O‘ahu in 1963: Housing the Royal Household Guards at the Halekoa

A modern state building was in the works. But a quiet coral-block barracks stood in its way.

In 1969, a grand ceremony greeted a concrete landmark in Downtown Honolulu. And as the state celebrates the 50th anniversary of the state Capitol this year, Paradise of the Pacific tells another part of the story in its April 1963 issue. The Capitol’s proposed construction threatened a smaller, more unassuming building that once housed the royal household guard.


Halekoa: The End of an Epoch
Historical Hawaii
The household guard of King Kalākaua outside of Halekoa.


Halekoa’s past is long, but its future may be short. Present plans could lead to its destruction; facing this possibility, interested citizens and organizations are driving to save the Hotel Street landmark. …


Halekoa was made of the ever-useful coral blocks hewn from the Honolulu reef. As often happened, many blocks were cannibalized from other structures, rather than chopped from the reef. Most of the secondhand building blocks came from the wall fronting the old post office, and from the old printing office. … By mid-February, 1871, both the barracks and the post office were nearing completion. Finishing touches on the former, however, required several more months. An exotic example of this, among the accounts to be found today in the Archives of Hawaii, is a bill dated May 20, levying a charge of $12.50 for painting spittoons. …


The barracks was made originally to house the regular standing army of the Kingdom of Hawaii, the small force known in the early 1870’s and before as the Household Troops. Their function was to guard the palace, the prison, and the treasury, and to appear at various parades and ceremonies.


In September 1873, the Household Troops mutinied. They barricaded themselves in Halekoa and from its roof harangued the sympathetic mob below. After the mutiny, the troops were disbanded, then later re-organized, and under one title or another they continued to occupy Halekoa throughout the remaining period of the monarchy.”


SEE ALSO: O‘ahu Museum Ideas: Return a Royal Relic to ‘Iolani Palace


On Jan. 18, 1893, the household guards surrendered to the provisional government. Since then, the barracks has had many uses: munitions storage, offices for the U.S. Army, a club for service personnel, offices for school principals, headquarters for the Hawai‘i National Guard and eventually as a rotating office for government agencies. In 1962, it was abandoned and as Paradise of the Pacific reported, “Today Honolulu’s grizzled Bastille is locked and forlorn, used only as a storage place for voting machines. Plans for the new capitol call for the barracks’ removal to some unspecified site. But no one can say at this point where Halekoa will be in the decade ahead, or just what it will be.


“One thing is certain: It deserves a far better fate than to be just a memory when its centennial dawns in 1970.”


It received one. The barracks was moved to its current site near ‘Iolani Palace in 1965 and serves now as the palace gift shop, theater and ticket office. One more note: If you heard the rumor that Halekoa once shrouded a secret passage to the palace, we’re sorry to tell you it is not true. Paradise says the rumor began when a so-called dungeon was discovered under a rusty iron door in 1937. It turns out it only secreted crumbling ventilation pipes. The same stories resurfaced during a remodeling in 1948.


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