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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 11, 2002

Washington Place museum to focus on Lili'uokalani

 •  Moving out of Washington Place
 •  Inside the governor's residence

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

Washington Place will become a museum dedicated to telling the story of Queen Lili'uokalani when a new governor's residence opens this year.

Queen Lili'uokalani's bedroom in Washington Place will become part of a museum dedicated to telling the story of Hawai'i's last monarch when the new governor's residence is ready in November.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Plans call for the historic home to continue serving as a place for state functions and receptions and to house new galleries and exhibits.

"It's got the potential to be one of the finest small museums in the country," said Jim Bartels, curator of Washington Place. "The building itself is the biggest single artifact of the American presence in Hawai'i."

Bartels has spent the past three years researching the history of the home, which was built in 1846 by Capt. John Dominis, a wealthy New England trader who named the building after America's first president.

Although it has been the residence of Hawai'i governors since 1922, it is best known as the home of Lili'uokalani, Hawai'i's last queen. She married Dominis' son, John Owen Dominis, and lived in the home for 55 years, first as heir to the throne, then as a political prisoner and U.S. citizen following the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893, Bartels said.

The building has been used for thousands of meetings and private receptions, but the public still knows relatively little about the building, he said.

Bartels has developed extensive plans to build new galleries hosting changing exhibits in second-floor living quarters being vacated by the governor's family. Among the exhibit ideas being discussed:

  • Secret Places: Before the second floor is modified, it will be opened to the public for the first time since it was built. Never-seen photographs and placards will tell the story of how the rooms were used from the 1840s to 2002.
  • Lydia's Heart: After the second floor has been remodeled, the first public exhibit will feature a first-ever look at Lili'uokalani as more than a queen. The exhibit would include some of the queen's personal treasures and documents focusing on Lili'uokalani's loves.
  • The first 100 years of Hawaiian/American experience: Washington Place, built midway through the first century of the relationship between Hawai'i and America, would be used to explore the aloha and perplexity that have characterized the relationship. The exhibit would feature many objects from out of state that have never been shown here.
  • Whatever happened to John Dominis? A light-hearted look at the man who built a fortune voyaging throughout the Pacific, moved his family to Honolulu, built the town's grandest private mansion, then vanished 27 years after his first appearance here.

"There's such a long history here that's never been publicly told," Bartels said. "The stories are a hoot. There are so many artifacts, so many stories out there and a lot of misconceptions we can clear up."

Although plans for transforming Washington Place into the museum are well-developed, there's no guarantee a new administration will follow through on them, said Bartels, who serves as an executive assistant to the governor and has no assurance that he'll be involved with Washington Place past this year.

"We're trying to come up with a package of exhibits that's very compelling," he said. "We want to be able to have them sell themselves."

The Washington Place Foundation, which raised $1.2 million for the new governor's residence, said it plans to raise another $1 million to pay for the exhibits and interior repair work at the building, and to finance an additional $1 million endowment for its preservation.

Reach Mike Leidemann at 525-5460 or mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.