With decades of deferred maintenance, COVID-19 is exasperating existing issues at the only royal palace in the US. As a result, the Iolani Palace is in grave danger of structural failure thanks to a shortfall in revenues.
Completed in 1882 by King David Kalakaua, Iolani Palace is sacred grounds for native Hawaiians and is a priceless part of Hawaii’s history. Today, this treasure is owned by the State of Hawaii and is managed by the not-for-profit Friends of Iolani Palace. This arrangement, while convenient for the state, is also problematic, as the Palace doesn’t have a consistent source of funding crucial to maintaining the 138-year-old building. And, as a result, the Palace is crumbling thanks in large part to decades of deferred maintenance.
What’s Threatening It
According to the Civil Beat, there are numerous issues with Iolani Palace and its adjoining structures. One of the largest and most expensive issues to correct is the Palace’s leaking roof. At the moment, the roof is leaking into the attic, which then leaks into the curator’s room, threatening priceless artifacts not currently on display. What’s more, last time work was done on the roof was part of the 8-year, $6 million restoration project back in the 1970s.
Hawaii’s premier restoration architect, Glenn Mason, says the Palace’s plaster is in poor condition as well. It easily comes off as a powder when you touch it, and is exposing cast iron columns and railing. And, given Hawaii’s salty conditions, this is leading to rusting issues.
Iolani Palace’s coronation pavilion is also crumbling, with cracks in the concrete structure causing weakening. It’s so bad, however, that the area is now closed.
Also closed are a couple of pergolas around the property. The wooden decking on the Palace’s second floor lanais are also rotted through.
Money is a Major Issue
As I mentioned earlier, Iolani Palace doesn’t have a constant source of funding. Rather, the not-for-profit Friends of Iolani Palace relies on revenues from ticket sales and special events, as well as donations to pay for its operating costs and maintenance. The State of Hawaii, which owns the property, provides no regular funding for the Palace.
As you’d imagine COVID-19 put a major squeeze on the Foundation. In fact, since Hawaii’s shutdown began back in March, they lost $550,000. And, today, they continue to lose $7,700 per day.
At that rate, the Foundation estimates they’ll run out of funds three to four months.
Sure, the Palace is open once again for visitors. But, due to safety concerns, the Palace is only allowing about 105 visitors in on Fridays and Saturdays. Typically, they’d see 450 to 550 people per day, five days per week.
Two bills were going through the State Legislature at the beginning of the year to provide funding to pay for at least some of the most crucial issues at the Palace. However, given COVID-19’s disruption, there’s no guarantees these bills will pass.
What Can We Do?
The easiest way for kama’aina to support the Friends of Iolani Palace is to reserve a visit. For everyone else, there are many options available to help support too.
For one, the you can place orders with the gift shop over the phone. Items available for shipping can be viewed here. Membership with the group are also available for purchase with varying degrees of costs and benefits. And, finally, you may choose to simply donate to the organization.
Iolani Palace is in Grave Danger, Final Thoughts
It’s a shame that things have gotten as bad as they have. Clearly, something needs to change here, as the Palace was already in bad shape before the pandemic. And, at least there appears to be an acknowledgment of this in Hawaii’s Legislature. However, there’s no guarantee anything will get done.
At least, though, the Iolani Palace constantly under attack by the State and City the way another State-owned, nonprofit ran historical landmark is – the Hawaiian Railway Society. The Society protects and restores the last remaining section of the Oahu Railway mainline, but road work and development continuously threatens this piece of Hawaii history. The railroad, by the way, came into existence under royal charter granted by King David Kalakaua.