Iolani Palace, situated in the capitol district of downtown Honolulu in the U.S. state of Hawaii, is the only royal palace used as an official residence by a reigning monarch in the United States and is a National Historic Landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Two monarchs governed from Iolani Palace: King David Kalākaua and Queen Liliuokalani.
The Iolani Palace structure that exists today is actually the second Iolani Palace to sit on the palace grounds. The original palace, built during the reign of Kamehameha III, was a one-story Greek-revival building made out of coral block that was only third the floor area of the present palace. It was purchased by Kamehameha III from Governor Mataio Kekuanaoa of Oahu who had build it for his daughter (Kamehameha III's niece) Princess Victoria Kamamalu when he moved his capital from Lahaina to Honolulu in 1845. It was constructed as a traditional alii residence, in that the palace itself had no sleeping rooms. It just had a throne room, a reception room, and a state dining room as well, with other houses around for sleeping and for retainers. Kamehameha III preferred to live in the grass huts he build around the palace. The building was named, Hale Alii meaning (House of the Chiefs). During Kamehameha V reign it was changed to "Iolani Palace," after his brother Kamehameha IV's given names (his full name was Alexander Liholiho Keawenui Iolani). It literally means "royal hawk." The Palace served as the official residence of the monarch during the reigns of Kamehameha IV, Kamehameha V, Lunalilo, and the first part of Kalākaua's reign. The original structure was very simple in design and was more of a stately home than a palace, but at the time, it was the grandest house in town.
King Kamehameha V was the first monarch to envision a royal palace befitting of the sovereignty of a modern state such as Hawaii. He commissioned the construction of Aliiōlani Hale to be the official palace of the Hawaiian monarchy. The building was constructed across the street from the original Iolani Palace structure. It was named after himself (his full name was Lot Kapuaiwa Kalanikapuapaikalaninui Aliiolani Kalanimakua) it means "House of the heavenly King". At the time, Hawaii sorely needed a government building, since the government buildings of the time were small and cramped. Ultimately, Aliiōlani Hale became an administrative building instead of a palace, housing the judiciary of the Kingdom of Hawaii and various other ministries.
By the time David Kalākaua assumed the throne, the original Iolani Palace was in poor condition, suffering from ground termite damage. He ordered the palace to be razed.
Kalākaua was the first monarch to travel around the world. While visiting other sovereign states of the world, he took note of the grand palaces owned by other monarchs. Like Kamehameha V, he dreamed of a royal palace befitting of the sovereignty of a modern state such as Hawaii. He commissioned the construction a new Iolani Palace, directly across the street from Aliiōlani Hale, to become the official palace of the Hawaiian monarchy. The building was completed in 1882 and cost over $360,000. It had electricity and telephones even before the White House and served as the official residence of the Hawaiian monarch until the kingdom was overthrown in 1893. Beside Liliuokalani, Queen Kapiolani and other royal retainers were evicted from the palace after the overthrow. Iolani Palace features architecture seen nowhere else in the world. This unique style is known as American Florentine. On the first floor a grand hall faces a magnificent staircase of koa wood. The Throne Room, the blue meeting room, and the Dining Room adjoin the hall. Upstairs are the private library and bedrooms of the Hawaiian monarchs, including the simple room where Queen Liliuokalani was imprisoned after the second of the Wilcox rebellions. The quilt she made is still there. In the basement is a photographic display of the Palace, the Hawaiian crown jewels, orders and decorations given by the monarchs, and magnificent regalia worn by the high chiefs of the islands.
On April 30, 2008, Iolani Palace was overtaken by a group of native Hawaiians called the Hawaiian Kingdom Government to protest what they view as illegitimate rule by the United States. Mahealani Kahau, "head of state" of the group, said they do not recognize Hawaii as a U.S. state, but would keep the occupation of the palace peaceful. "The Hawaiian Kingdom Government is here and it doesn't plan to leave. This is a continuity of the Hawaiian Kingdom of 1892 to today," Kahau said.
In response, The Iolani Palace released a statement that while they "respect the freedom of Hawaiian groups to hold an opinion on the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, we believe that blocking public access to Iolani Palace is wrong and certainly detrimental to our mission to share the Palace and its history with our residents, our keiki and our visitors. Additionally, the statement goes on to clarify the historical record that the original seat of government of the Hawaiian Kingdom was not Iolani Palace. The Palace was instead used as the royal residence while government activities were carried out in the original courthouse (now demolished) and later in Aliiolani Hale.