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.

Illustration: dana paresa

It’s easy to think of Hawaii’s royalty as mere historical figures in the chapters of the books we read during Hawaiian History class. In reality, the influence of Hawaii monarchs can be seen around us every day, in the form of more than 20 well-known companies, schools, churches, hospitals, nonprofits and governmental organizations that are still alive and well today.

In fact, every Hawaiian king and queen left us with at least one powerful organization, or significant social change, still in operation, centuries later, making positive differences in Hawaii. The legacies began nearly 200 years ago, with Parker Ranch.

Kamehameha the Great and Queen Kaahumanu

Parker Ranch

When Capt. George Vancouver visited the Islands in 1793, he gave Kamehameha the Great five head of cattle. Sixteen years later, in 1809, their numbers had grown to thousands.

That same year, a 19-year-old sailor from Massachusetts named John Palmer Parker jumped ship on the Big Island. He built a home for himself and planted crops around it. He learned Hawaiian and was friendly with his neighbors.

Some of them mentioned him to King Kamehameha I, who asked him to manage the royal fishponds south of Kealakekua Bay. His responsibility was to see that the ponds were kept clean and abundantly stocked with fish. He accepted the offer and worked at it with vigor and dedication.

In 1815, the king promoted Parker, asking him to take charge of the cattle that roamed Hawaii’s remote plains and valleys.

Soon, a thriving salt-beef industry replaced sandalwood as the island’s chief export, says Nahua Guilloz, senior manager at Parker Ranch. “Parker quickly grew into a respected man of wealth and influence.  He learned to speak Hawaiian, adopted Hawaiian ways and, in 1816, married Chiefess Kipikane, the granddaughter of King Kamehameha I.” 

Kamehameha the Great’s son, Kauikeaouli, who became Kamehameha III, brought the first vaqueros (Spanish for “cowboys”) to Hawaii from Mexico in 1832. They showed locals how to rope and ride horses to round up and handle cattle on what would become Parker Ranch.

The vaquero were called espanoles—Spaniards—but Hawaiians pronounced it paniolo. Soon, all local cowboys were called paniolo.

Interestingly, the cowboy tradition in the United States dates back to 1849, which means that Hawaii had cowboys 17 years before the Mainland.

Today, Parker Ranch remains the largest private ranch under single ownership in the United States.

Kawaiahao Church as it appeared around the time of Queen Emma's funeral. Note the pointed steeple, which would be taken down in 1885.

Illustration: jason takeuchi

Kawaiahao Church and Punahou School

Kamehameha I’s favorite of 19 wives was Queen Elizabeth Kaahumanu. She became close to missionaries Hiram and Sybil Bingham, who converted her to Christianity.

When they wanted to build a church, she helped them erect Kawaiahao Church, and her stepson, Kamehameha III, gave them the land for it.

When the Binghams asked her support in building a school for their children, she obliged by asking Oahu governor Boki and his wife, Liliha, to give them the land called Ka Punahou.

Punahou means “new spring,” and was named for an artesian spring that creates a lily pond on the property.

Punahou School opened in 1841, with 15 students. Tuition was $36 a year, a far cry from the current $20,000 annual rate. On the bright side, the facilities are much better now.

Rev. Daniel Dole was the school’s first teacher, and Dole Street is named for him. As there were no schools in California at the time, some families there sent their children across the Pacific to attend Punahou.

Today, Punahou educates 3,750 students at any given time, and is one of the top private schools in the country. President Barack Obama graduated from Punahou in 1979, and applications flood in from parents around the world wanting the “Obama experience” for their children.


Kamehameha II

Iolani Liholiho, the oldest son of Kamehameha the Great, was the only Hawaii monarch not to leave behind a company or organization. His brief, five-year reign was cut short by a fatal case of measles he contracted in London. He did, however, break the powerful Hawaiian kapu system, diminishing the power of the Hawaiian priesthood, and raising the status of women in the Islands.

Kamehameha III

Two years before the missionaries created Punahou School for their own children, they created a school for royal princes and princesses in 1839, at the urging of Kauikeaouli, King Kamehameha III.

It was originally called the Chiefs’ Children’s School, and stood on Iolani Palace grounds, about where Iolani Barracks is today. Amos and Juliette Montague Cooke ran the school.

The future kings Kamehameha IV and V, William Lunalilo and David Kalakaua, future queens Emma and Liliuokalani, Bernice Pauahi, and several other princes and princesses made up the student body. They each arrived at the boarding school with their own personal kahu (servants).

Cooke descendent Robert Midkiff says the royal pupils at the Chiefs’ Children’s School were all taught to be charitable. They must have learned the lesson, for they went on to found the Lunalilo Home (for kupuna), the Queen Liliuokalani Trust (for children and families), Kapiolani Hospital, Maui Memorial Hospital, The Queen’s Hospital, Kamehameha Schools and more.

By 1850, the princes and princesses had graduated, and the school moved to its present site and became Royal Elementary school, giving School Street its name in the process.

Kamehameha III also created a number of governmental organizations, including the Department of Education (1840), the Police Department (1846), the Fire Department (1850), and the Department of Health (1851). His 29-year reign was the longest in our royal period, and he made the most of it, founding the Royal Hawaiian Band in 1836, as The King’s Band, and commissioning the first Iolani Palace in 1845.

Kamehameha III also gave Hawaii its first constitution, the Great Mahele, which allowed individual land ownership, established our kingdom motto, and moved the capital from Lahaina to Honolulu. It’s an impressive list.

Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma

The Queen’s Hospital

The oldest hospitals west of the Mississippi date back to the 1850s, and the first in Hawaii appeared at the end of that same decade.

From Capt. James Cook’s arrival in Hawaii in 1778 until 1850, diseases such as smallpox and measles devastated the native population, whose numbers fell from more than 300,000 to fewer than 60,000.

The Legislature passed a law to build the first hospital in the Islands, but there was no money to fund it. King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma, both in their 20s at the time, went door to door, personally soliciting donations, and managed to exceed their $8,000 goal by more than $5,000.

In 1859, The Queen’s Hospital opened on Fort and King streets with 18 beds. A year later, the hospital bought the dusty, barren area named Manamana for $2,000. It erected a facility with 124 beds. In the early days of the hospital, patients stayed for long periods; in 1875, for example, the average patient stayed for 73 days.

St. Andrew’s Cathedral

Many people in Hawaii know Queen Emma and Kamehameha IV founded The Queen’s Hospital, but fewer know they also founded a church and two schools.

The king and queen were close to Queen Victoria of England. In 1859, Emma wrote to Queen Victoria requesting that a clergyman come to Hawaii to establish an Anglican Church.

Bishop Thomas Staley came to Hawaii in 1861 to build the Hawaiian Reformed Catholic Church on lands donated by the king and queen. When Kamehameha IV passed away on the feast day of St. Andrew in 1863, Queen Emma had the cathedral’s name changed to St. Andrew’s.

St. Andrew’s Cathedral contains something that cannot be found anywhere else in the world: In its stained glass window, with a dozen Biblical scenes, you can see what appears to be Jesus surfing! (The stained glass was a 1950s addition, not a monarchy-era one.)

Kamehameha IV was also instrumental in establishing Christmas as a holiday here in 1862, inspired by the elaborate holiday festivities he witnessed in England.

Iolani School and St. Andrew’s Priory School

On one of her trips abroad, Queen Emma asked the Church of England to come to Hawaii and start schools for boys and girls. The stated reason: to liberate the people of Hawaii from “gross superstitions and witchcraft.”

Anglican priest Father William R. Scott opened the school for boys in Lahaina in 1863. It was originally called Luaehu School, luaehu meaning “many and colorful.”

A sister school for girls, St. Andrew’s Priory School, opened four years later, in 1867.

In 1870, Queen Emma changed Luaehu’s name to Iolani or “royal or heavenly hawk.” Iolani was her husband’s middle name.

Iolani moved to several locations on Oahu, most notably at Judd Street and Nuuanu Avenue, before arriving at its present site in 1953.

Iolani has grown into one of the largest coeducational independent schools in the nation, with more than 1,700 students. St. Andrew’s Priory is Hawaii’s oldest school for girls. Nearly 100 percent of the school’s graduates go on to four-year universities.

The Kamehameha School senior boys dormitories as they appeared in the 1890s.

illustration: jason takeuchi


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.