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Hulihee Palace: ‘It’s like home again’

Kumu Keala Ching conducts the blessing Tuesday to mark the reopening of Hulihee Palace. (Hawaii247 photo by Karin Stanton)

Kumu Keala Ching conducts the blessing Tuesday to mark the reopening of Hulihee Palace. (Hawaii247 photo by Karin Stanton)

Karin Stanton/Hawaii247 Contributing Editor

Hulihee Palace is back.

The landmark building that has graced the shores of Kailua Bay for 171 years on Tuesday threw its doors open to visitors – nearly three years after a pair of bone-rattling earthquakes wrenched its walls and roof apart.

Once the shaking had stopped Oct. 15, 2006, administrator Fanny Au Hoy rushed to the palace, at once relieved to find only a handful of the artifacts had been damaged and stunned to see the structural wreckage.

Administrator Fanny Au Hoy welcomes the first guests back to Hulihee Palace (Hawaii247 photo by Karin Stanton)

Administrator Fanny Au Hoy welcomes the first guests back to Hulihee Palace (Hawaii247 photo by Karin Stanton)

Chunks of plaster fell from the walls inside and out, molding crashed from the ceilings and the gables – which secure the roof to the four walls – were torn away.

“My reaction was that this was so tragic,” Au Hoy said after surveying the damage. “After so many years working to preserve it, to see it crumble was just heartbreaking.”

Au Hoy said the tears she cried that day were forgotten at Tuesday’s traditional blessing ceremony.

“Today is a very, very special day,” she said. “I had tears today. It’s a new beginning.”

The new beginning cost more than $1.5 million – funded through the state Legislature, private donations and palace caretaker groups the Daughters of Hawaii and the Calabash Cousins.

To maintain its place on the National Register of Historic Places, the two-story building must be preserved to a specified time period – the late 1800s. 

With its completely re-done interior, fresh coat of paint, new landscaping and expanded gift shop, the palace back to splendor it enjoyed circa 1885, a period known in Hawaiian history as the Kalakaua Era as King David Kalakaua ruled the Hawaiian kingdom.

“It’s like home again,” Au Hoy said. 

The day started on a tense note, as Hawaii sat under a tsunami watch.

Even as Kumu Keala Ching began the blessing ceremony, the tsunami threat was called off.

Ching reminded the invited guests they set the tone for visitors and must serve as “gatekeepers of this gift of a higher power.”

During the 20-month restoration project, Hulihee’s artifact collection – which number more than 1,000 – was catalogued and stored.  

Photo courtesy of Fern Gavelek

Photo courtesy of Fern Gavelek

“Our many treasures, which date to pre-Western contact Hawaii, are finally back in the palace in their familiar places,” Au Hoy said. “It’s been a long process and we’re thrilled to open our doors again. We invite the community Sept. 30 to come in and see how the palace has been restored to its original magnificence.”

Built in 1838 by Gov. John Adams Kuakini, the palace is home to donated and on-loan collection of Victorian artifacts from the King Kalakaua reign — including a koa armoire that was awarded a silver medal in the 1889 International Exhibition in Paris.

Treasures include javelins and spears belonging to King Kamehameha the Great — marvel at the 180-pound lava rock he used as an exercise ball to master agility and balance.

Also on view are a 70-inch table top made from a single piece of koa, steamer trunks used to carry belongings to attend Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, portraits of Hawaii’s monarchs, pieces of fine Lokelani china and a rare mat made from the endemic sedge, makaloa.  

The palace was restored under the direction of the Connecticut-based John Canning Painting and Conservation Studios. The firm, which specializes in historic preservation, has worked on numerous national landmarks, including the U.S. Capitol, Radio City Music Hall and New York’s Grand Central Station.

The repairs were conducted by workers skilled in ancient arts.

“We needed specialized workers,” Au Hoy said. “How many buildings are there like this in Hawaii?”

During the renovations, Hulihee operated on a limited basis, providing visitors with video viewing of its pre-earthquake splendor. The free monthly concerts also continued on the palace grounds.

Open during palace hours, the gift shop offers Hawaiian books, Niihau shell lei, koa gifts and wall art by local artists.

Hulihee Palace admission, which at this time includes a self-guided tour brochure, remains $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and $1 for keiki under 18. Volunteer docents are sometimes available to give guided tours. 

Donations to help defray additional renovations are welcome.

Museum hours are 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday for public self-guided tours.

For details, contact the palace at 329-1877, the palace office at 329-9555 or visit The gift shop can be reached by at 329-6558.

Photo courtesty of Fern Gavelek

Photo courtesty of Fern Gavelek

Hawaii247 photo by Karin Stanton

Hawaii247 photo by Karin Stanton

(Hawaii247 photo by Karin Stanton)

(Hawaii247 photo by Karin Stanton)

(Hawaii247 photo by Karin Stanton)

(Hawaii247 photo by Karin Stanton)

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