The Capitol District: Home of Hawai‘i’s Government Landmarks
By Fern Gavelek
Neighborhoods like Chinatown and Waikīkī tend to get all the attention, but if youʻre into history and cool architecture, Honoluluʻs Captiol District is certainly worth checking out.
Located in Downtown Honolulu, the Capitol District boasts architectural treasures with fascinating histories. Metered parking is available at the Frank Fasi Municipal Building lot on the left-hand corner of King and Alapa‘i Streets. TheBus offers several routes to the area.
Hawai‘i State Capitol
415 S. Beretania St., between Richards and Punchbowl Sts.
Marking its 50th anniversary in 2019, the Hawai‘i State Capitol has a unique, open-air design. It was dedicated on March 15, 1969, marking the 10th anniversary of the passage of the Hawai‘i Statehood bill by Congress. Commenting on the Capitol’s design, then Governor John Burns proclaimed, “The open sea, the open sky, the open doorway, open arms and open hearts — these are the symbols of our Hawaiian heritage…”
Set in reflecting pools, the sloped chamber walls depict the volcanic birth of the islands and columns fan out at the top like palm trees. The square building has an inner courtyard that rises to an open crown with the sky as its dome. Legislative chambers sit on opposite sides of the courtyard and the Capitol is rich with statuary and art. Bronze replicas of the state seal hang at both entrances and proclaim the state motto in Hawaiian saying, “The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness.”
Take a self-guided tour using a brochure available online or for pickup 7:45 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekdays from the Governor’s Office, Room 415 (elevators are locked after hours). governor.hawaii.gov/hawaii-state-capitol-tours.
Corner King and Punchbowl Sts.
Operating as the city hall, Honolulu Hale houses the offices of the mayor and city council, serving as the government seat for the island of O‘ahu, known as the City and County of Honolulu. The building faces King Street and is near the Frank Fasi Municipal Building and parking lot. The Spanish Colonial-style Honolulu Hale was built in 1929 and expanded in 1952. The interior boasts a grand staircase off the courtyard and open ceiling modeled after the Bargello in Florence. The Courtyard, Lane and Third Floor Galleries offer periodic art exhibits, including the annual Honolulu City Lights display of Christmas trees and wreaths. Honolulu Hale is open for self-guided tours 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekdays. The Mayor’s Office of Culture & the Arts oversees the rotating art exhibits, (808) 768-6622.
364 S. King St., corner King and Richards St.
Located near the State Capitol, the turreted ‘Iolani Palace was designed in an American Florentine style. It is the only official royal residence of the U.S. and a restoration of a proud Hawaiian national identity — it served as the capitol of Hawaiian government for almost 80 years. Built in 1893 and meticulously restored to its former grandeur in the 1970s, the palace’s rooms display life during Victorian times when King Kalākaua and Queen Lili‘uokalani reigned. The Royal Hawaiian Band performs for 45 minutes at noon on Fridays in the outdoor Coronation Pavilion. The pavilion was built for the coronation of King Kalākaua and Queen Kapi‘olani in 1883. Guided and self-led palace audio tours are available Monday-Saturday, iolanipalace.org.
415 S. King St.
Fronted by an impressive, gold-leaf statue of King Kamehameha, Ali‘iōlani Hale is across the street from ‘Iolani Place. The Renaissance-style building resembles a palace as that’s what King Kamehameha V first had in mind, but the building was modified and finished in 1874 to house the Supreme Court, legislature, offices, evening receptions and balls. Today, it serves as the home of the Hawai‘i State Supreme Court and the Judiciary History Center. The center offers visitors 200 years of law and judicial history — including the ancient days of kapu law. Open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays. jhchawaii.net/aliiolani-hale.
We didn't even get to mention Washington Place, 320 S. Beretania St., once home to Queen Liliuokalani, before becoming the official residence of the Governor of Hawai‘i, now open to tours with a reservation, or the Hawaii State Art Museum, 250 S. Hotel St., home to a permanent collection of Hawaiian art along with rotating exhibits and a sculpture garden.
Then just a block away is the city's business district with its own wealth of treasures to explore and eateries to try, and adjacent to that is Chinatown, a whole other world of wonders to dive into. You can easily spend a whole day (or more!) just within these few square blocks!
[A version of this article originally appeared in print in Pleasant Hawaii Magazine, published by This Week Publications]
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