Queen Emma’s Summer Escape

When summer came to Honolulu, the Hawaiian monarchy beat the heat in Nuuanu Valley. Located just a few miles from Iolani Palace, the Queen Emma Summer Palace was a cool escape for the ancient royals and today, continues to be a nice getaway and step back into time for locals and visitors.

I’m not surprised anymore when I hear that a visit to Iolani Palace is very high on visitors’ itineraries. So many of them are interested in the past, and since Hawaii’s the only state that once had a monarchy, I agree that learning more about this part of history is very interesting. But they are only seeing part of it if their tour does not include a visit to the Queen Emma (wife of King Kamehameha IV) Summer Palace, also known as Hanaiakamalama.

The parlor and shaded trees provided a peaceful resting place for Hawaiian monarchy. There’s history everywhere, even in the hibiscus flowers.

This small but very pretty structure (a half Hawaiian and half Greek revival) almost didn’t survive the bulldozer back at the turn of the century and was rescued and refurbished by the Daughter’s of Hawaii, an organization dedicated to perpetuating old Hawaii. Most of its original acreage is now parkland next door, graced with amazing shade trees which gives you an understanding of how this tiny palace was such a cool and restful place for its residents.

After Emma’s death, most of the furnishings and belongings were put on auction, but thankfully many have found their way back and are on display in the house. And they are fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed the guided tour I took. I was in a small group, so we didn’t have to rush through the sights. The docent was amazingly knowledgeable. She seemed intent on making each of us a Hawaiian historian before we left the hour-long tour.

I think I might have learned more about Hawaii’s history on the tour than I have in all the years I’ve lived here. Any history buff would love this. I enjoyed the furnishings and the displays of personal property that is on display, such as jewelry, bowls, China, feather capes and art. What Queen Emma had was the best of the best of both the Hawaiian and English cultures.

One interesting thing to note, none of the local items were made of precious metal or stones. Hawaii, despite being volcanic, has no natural gemstones or metals. Its other natural resources made stunning replacements. The queen did have close ties with the royal families of the world, who gifted her with the non-local pieces that are display here.

Unfortunately, no inside photography is allowed, so I cannot provide you with pictures of the furnishings. But there was a little surprise on the tour. Queen Emma’s baby grand piano (named “Emil Ascherberg”) from Dresden is in the parlor. The tour allows photography in the parlor if someone from the group can sit and play it. Luckily, someone from our group was able to play, so I have one picture of our group politely sitting and listening to music, just like they might have done back in that time.

Amazingly, another person in our group, a local guy, revealed that he was a distant relative of the monarchy, and he had memories of seeing some of the furnishings in the house, most specifically Hawaiian Prince Albert Edward’s handmade cradle. It was made from native woods. The man had come to the palace to see the crib in its rightful place.

The palace is considered a state treasure. Each room is a wonder and full of items of interest that you aren’t going to see in mainland museums. So I’d definitely say it’s worth the short trip up the road. At the end of the tour, check out the small and cozy gift shop outback as part of the carriage house building. I found the items there interesting, mostly local, and fairly priced. They sell postcards made from a sliver of veneered Hawaiian wood, embossed with a local design and ready to be stamped and sent.

Items from the palace gift shop, which is located in the back as part of the carriage house building.

The grounds are small but has a nice natural setting that is cool and quiet. They have facilities for group functions, and it can also be used as a wedding venue. For visitors without a car, it’s very easily and quickly reached by any Windward bus (55, 56, 57, 57A) out of Ala Moana Center or Downtown Honolulu. Save your transfer for the trip back. And while you are there, be sure to go out back, and look for the gigantic hibiscus bush that is so big that a stream runs through it!

(Top) Cool shade for visitors. (Bottom) Playing the baby grand piano in the parlor. (Right) The palace sits next to a city bus route.

QUEEN EMMA SUMMER PALACE / 2913 Pali Highway, Honolulu, Hawaii 96817 • Open Mon-Sun, 9am-4pm • $6 (adults), $1 (children), $4 (Kamaaina) • 808-595-629 • www.queenemmasummerpalace.org • Free parking; Near bus route

Posted by: Bruce Fisher