Paula Akana has soured on honey. That sweet byproduct of a bee colony contains moisture that can do damage to a fragile historic structure, she said.
That matters because a bee infestation has taken hold in historic Iolani Palace — among her chief concerns, now that she has taken the reins as the landmark’s executive director.
“It’s expensive, and we’re nonprofit,” she added. “Just the 4-1/2 days that the palace was closed because of the bees? That cost about $70,000 in lost revenues.”
Akana, 57, married with two grown sons and two grandchildren, said she had decided that a nonprofit passion project was about the only thing that could have lured her into retiring from her longtime job in TV news. This opportunity came along, and she jumped at it.
It feels like a good fit. Akana earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Hawaii but her other academic focus was in Hawaiian anthropology and archaeology. The Kamehameha Schools graduate also has volunteered for the Polynesian Voyaging Society.
But Akana knew she would be suddenly immersed in unfamiliar areas. Her survival strategy was being a journalist for a while longer, taking notes at every meeting possible.
That learning curve centers on management, acquisitions, grant proposals and — of course — building contracts.
“My big goal is to tackle the repair and maintenance at the palace,” she said. Dec. 31 of this year marks the 140th anniversary of when the cornerstone for Iolani Palace was laid.
“Besides the unknown costs associated with the bee hive removal, the roof of the palace is leaking. The coronation pavilion is cordoned off, as are the pergolas on property. There is a lot of work to be done.”
Question: What is the status of the bee infestation, and any damage it caused?
Answer: In September, a beekeeper was able to remove a huge hive that was located on the exterior of the palace.
But there are four other honey bee hives in the palace columns. … In one case, they used the interior of the cast-iron column to build their hive. Others were found in the wood-framed cornices near the top of the palace walls … and in trees.
It’s not known how much damage, if any, has occurred from the bees, or the possible honey they may have produced. We won’t really know that until we can get in and remove the hives.
The Friends of Iolani Palace is working with the Department of Land and Natural Resources State Parks, Department of Accounting and General Services and the state Department of Health to keep the problem under control, and to determine the next steps.
Q: Earlier this year, the palace grounds began closing overnight. Has that helped with the vandalism problem?
A: In February, DLNR State Parks and The Friends of Iolani Palace made the decision to close the gates to Iolani Palace State Monument at 6 p.m. daily, instead of the previous 11 p.m.
That decision came about after several windows were broken and graffiti was found in different areas of the property. …
We believe the closure has been helpful. The public is still able to enjoy the grounds during the day (6 a.m.-6 p.m.) and during special events when the palace and grounds are open at night (like our upcoming night tours, Dec. 28-30).
Q:What is the status of repairs needed for the glass door panes that were vandalized, and any other such damage that has occurred?
A: In 2014, one of the etched glass front door panels to the palace was kicked in. In 2018, three more beautiful glass door panels were broken.
They were priceless. Iolani Palace is a National Historic Landmark. That means the special panels can’t be replaced with just any glass.
The Friends of Iolani Palace turns to California artist Pat Mackle for help. Mackle purchases the glass from Europe. then painstakingly replicates the etched glass picture.
We are awaiting funding to help to replicate the broken panels, and several other pieces of glass. It is estimated to cost at least $9,000 for each. …
Q: Can you tell me a bit about the King Kalakaua celebration next week? Any particular highlights being planned?
A: King David Kalakaua was born on Nov. 16, 1836. Each year, the Royal Guard of Hawaii and The Friends of Iolani Palace celebrate his birthday with a special event at the palace that is open to the public. This year the celebration falls on a Saturday.
The palace will be decked out with red, blue and white bunting, just as it was for Kalakaua’s 1886 birthday jubilee. The ceremony will begin at 11:30 in the morning. At 11:45 the Royal Hawaiian Band will play.
The review of the Royal Guard begins at noon, the guard will then take up post at the four palace gates. … Today’s ceremonial guard was created in 1962, and is made up of Native Hawaiian members of the Hawaii Air National Guard.
It’s a beautiful event that makes you feel as though you stepped back in time.
Q:What is the story behind the replica of Queen Kapiolani’s coronation gown?
A: The Queen Kapiolani Coronation gown and robe is spectacular! It’s all part of The Friends of Iolani Palace Alii Garment Reproduction project. All Hawaii designer Kini Zamora had was a black and white photograph and a colored painting of Queen Kapiolani in the gown she wore for her 1881 coronation.
It is breathtaking! Hawaii’s alii were stylish. This outfit really shows the queen’s love for all things Hawaiian, along with a desire to mix in modern styles.
The dress is embroidered with golden ferns. The robe is exquisite — red with white trim and gold ferns. … And it is sure to be a highlight of our upcoming December night tours that are held in honor of Queen Kapiolani’s birthday.
The gown is on display in the throne room, along with several other replica gowns created by Hawaii designer Iris Viacrusis.
The palace does not have any originals of these gowns. So these talented designers also had to become sleuths as they searched for the clues in recreating these alii garments.
Q:Are there still palace furnishings being sought for recovery? Any recent acquisitions?
A: Yes, the quest for palace furnishings and objects related to Hawaii’s alii continues.
When Iolani Palace was built, 225 pieces of furniture were ordered from the A. H. Davenport Company of Boston. One of those pieces is at the top of our curator’s wish list: King Kalakaua’s bed, which was gilded, ebonized wood.
Items still find their way back to the palace. Recently, the Helen Ladd Thompson Revocable Living Trust donated more than 100 items to The Friends of Iolani Palace. They belonged to their relative, Anton Rosa, who was a government official and one-time attorney general under King Kalakaua.
One of the items was a decorative bronze helmet plate, that came from the front of a helmet. It’s engraved with K for King Kalakaua as well as the Hawaiian national motto, “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono.”
It’s so beautiful, we used it to design this year’s palace Christmas ornament that is now on sale at our gift shop. If you think you have an item that may have belonged in the palace, contact us at iolanipalace.org. Our website also includes some of the markings that you can look for to see if an item came from the palace.
Q:How many visitors are there annually, and what percentage are tourists?
A: More than 160,000 people visit Iolani Palace each year. That doesn’t include those who come during our monthly Kamaaina Free Sundays. I don’t have a breakdown of what percentage are tourist versus Hawaii residents.
The palace IS an incredible stop on a visitor’s journey to Hawaii.
But it also is a piko (center) for the Hawaiian culture, the place where the story of this very poignant part of Hawaii’s history comes alive.
So many Hawaii folks tell me they’ve never been in the palace, or haven’t been there since small-kid time.
I’d like to invite them to come see visit us and even better, help support this magnificent place by becoming a member of The Friends of Iolani Palace.