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Hawaii's Royal Legacies

The days of Hawaii's alii are past, but many of the companies and organizations they inspired are still going strong today.


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Kamehameha V

Royal Hawaiian Hotel

When Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred, visited Hawaii in 1869, the only places for him to stay were personal homes, boarding houses and rooms above saloons. He stayed with Queen Emma at her summer palace, but the king was embarrassed that there were no better accommodations for visiting royalty.

King Kamehameha V decided to encourage the building of a three-story hotel on the parcel of land bordered by Richards, Hotel, Alakea and Beretania streets.

Originally named the Hawaiian Hotel, it opened in 1871 with 12 cottages in a beautiful tropical setting. It became the Royal Hawaiian Hotel soon after King Kalakaua ascended the throne in 1874.

The hotel declined after the Alexander Young Hotel and the Moana opened 30 years later, and it closed in 1917. Matson bought the name for its Pink Palace of the Pacific, which opened in Waikiki in 1927.

An interesting side note: Duke Kahanamoku was named for Prince Alfred, who was also the Duke of Edinburgh.

William Lunalilo

Lunalilo Home

William Charles Lunalilo reigned for little more than a year, but managed to leave a trust that would operate a home for elderly Hawaiians for more than a century.

The first Lunalilo Home opened in 1883, makai of the present Roosevelt High School. Forty-four years later, the home subdivided its property and used the money to move to Maunalua, now called Hawaii Kai. The building they chose in 1928 was formerly a hotel for the Marconi Wireless Co.

King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani

Hawaiian Electric Co.

King David Kalakaua was fascinated with technology and arranged to meet Thomas Edison, the inventor of the incandescent lamp, in New Jersey on his world tour in 1881. He asked Edison to bring electricity to Hawaii.

Five years later, Edison sent David Bowers Smith to Hawaii. Smith arranged for the king’s residence to become the world’s first royal palace to be illuminated by electricity. This was four years before the White House or Buckingham Palace had electricity.

On March 23, 1888, electric lines were installed through the streets of Honolulu. Soon after, a power plant was built in Nu‘uanu Valley, with turbines driven by the stream. Princess Ka‘iulani, the king’s niece, threw the switch that illuminated the town’s streets for the first time.

Hawaiian Electric Co. says it may be the only electric utility in the United States, perhaps the world, to have been inspired into creation by the vision and enthusiasm of a king.

The Old hawaiian electric powerhouse (Date unknown).

illustration: jason takeuchi

Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children

Kapiolani Maternity Home was founded in 1890, when Queen Kapiolani raised $8,000 to remodel a house at Makiki and Beretania streets. At the time, women would spend two weeks at the home, delivering their baby, then learning how to care for it. The cost: $1.75 a day.

In 1976, Kapiolani Maternity Home merged with Kauikeolani Children’s Hospital and moved to its current Punahou Street location. Kapiolani joined with Straub, Pali Momi and Wilcox Health System in 2001 to form Hawaii Pacific Health, the largest healthcare system in the state.

St. Francis Healthcare System

The Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse, N.Y., responded to King Kalakaua’s request to come to Hawaii and help care for those afflicted with leprosy in the Kingdom.

Saint Marianne Cope and six sisters arrived in Hawaii in 1883. King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani greeted them at Our Lady of Peace Cathedral on Fort Street. The queen had tears in her eyes as she thanked them for coming such a distance to help the sick and suffering of Hawaii.

At first, the sisters cared for Hansen’s disease patients at the Kakaako Branch Hospital. Then Saint Marianne and two other sisters left for Molokai as Saint Damien was dying. After he passed away, in 1889, the sisters took over his mission and are there to this day.

They went on to found the St. Francis Healthcare System and Maui’s Malulani Hospital, which Queen Kapiolani dedicated in 1884. It’s now called Maui Memorial Medical Center.

The two Oahu St. Francis hospitals have closed, but their work continues through St. Francis Hospice, home healthcare, adult day care, senior independent living and Healthy Lifestyles educational programs.

In 1879, King Kalakaua, Queen Kapiolani, Queen Emma, Bernice Pauahi Bishop and several community leaders joined together to create the Friends of the Library of Hawaii. It evolved into the Hawaii State Library in 1913.

King Kalakaua gave the magazine you’re holding now its royal charter in 1888, as Paradise of the Pacific. His idea was that the publication would be Hawaii’s ambassador to the world and assure the United States that, yes, indeed, Hawaii was civilized. Paradise would become HONOLULU Magazine in 1966; this year marks our 125th anniversary.

Queen Liliuokalani

Queen Liliuokalani Children’s Center

In 1909, 16 years after her overthrow from the throne, Queen Liliuokalani established a private foundation dedicated to the welfare of orphaned and destitute children.

The social-service agency operates on every Hawaiian island, except Niihau, and is committed to the development of healthy and resilient children, strong families and caring communities.

There you have it. The actions of our royalty blessed Hawaii with three profit-making companies, five schools, four hospitals, three nonprofit organizations, two churches and six major governmental organizations, all of which are operating today.

While royalty in other lands were enjoying the wealth and privileges of their positions, ours were walking door to door, raising money for hospitals and doing other good works.

Hawaii’s kings and queens were focused on the welfare of their people. Even though they were never on the throne, Princesses Ruth Keelikolani and Bernice Pauahi Bishop pooled their resources to create Kamehameha Schools.

Ninety-nine percent of the Hawaii companies founded in the 1800s are long gone. Even more recent companies, such as Dillingham, Liberty House, Ming’s, McInerny, Andrade, Arakawa’s, The Tahitian Lanai, the Third Floor and Canlis are only memories.

Yet, these royally inspired organizations are still with us, still needed, still working for the good of the people, a testament to the vision and determination of Hawaii’s alii.

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Honolulu Magazine July 2020
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