Heiress pays to stop party at Hawaii palace
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Campbell Estate heiress Abigail Kawananakoa does not want to see private parties at 'Iolani Palace and is willing to put up her money to prevent it — $100,000 to be exact.
That's how much Kawananakoa bid recently to win an auction for a dinner party on the palace lanai featuring food prepared by celebrity chef Alan Wong and music by the Brothers Cazimero.
The auction was part of the annual Royal Garden Party fundraiser that took place last month on palace grounds and was hosted by the Friends of Iolani Palace, the organization tasked with maintaining the one-time home of Hawai'i monarchs.
"To me, it's sacrilegious. The palace should be revered, it should be treated like a royal palace," Kawananakoa said. "To rent it, to have somebody have a party there, and to try to make money that way — it's unseemly."
Kippen de Alba Chu, palace executive director, said he had not heard directly from Kawananakoa of her decision not to have the dinner held, but added that he respects her decision.
"It's her choice as the winning bidder whether to use it or not," Chu said. "That's her prerogative and we respect it."
In fact, Chu said, not holding the party will actually result in more money going to the Friends because the group had been expecting to pick up a number of expenses.
The dinner party bid accounted for the majority of the $132,575 raised by the auction for the often money-strapped palace operation.
Kawananakoa is the one-time president of the Friends, a group started by her mother, Lili'uokalani Kawananakoa Morris, in 1966.
Kawananakoa said historical re-enactments that were open to the general public were held by the Friends during her tenure as president. But such functions are different, she said, because they are done with the supervision of Friends staff.
Allowing a party to be thrown "is a risk that should not be taken," Kawananakoa said. "The palace should not be exposed to anything that could possibly damage it."
Chu said that neither the lanai nor any other part of the palace building is ever rented out for private functions, although both the barracks and palace grounds are available for rent.
Such functions take place about six times a year, he said. The minimum price for renting the grounds is about $10,000, while the barracks grounds can be had for one night for as little as $1,750.
Chu defended the auction, noting that the function was to be held on the lanai, not inside the palace.
"It's a unique auction; no one else can offer it," Chu said.
While he would not rule out offering up a banquet on the lanai for a future auction, Chu said there are no plans to rent out the lanai like the lawn or barracks.
The palace is "very sacred to a lot of us Hawaiians and to everyone that goes there and it should not be treated that way — it should be protected," Kawananakoa said.
As for the possibility that dinners at the palace could be offered up again at future auctions, Kawananakoa said she would continue to bid as high as necessary to prevent parties from occurring on the grounds.
"If I don't run out of money, I'll continue to buy it," Kawananakoa said. "But I hope they'll look into the situation and maybe adjust it."
Kawananakoa said she does not like the idea of the lawn or barracks being rented out either, and would prefer that policy change as well.
Kawananakoa, through the Abigail K. Kawananakoa Foundation, last year gave the Friends $110,000 to help it pay its payroll and electricity bills. She also has made several gifts of artifacts to the palace.
Descended from the family of King Kalakaua, who built the palace in 1882, Kawananakoa has a bittersweet relationship with the Friends group her mother started. The president of the Friends for more than 25 years, she resigned the post, as well as her position on the board, in 1998 in the wake of a furor that erupted after she sat on a royal throne while posing for Life magazine.
Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at email@example.com.
Correction: Abigail Kawananakoa said “the palace is very sacred to a lot of us Hawaiians and to everyone that goes there and it should not be treated that way it should be protected.” The quote was incorrectly attributed to Kippen de Alba Chu in a previous version of this story.