of sugar as a crop, the foreigners prospered, and in time they put more and more pressures on the government.

By 1872, the monarchy had run through the Kamehameha line and in 1873 David Kalakaua was elected to the throne. Known as the "Merrie Monarch," Kalakaua redefined the monarchy by going on a world tour, building Iolani Palace, having a European-style coronation, and throwing extravagant parties. By the end of the 1800s, however, the foreign sugar growers and merchants had become extremely powerful in Hawaii. With the assistance of the U.S. Marines, they orchestrated the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii's last reigning monarch, in 1893. The United States declared Hawaii a territory in 1898.

You can witness the remnants of these turbulent years in just a few short blocks.

Cross the street from the church parking lot and venture back to 1858 when you enter:

1. St. Andrew's Church

The Hawaiian monarchs were greatly influenced by the royals in Europe. When King Kamehameha IV saw the grandeur of the Church of England, he decided to build his own cathedral. He and Queen Emma founded the Anglican Church of Hawaii in 1858. The king, however, didn't live to see the church completed; he died on St. Andrew's Day, 4 years before King Kamehameha V oversaw the laying of the cornerstone in 1867. The church was named St. Andrew's in honor of King Kamehameha IV's death. This French-Gothic structure was shipped in pieces from England and reassembled here. Even if you aren't fond of visiting churches, you have to see the floor-to-eaves hand-blown stained-glass window that faces the setting sun. In the glass is a mural of Rev. Thomas Staley, the first bishop of Hawaii; King Kamehameha IV; and Queen Emma. The church's excellent thrift shop has some real bargains and is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 9:30am to 4pm and Saturday 9am to 1pm.

Next, walk down Beretania Street in the Diamond Head direction to the gates of:

2. Washington Place

Once the residence of the Governor of Hawaii (sorry, no tours; just peek through the iron fence), this Greek revival-style home nevertheless occupies a distinguished place in Hawaii's history. Built in 1842 by a U.S. sea captain named John Dominis, it got its name from the U.S. ambassador who once stayed there and told so many stories about President George Washington that people started calling the home Washington Place. The sea captain's son, also named John, married a beautiful Hawaiian princess, Lydia Kapaakea, who later became Hawaii's last queen, Liliuokalani. When the queen was overthrown by U.S. businessmen in 1893, she moved out of Iolani Palace and into her husband's inherited home, Washington Place, where she lived until her death in 1917. On the left side of the building, near the sidewalk, is a plaque inscribed with the words to one of the most popular songs written by Queen Liliuokalani, "Aloha Oe" ("Farewell to Thee").

Cross the street and walk to the front of the Hawaii State Capitol, where you'll find the:

3. Father Damien Statue

The people of Hawaii have never forgotten the sacrifice this Belgian priest made to help the sufferers of leprosy when he volunteered to work with them in exile on the Kalaupapa Peninsula on the island of Molokai. After 16 years of service, Father Damien died of leprosy, at the age of 49. The statue is frequently draped in leis in recognition of Father Damien's humanitarian work. Recently the Catholic Church made Father Damien a saint.

Behind Father Damien's statue is the:

4. Hawaii State Capitol

Here's where Hawaii's state legislators work from mid-January to the end of April every year. This is not your typical white dome structure, but a building symbolic of Hawaii. Unfortunately, it symbolizes more of Hawaii than the architect and the state legislature probably bargained for. The building's unusual design has palm-tree-shaped pillars, two cone-shaped chambers (representing volcanoes) for the legislative bodies, and in the inner courtyard, a 600,000-tile mosaic of the sea (Aquarius) created by a local artist. A reflecting pool (representing the sea) surrounds the entire structure. Like a lot of things in Hawaii, it was a great idea, but no one considered the logistics. The reflecting pond also draws brackish water, which rusts the hardware; when it rains, water pours into the rotunda, dampening government business; and the Aquarius floor mosaic became so damaged by the elements that it became a hazard. In the 1990s, the entire building (built in 1969) was closed for a couple of years for renovations, forcing the legislature to set up temporary quarters in several buildings. It's open again, and you are welcome to go into the rotunda and see the woven hangings and murals at the entrance, or take the elevator up to the fifth floor for a spectacular view of the city's historical center.

Walk down Richards Street toward the ocean and stop at:

5. Iolani Palace

Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. to have not one but two royal palaces; one in Kona (on Big Island), where the royals went during the summer, and Iolani Palace (Iolani means "royal hawk"). Don't miss the opportunity to see this grande dame of historic buildings. Tours are limited.

In ancient times a heiau stood in this area. When it became clear to King Kamehameha III that the capital should be transferred from Lahaina to Honolulu, he moved to a modest building here in 1845. The construction of the palace was undertaken by King David Kalakaua and was begun in 1879; it was finished 3 years later at a cost of $350,000. The king spared no expense: You can still see the glass and iron work imported from San Francisco. The palace had all the modern conveniences of its time: Electric lights were installed 4 years before the White House had them; every bedroom had its own full bathroom with hot and cold running water and copper-lined tub, a flush toilet, and a bidet. The king had a telephone line from the palace to his boathouse on the water a year after Alexander Graham Bell introduced it to the world.

It was also in this palace that Queen Liliuokalani was overthrown and placed under house arrest for 9 months. Later, the territorial and then the state government used the palace until it outgrew it. When the legislature left in 1968, the palace was in shambles and has since undergone a $7-million overhaul to restore it to its former glory.

After you visit the palace, spend some time on the:

6. Iolani Palace Grounds

You can wander around the grounds at no charge. (The ticket window to the palace and the gift shop are in the former barracks of the Royal Household Guards.) The domed pavilion on the grounds was originally built as a coronation stand by King Kalakaua; 9 years after he took the throne, he decided to have a formal European-style coronation ceremony where he crowned himself and his queen, Kapiolani. Later he used it as a Royal Bandstand for concerts (Kalakaua, along with Herni Berger, the first Royal Hawaiian Bandmaster, wrote "Hawaii Pono'i," the state anthem). Today the Royal Bandstand is still used for concerts by the Royal Hawaiian Band. The more modern building on the grounds is the State Archives, built in 1953, which holds records, documents, and photos of Hawaii's people and its history.

From the palace grounds, turn in the Ewa direction, cross Richards Street, and walk to the corner of Richards and Hotel streets to the:

7. Hawaii State Art Museum

Opened in 2002, the Hawaii State Art Museum is housed in the original Royal Hawaiian Hotel built in 1872, during the reign of King Kamehameha V. All of the 360 works currently displayed were created by artists who live in Hawaii. The pieces were purchased by the state thanks to a 1967 law that says that 1% of the cost of state buildings will be used to acquire works of art. Nearly 4 decades later, the state has amassed some 5,000 pieces. The current exhibit depicts Hawaii, its history, culture, and ideals, through a variety of mediums. It's open Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 4pm and is free.

Walk makai down Richards Street and turn left (toward Diamond Head) on S. King Street to the:

8. King Kamehameha Statue

At the juncture of King, Merchant, and Mililani streets stands a replica of the man who united the Hawaiian Islands. The striking black-and-gold bronze statue is magnificent. The best day to see the statue is on June 11 (King Kamehameha Day), when it is covered with leis in honor of Hawaii's favorite son.

The statue of Kamehameha I was cast by Thomas Gould in 1880 in Paris. However, it was lost at sea somewhere near the Falkland Islands. Subsequently, the insurance money was used to pay for a second statue, but in the meantime, the original statue was recovered. The original was eventually sent to the town of Kapaau on the Big Island, the birthplace of Kamehameha, and the second statue was placed in Honolulu in 1883, as part of King David Kalakaua's coronation ceremony. A third statue (all three are very different, but they were supposedly all cast from the same mold) was sent to Washington, D.C., when Hawaii became a state in 1959.

Right behind King Kamehameha's statue is:

9. Aliiolani Hale

This "House of Heavenly Kings," with its distinctive clock tower, now houses the State Judiciary Building. King Kamehameha V originally wanted to build a palace here and commissioned the Australian architect Thomas Rowe in 1872. However, it ended up as the first major government building for the Hawaiian monarchy. Kamehameha V didn't live to see it completed, and King David Kalakaua dedicated the building in 1874. Ironically, less than 20 years later, on January 17, 1893, Stanford Dole, backed by other prominent sugar planters, stood on the steps to this building and proclaimed the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the establishment of a provisional government. Tours are conducted Tuesday through Thursday, 10am to 3pm (no charge).

Walk toward Diamond Head on King Street; at the corner of King and Punchbowl, stop in at:

10. Kawaiahao Church

When missionaries came to Hawaii, the first thing they did was build churches. Four thatched grass churches (one measured 54 ft.*22 ft. and could seat 300 people on lauhala mats; the last thatched church held 4,500 people) had been built on this site through 1837 before Rev. Hiram Bingham began building what he considered a "real" church -- a New England-style congregational structure with Gothic influences. Between 1837 and 1842, the building of the church required some 14,000 giant coral slabs (some weighing more than 1,000 lb.). Hawaiian divers literally raped the reefs, digging out huge chunks of coral and causing irreparable environmental damage.

Kawaiahao is Hawaii's oldest church, and it has been the site of numerous historical events, such as a speech made by King Kamehameha III in 1843, an excerpt from which became Hawaii's state motto ("Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono," which translates as, "The life of the land is preserved in righteousness").

This is the Westminster Abbey of Hawaii; the vestibule is lined with portraits of the Hawaiian monarchy, many of whom were coronated in this very building. The coral church is also a perfect setting to experience an all-Hawaiian service, complete with Hawaiian song. (Hawaiian-language services are held every Sunday at 9am and admission is free -- let your conscience be your guide as to a donation.)

The clock tower in the church, which was donated by King Kamehameha III and installed in 1850, continues to tick today. The church is open Monday through Saturday, from 8am to 4pm; you'll find it to be very cool in temperature. Don't sit in the pews in the back, marked with kahili feathers and velvet cushions; they are still reserved for the descendants of royalty.

Cross the street, and you'll see the:

11. Mission Houses Museum

On the corner of King and Kawaiahao streets stand the original buildings of the Sandwich Islands Mission Headquarters: the Frame House (built in 1821), the Chamberlain House (1831), and the Printing Office (1841). The complex is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm; admission is $10 for adults, $8 for military personnel and seniors, $6 for children ages 6 to college. The tours are often led by descendants of the original missionaries to Hawaii.

Believe it or not, the missionaries brought their own prefab house along with them when they came around Cape Horn from Boston in 1819. The Frame House was designed for frigid New England winters and had small windows. (It must have been stiflingly hot inside.) Finished in 1921 (the interior frame was left behind and didn't arrive until Christmas 1920), it is Hawaii's oldest wooden structure. The Chamberlain House, built in 1931, was used by the missionaries as a storehouse.

The missionaries believed that the best way to spread the Lord's message to the Hawaiians was to learn their language and then to print literature for them to read. So it was the missionaries who gave the Hawaiians a written language. The Printing House on the grounds was where the lead-type Ramage press (brought from New England, of course) printed the Hawaiian Bible.

Cross King Street and walk in the Ewa direction to the corner of Punchbowl and King to:

12. Honolulu Hale

The Honolulu City Hall, built in 1927, was designed by Honolulu's most famous architect, C. W. Dickey. His Spanish mission-style building has an open-air courtyard, which is used for art exhibits and concerts. Open weekdays.

Cross Punchbowl Street and walk mauka to the:

13. State Library

Anything you want to know about Hawaii and the Pacific can be found here, the main branch of the state's library system. Located in a restored historic building, it has an open garden courtyard in the middle, great for stopping for a rest on your walk.

Head mauka up Punchbowl to the corner of Punchbowl and Beretania streets, to:

14. Kalanimoku

The beautiful name "Ship of Heaven" has been given to this dour state office building. Here you can get information on hiking and camping (from the Department of Land and Natural Resources) in state parks.

Retrace your steps in the Ewa direction down Beretania to Alakea back to the parking garage.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.