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Washington Place
Honolulu, Hawaii


[photo]
Washington Place
Photograph by Kenneth Hays

By the 1840s, Honolulu had evolved into a pivotal seaport settlement and was an important link in the global trade between Europe, America and the Far East. During the era in which Washington Place was built, the Hawaiian Kingdom was a constitutional monarchy, ruled by a native Hawaiian of Polynesian descent, King Kamehameha III. King Kamehameha III was the son of the great military leader and progenitor of the unified Hawaiian Kingdom, King Kamehameha I. Prior to the arrival of the Westerners, the Hawaiian population relied upon a self-supporting agricultural economy. The arriving Europeans and Americans tied the island kingdom to international markets.

Captain John Dominis, an American merchant, was one of the newcomers, and the original builder and owner of Washington Place. A naturalized citizen of the United States, John Dominis was born in Trieste, Italy but immigrated to Boston, Massachusetts at the age of 23. His success as a captain of merchant vessels, especially in the China trade, allowed him to accumulate great wealth that enabled him to construct the opulent mansion now called Washington Place. By great fortune, the original documents related to the construction of the Dominis home in 1844-47 survive.

Washington Place was constructed during an era in which the Greek Revival architecture style was popular in the United States. Highly skilled paid laborers, led by Master Carpenter Isaac Hart, constructed the home. Unfortunately, Captain John Dominis was never to enjoy the luxurious home in which he had invested so much, as he was lost at sea in late 1846 on a voyage to China. His widow, Mary, was forced to take in lodgers to help with expenses. One of her most important lodgers was William Little Lee, an American who helped the Hawaiians draft their legal system, and who later became the first Chief Justice of the Hawaiian Supreme Court.

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Queen Lili`uokalani
Photograph courtesy of Hawaii State Archives


John Owen Dominis, the son of the builder of Washington Place, held several prominent positions within the government of the Hawaiian Kingdom, some of which include: General and Commander of the Armies, Secretary to King Kamehameha IV and King Kamehameha V, as well as Governor of O’ahu and Maui under King Kamehameha V. In 1862 John Owen Dominis married Princess Lydia Lili`u Loluku Walania Kamaka’eha.

Washington Place became the home of Lydia Lili`u Loluku Walania Kamaka’eha--later Queen Lili’uokalani—on September 16, 1862. Upon the death of King Kalakaua, Queen Lili`uokalani took the oath prescribed by the constitution, making her the sovereign ruler of the Hawaiian Kingdom on 29 January, 1891. Queen Lili`uokalani inherited a kingdom in crisis. By the later decades of the 19th century, American influences on the Hawaiian Islands had diminished the role of monarch to that of a figurehead. By the petition of a great number of Hawaiian citizens, Queen Lili`uokalani proposed a new constitution by promulgation that would have reinstated the principles from the Constitutions of 1864 and 1887, returning considerable authority to the monarchy. This action by the Queen was initiated to maintain the security and national identity of the Hawaiian Kingdom. On January 16 1893, her actions prompted a group of Americans, backed by the US military, to execute a coup d’etat to overthrow the constitutional monarchy and to establish a Provincial Government under the leadership of Sanford Dole, an American who was Chief Justice of the Courts. This series of events laid the course that led to the annexation of Hawaii by the United States of America.

Queen Lili`uokalani vehemently protested the occupation of the Hawaiian Kingdom by the United States. However, In the face of overwhelming opposing forces, both internal and external, the erudite ruler made the difficult choice not to oppose the overthrow of the kingdom with violent confrontation. She filed formal protests with the US Government and led delegations to Washington DC in attempts to restore the kingdom through diplomatic means with Presidents Cleveland and McKinley. In the years after her overthrow, the queen retired to Washington Place. In January 1895 she was arrested at Washington Place by the then established government of the Republic of Hawaii, for her supposed knowledge of resistance against the ruling government. Queen Lili`uokalani was compelled to formally abdicate the throne of the Hawaiian Kingdom in January, 1895, making her the last reigning monarch of the Hawaiian kingdom. She was imprisoned at `Iolani Palace for the greater part of a year and was tried before a military tribunal. After her release from `Iolani Palace, the Queen was held under house arrest at Washington Place for several months. Her freedoms were curtailed and she was forbidden to leave the islands. Queen Lili`uokalani resided at Washington Place for the remainder of her life as a venerated icon of Hawaiian citizenry. It was here that she died in November 1917. Her legacy continues through the Queen Lili`uokalani Trust, which she created in 1909, that today provides for orphaned and destitute children in the Hawaiian Islands.


[photo]
Washington Place
Photograph by Kenneth Hays

The Hawaiian Island chain became a US Territory in 1898 and in 1959 Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States. Governor Charles McCarthy made Washington Place his home, under lease, in 1918. The Territorial Government acquired the home in 1921, making it the Executive Mansion of the Governors of Hawaii from that date until 2002. The official residence of twelve of Hawaii’s governors, Washington Place has hosted Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip of Great Britain, Emperor Hirohito and Empress Nagako of Japan, President Zhao Ziyang of China, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, President and Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson, President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan, and President and Mrs. William J. Clinton, among others.

Washington Place is a two and one-half story, coral stone and wood frame, multi-mass Greek Revival house. The character-defining features that remain are its lower level coral stone walls and columns circling the house, its verandahs, its Tuscan columns, its Georgian floor plan, its wood frame upper floor and the hipped roof. Washington Place was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on June 18, 1973, and was designated a National Historic Landmark by Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne on April 4, 2007.

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Images for top banner from NPS Historic Photograph Collection (Rainbow over Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, by Thomas C. Gray, [HPC-001345]) and the Palau Historic Preservation Office.

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