Monday, January 8, 2001
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Posted on: Monday, January 8, 2001

Washington Place plan a gift to entire state

While they have been far too gracious to say so publicly, Hawaii’s first families have had to put up with a fair share of indignity when it comes to their private living arrangements.

The Cayetanos live "above the office" in a cobbled-together second-floor apartment in Washington Place, the governor’s official residence.

The commute is great, but the ambiance is dreary and crowded. Privacy is zilch.

Come now First Lady Vickie Cayetano and Jim Bartels, the irrepressible Washington Place director and historian, to do something about all this.

They are proposing building a new residence for the governor and his or her family on Washington Place grounds, currently on the site of an unused caretaker’s cottage. Then the historic Washington Place itself could be renovated and converted into a living museum and official gathering place for the state.

Hawaii’s history is inextricably tied up with the history of Washington Place, and Bartels and Mrs. Cayetano are eager to share that story.

Washington Place would still remain the official "residence" of the governor and as the site for official receptions. But the first family would be able to retreat to new, much more private and much more comfortable quarters, at night.

In a way, this would complete a promise made by Gov. Cayetano during the campaign for his first term. At the time, Cayetano proposed living elsewhere and turning control of Washington Place over to Hawaiian groups.

But this latest plan is not just about the comfort of the governor and his or her family. It is about preserving and sharing the historic treasure that is Washington Place. Construction of the residence began in 1842 under the direction of Capt. John Dominis and was completed in 1847. It later became the lifelong residence of Lydia Paki, Queen Liliuokalani, who died there in 1918.

Since 1921, it has been the official residence of every territorial-era and statehood governor. It has hosted thousands of visitors, from the queen of England and the emperor of Japan to baseball legend Babe Ruth and countless numbers of Island residents.

Under Cayetano’s plan, a nonprofit foundation would take over responsibility for Washington Place.

This will guarantee stability of governance for this historic site and will allow private funds to be raised to help in its restoration and maintenance.

None of this will come cheap. The entire project will cost around $3 million. About $2 million will be raised privately and the Legislature will be asked for around $1 million.

There are also issues of historic preservation and sensitivity to Hawaiian tradition and rights that must be addressed.

But in the end, it is a good project, well worth the cost of ensuring the long-term preservation of what is, after all, a piece of history that belongs to all of us.

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