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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mauna 'Ala showing its age

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

Visitors to Hawai'i tour the grounds of Mauna 'Ala, the Royal Mausoleum, in Nu'uanu. Stacy Greer of Oahu Nature Tours, with backpack, provided the visitors with a short history of Mauna 'Ala and information about some of the plants and trees on the grounds.

Photos by BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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SB1294 would require the state to allocate a portion of ceded land revenues for the repair and maintenance of Mauna 'Ala, the Royal Mausoleum. The site's funding now comes from the Department of Land and Natural Resources' general operations budget. For now, the bill does not specify a percentage of ceded land revenues that would be dedicated to Mauna 'Ala. Currently, the state allocates about $90,000 annually for a curator, two part-time caretakers and related maintenance fees.

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Six of the eight monarchs of the Hawaiian Islands, from King Kamehameha II to Queen Lili'uokalani, as well as other members of the Kamehameha and Kalakaua families and several of their closest acquaintances, are interred at Mauna 'Ala, the Royal Mausoleum, at 2261 Nu'uanu Ave.

The grounds and chapel are open to the public, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The grounds will also open on March 26 in honor of Prince Kuhio Day and June 11 for King Kamehameha Day.

The Kalakaua Crypt is closed except on the birthdays of those entombed there. There is no charge.

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The Wyllie Crypt, named for Robert C. Wyllie, a close friend of the Kamehameha family, shows signs of structural cracking.

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The interior of the chapel at Mauna 'Ala, the Royal Mausoleum, in Nuuanu includes koa wood paneling and Douglas fir pews.

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The west facing wall of the chapel at Mauna 'Ala includes sections of stucco that are pitting and falling off.

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The coat of arms on the iron gate at the entrance to the Royal Mausoleum's chapel shows signs of weather damage.

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One edge of the top of the Wyllie Crypt is cracking and in need of repair. Robert C. Wyllie was an important figure in late 19th-century Hawaiian politics.

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Part of the koa wall paneling shows signs of wood rot.

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The resting place for Hawaiian royalty would get a dedicated source of state revenues under a bill moving through the state Legislature.

A number of Hawaiian organizations and individuals are supporting the plan to designate a funding source for repair and maintenance at Mauna 'Ala, the Royal Mausoleum, in Nu'uanu. But officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Parks Division, which operates the site, counter that the bill is unnecessary and could siphon funding from other upgrade efforts.

For many Hawaiians, Mauna 'Ala is hallowed ground. Initiated by Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma, the 3.5-acre site overlooking downtown Honolulu includes the tombs of every member of Hawaiian royalty with the exception of Kamehameha the Great and King William Charles Lunalilo.

The birthdays of royalty are still celebrated at Mauna 'Ala by Hawaiian civic clubs and other organizations. Civic club members and boarding students from Kamehameha Schools also go there on weekends to clean the chapel or clear fallen branches.

An annexation resolution adopted by Congress in 1899 stipulates that Mauna 'Ala must be kept as a mausoleum for Hawaiian royalty and never be considered "for sale, lease or other disposition."

"Mauna 'Ala's such a special place," said Stacy Rezentes, director for the Charles R. Bishop Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides some support to the landmark site. "It's important to Hawaiian people, and to people that call Hawai'i home. The ali'i who left so much to us are buried there. We really need to take care of them."

Last summer, more than 10,000 people who gathered at 'Iolani Palace in support of Kamehameha Schools' admissions policies that offer preference to students of Hawaiian heritage marched two miles to the site to pay respects to the schools' founder, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop.


Queen Lili'uokalani converted the original mausoleum building, completed in 1865, into a chapel after the caskets were moved into tombs and crypts below ground. Nearly 150 years later, despite a decade of extensive state-funded renovations that began in the mid-1970s, the chapel building is showing its age.

Among other things, there are cracks in both the interior and exterior plaster, and the drainage system on the chapel roof needs to be replaced.

There's also a public restroom facility, constructed during the 1950s, that needs upgrades to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

Toni Lee, president of the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, compared the restroom area to an outhouse. "You would never put an ali'i in one of those restrooms," Lee said.

A March 2005 study funded by the Charles Reed Bishop Trust concluded about $1 million is needed for capital improvements, major repairs and landscaping over the next three years.

Among other major projects identified by consultant DLR Group: repaving of a circular road through the site, restoration of the perimeter rock wall, and replacement of the roof of the Kalakaua Crypt. Also, a large kamani tree that looms prominently over Mauna 'Ala that was planted by Queen Emma in honor of her husband is in need of a support system for its lower branches.


William Mai'oho, Mauna 'Ala's curator since 1995, said the site's last full-time groundskeeper retired in 2000. The upkeep is now covered about three mornings a week by two groundskeepers based out of Kaka'ako Regional Park, he said.

Mai'oho is descended from a secession of Mauna 'Ala curators who trace their genealogy to one of the two keepers of Kamehameha the Great's secret burial site. He said while the regular state maintenance coupled with the volunteer work is keeping the site passable in appearance, it would be nice if Mauna 'Ala once again had a dedicated groundskeeper.

Mai'oho said he understands the state's ongoing budget constraints, but noted more attention and care must be given to landscaping beyond sweeping and mowing and he hopes additional funding can be tapped for those needs.

Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, D-21st (Nanakuli, Makaha), chairwoman of the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, said that's why she introduced Senate Bill 1294, which seeks to designate a percentage share of all ceded land revenues to repair and maintenance at Mauna 'Ala.

The bill specifies that the share is not to come from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs' portion of ceded land revenues, but from the overall amount received by the state.

Hanabusa said Mauna 'Ala supporters are tired of going before state lawmakers to ask for one-time capital improvement projects and competing with other DLNR funding priorities. If the bill gets the Legislature's backing, responsibility over Mauna 'Ala could be shifted to OHA or the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Hanabusa said.

"The problem with it being under DLNR is it has to wait in line with everybody else," she said.

Hanabusa said she left the amount blank in the bill because DLNR has not responded to requests about operational costs for the site.

DLNR said annual expenses are about $90,000. The amount includes the salaries for Mai'oho and groundskeepers, utilities and related maintenance fees.

DLNR officials oppose the Senate bill, contending that it is unnecessary and could gobble up funding needed for other more pressing upgrades.

"Obviously, this is an important place that we need to make sure is protected and maintained," said DLNR Director and Land Board Chairman Peter Young. But, he added, "The process may not need the dedicated funding. It may need the continued effort on our part as well as our partners in making sure the area is protected."

Dan Quinn, DLNR parks administrator, defended the upkeep of the site.

"There's certainly work to be done, but it's not like it's been neglected," Quinn said.

In addition to the decade-long renovation to the chapel that wrapped up in the mid-1980s, the state replaced the curator's residence in 2000 and renovated the Kalakaua Crypt in 1992-93, according to DLNR information.

The Bishop trust, which is related to Kamehameha Schools but is funded by a separate endowment, restored the wrought-iron front gate in 1985 and paid for repairs to the chapel and three monuments in 1993. Four years later, the Queen Lili'uokalani Trust restored the John Young Crypt.

DLNR, Peter Young said, is now working with the Bishop trust, civic clubs and others to draft a priority list for the projects identified in the recent study.


A private fundraising effort called Malama Mauna'ala has started under the leadership of the Bishop trust; Kamehameha Schools; and Hawai'i Maoli, an arm of the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs. Its goal is to raise $1.4 million, according to Rezentes of the Bishop trust.

Rezentes said the combination of dedicated state funding and private-source funding would help ensure the aging Mauna 'Ala is never in disrepair.

Hanabusa said she does not buy the argument that Mauna 'Ala is not in top condition because state officials are coping with budget constraints.

"It shouldn't be like that, not for who's resting in that place," she said. "It just seems like such a sacrilege for it not to have been kept in pristine condition. And it's not a Hawaiian issue, it's just an issue of respect for the history of this state."

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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