BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Gov. Neil Abercrombie ordered that ‘Iolani Palace, the nation’s only royal palace, be closed on Monday, November 7 at 5 p.m. until November 15.
Attorney General David Louie and William Aila, Chairperson of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, said on Monday in a statement that the move was necessary “for the protection of the area and for the safety and welfare of persons and property.” They wanted to secure and protect several critical state areas during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit.
Just hours after the announcement was made, 22 Hawaiian sovereignty activists were arrested on the grounds for refusing to leave.
But their decision to both close the grounds on Monday and leave the palace off limits until after the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference wraps up on November 13, was made without input from palace officials, and it took the public and the palace management by surprise.
Not only does it prevent the 20,000 people in town for APEC from seeing the Palace, it also keeps away an estimated 300 to 400 other visitors a day – or 2,450 visitors and residents during that time period – from seeing the palace.
That decision, which impacts “all regularly scheduled tours, all special visits directly related to APEC and three private events, including one for youth delegates attending the APEC,” will cost the palace dearly – some $42,000.
Besides loss of revenue, the Palace director said he had to issue apologies to high ranking officials in delegations from China, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru, Taiwan and the U.S. Department of Commerce, because they had planned to visit.
“APEC is one of the biggest international events in the history of Hawai‘i and a rare opportunity for us to share with the world our islands’ heritage, hospitality and Native Hawaiian culture,” states Kippen de Alba Chu, executive director for The Friends of ‘Iolani Palace. “It is inconceivable that we have to turn away national and international visitors from ‘Iolani Palace, an iconic symbol of Hawaiian royalty.”
“This unilateral decision to close the Palace for tours was made without consulting The Friends of ‘Iolani Palace,” continues de Alba Chu. “I received a call on Monday evening from the Lieutenant Governor’s Office relaying a message from the Governor’s Office that the Palace would be closed to all tours, including APEC related tours.”
As if financial loss and embarrassment and inconvenience were not enough, palace officials said 25 of the 41 employees and many of the 100 volunteers are also being kept from work.
‘Iolani Palace was built in 1882 by Kind David Kalakaua, the first reigning monarch who actually went around the world to visit many of the countries represented today at APEC because he wanted to “enhance the prestige of Hawai‘i overseas to mark Hawai‘i’s status as a modern nation,” de Alba Chu said.
“The King’s dual mission of bringing Hawai‘i to the world and the world to Hawai‘i can easily be seen throughout ‘Iolani Palace in its architecture, furniture, construction and artifacts. In addition, Kalākaua forged bilateral relations with these very same APEC members, which explains why these countries’ delegations were so excited to visit the Palace. Hawai‘i and the various APEC members share a common history that long predates annexation by the United States. This decision to completely lock down the Palace is not aloha. It is the exact opposite,” de Alba Chu said.
King Kalākaua’s Birthday Celebration is scheduled for Wednesday, November 16, just one day after the palace re-opens.