O‘ahu Museum Ideas: Sit in a 19th Century Trial at Kamehameha V Judiciary History Center
Photos: David Croxford
Though passersby may see Ali‘iōlani Hale as just a historic building behind the Kamehameha statue, the structure today hosts the Hawai‘i Supreme Court as well as a center dedicated to educating the public about Hawai‘i’s unique legal history.
In 1874, the building housed the Hawaiian Kingdom’s legislature, judiciary, cabinet offices, national museum and a law library. But it was also the scene of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy on Jan. 17, 1893, when a group of wealthy foreigners took over the building and declared a provisional government.
The center brings the law to life in a courtroom restored to what it looked like in 1913, with an exhibit depicting the effects of martial law in the Islands after Dec. 7 as well as displays explaining some of the landmark legal cases and portraits of people prominent in Hawai‘i’s legal history. There are frequent re-enactments of cases for students and other visitors, as well as films that recount historic cases.
One August weekday offered a glimpse of the program: Pacific Island leaders from the East-West Center spent the afternoon playing the roles of the Oni v. Meek landmark legal case. The 1858 case demonstrates how new laws created by the kingdom’s legislature supported private property ownership over the previous system of shared land-use rights. The visiting Island leaders also sat fascinated as actor Moses Goods played the part of John Adams Kuakini Cummins, a wealthy Hawaiian businessman later tried, imprisoned and fined for his support of the monarchy.
The center, which operates on an annual budget of $260,000, is overseen by an executive board appointed by Hawai‘i’s chief justice, and supported by the nonprofit Friends of the Judiciary History Center.
Call to find out when the next courtroom re-enactment will happen.
Founded Built from 1872 to 1874, the center opened to the public in 1989, a result of restoration efforts begun under former Hawai‘i Chief Justice William S. Richardson, the first justice of Hawaiian ancestry since the time of Kamehameha III.
Info 417 S. King St., 539-4999, jhchawaii.net
Hours Open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays
Admission Free, $5 donations welcome
Size 5,000 square feet
Annual visitors 163,760, including 15,666 students
Run by The center runs as an administrative program of the Hawai‘i State Judiciary with support from the Friends of the Judiciary History Center, a nonprofit founded in 1984.
Fun fact In the 1880s, King Kalākaua allowed artists to use part of the clock tower as an art studio.