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The Honolulu Advertiser
Updated at 11:50 a.m., Monday, April 21, 2003

Hawai'i historian Jim Bartels dies

By Suzanne Roig and Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writers

Jim Bartels, Washington Place director, historian and former 'Iolani Palace managing director, died last night in a Southern California hospital. He was 57.

Bartels died of cancer at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, where he had been flown from Honolulu in January, said former first lady Vicky Cayetano. Services will be held in Honolulu at St. Andrew's Cathedral, next to Washington Place, she said.

Bartels was probably best known for his 28 years working on the restoration of 'Iolani Palace. He had been a volunteer there when he was hired 1970 as a researcher, said Alice Guild, former executive director of the Friends of 'Iolani Palace.

"He started as a volunteer and became undisputedly the world's leading expert on that period of Hawaiian history, the late monarchy period," Guild said.

A sought-after speaker with a warm sense of humor, Bartels was able to bring Hawai'i's history to life, Guild said.

Long-time friend Watters Martin met Bartels when he joined the palace staff. He remembers his friend's dedication to detail. Bartels once returned several re-created Kingdom of Hawai'i flags because their length was an inch short, Martin said.

"He was very precise in his research and making sure everything was done properly," Martin said. "If the carpet wasn't right or the drapery, if it wasn't 100 percent accurate, he sent it back."

Bartels was born on Maui but lived on O'ahu while attending Punahou, Martin said. He graduated from the University of Hawai'i with a degree in fine arts in 1967 and served in the Navy from 1968 to 1970, spending some of that time on gunships during the Vietnam War, Martin said.

He began work at the palace after coming back to Hawai'i.

Bartels resigned in 1998 after a dispute with former Friends of 'Iolani Palace president Abigail Kawananakoa, who sat on a fragile 115-year-old palace throne for a Life magazine photo session. He was then named director at Washington Place, overseeing its preservation and presentation.

Bartels worked with Cayetano on a plan to turn Washington Place into a museum. New living quarters were built for the governor adjacent to Washington Place.

When she took office, Gov. Linda Lingle retained Bartels as director of Washington Place. The governor called Bartels a "gentleman" and a "true historian."

"He was a curator in the finest sense of the word," she said. "His diligence to maintain the traditions and artifacts of Washington Place and 'Iolani Palace will be his living legacy."

Under the Washington Place plan, the 154-year-old mansion that was home to Queen Lili'uokalani and 13 territorial and state governors would still be used for state dinners and official functions but would be open daily for tours.

"Jim Bartels made Washington Place come alive," Cayetano said. "That is his most wonderful legacy.

"He was a living treasure. So much knowledge about Hawaiiana and such a giving heart. I learned so much from him. He was a very good person."

Bartels' work was interrupted by his illness, which was diagnosed in December, Cayetano said.

"What he did here at Washington Place was to make it possible for Washington Place to be shared with the people," Cayetano said. "He emphasized that sharing of the history with the public. He wanted to open the second floor to the public; that's where ... (governors) used to reside.

"We feel very strongly that he left behind his ideas and what he saw. We are going to make that happen, not only as a memorial to the queen but to Jim."