Last updated: August 16, 2019
Washington Place is significant for its association with the changing role of the United States in the world community and as the residence of the last ruling monarch of Hawaii, Queen Lili'uokalani. From the 1840s through the 20th century, Washington Place has been at the center of pivotal events in Hawaii, including the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893 that led to Hawaii becoming a territory of the U.S. It continued to be important later as the executive mansion for the territorial governors (1919-1959), and, after Hawaii became the 50th U.S. State, the governor's mansion of the State of Hawaii (1959-2002).
Captain John Dominis, a wealthy American merchant, built the home near the Iolani Palace in Honolulu on the Island of Oahu. When Captain Dominis had his two and a half story Greek Revival home constructed between 1844 and 1847, he spent lavishly to create the grand mansion. He instructed the builders to use the finest materials and hired the most skilled carpenters, masons, and painters. The master carpenter in charge of the labor was Isaac Hart, who was also responsible for constructing the first Iolani Palace. Despite changes to the building over time, the stately mansion still retains its lower level coral stone walls, columns circling the house, verandas, Tuscan columns, fanlight and sidelight entrance, Georgian floor plan, wood frame upper floor, and hipped roof.
Unfortunately, Dominis would never enjoy his luxurious residence, because the ship carrying him to China was lost at sea in 1846. After his death, his wife converted a section of the house into a private apartment to provide an income for the family. One of the first residents was Anthony Ten Eyck, a U.S. Commissioner appointed by President James K. Polk. Eyck named the building "Washington Place" in honor of the first U.S. President George Washington and established the American Legation in the house.
Another important resident was William Little Lee who, with his wife Catherine, lived in the apartment from 1849 until 1854. Lee became the first Chief Justice of the Hawaiian Supreme Court and was in charge of the Kingdom's Judicial branch. He was also the President of the Board of Land Commissioners and the first President of the Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society. Lee was responsible for the Great Mahele of 1848, the change in the Hawaii land system that allowed private and foreign land ownership in the Hawaiian islands.
Washington Place became the private residence of Queen Lili'uokalani from when she married Captain Dominis' son in 1862 until her death in 1917. John Owen Dominis, the queen's husband, held several prominent positions with the Hawaiian government including General and Commander of the Armies and secretary under several kings. He passed away several months after Lili'uokalani became Queen in 1891.
After Lili'uokalani became the sovereign ruler of the Kingdom of Hawai'i, she proposed a new Constitution that would return more authority to the monarchy and replace a Constitution passed in 1887, which had given considerable power to the Euro-American dominated legislature. This proposal followed on the heels of passage by the U.S. Congress of the Tariff Act of 1890, which ended the favored status of sugar imported from Hawaii, raised import rates on foreign sugar, and crippled the Hawaiian sugar industry. Facing economic hardship and potential loss of power, American missionaries, business entrepreneurs, and European and American politicians began to seriously consider the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and annexation of the islands by the U.S. If the Hawaiian Islands became a U.S. territory, Hawaiian sugar producers would be provided with the same economic and monetary benefits as those enjoyed by U.S. domestic producers. In 1893, a group of European and American citizens and native-born subjects of the Kingdom of Hawai'i staged a coup d'état to overthrow the monarchy. Backed by the U.S. government and with the aid of the U.S. military they were successful and the Queen was forced to yield her authority.
Lili'uokalani continued to live at Washington Place until 1895, when weapons were discovered buried in the gardens at the house. She was subsequently arrested at Washington Place and tried for aiding in the short-lived attempt to restore the monarchy known as the "1895 Counter-Revolution in Hawaii." At her trial she denied any knowledge of the Counter-Revolution, but was found guilty, fined $5,000 dollars, and sentenced to five years hard labor. The sentence was commuted and she was placed under house arrest at Iolani Palace. She was made to live in one bedroom and was allowed one lady-in-waiting during the day, but no visitors. While under house arrest, Lili'uokalani abdicated her throne in return for the release and commutation of death sentences of her jailed supporters.
Lili'uokalani was released in 1896, after completing one year of house arrest at Iolani Palace, and was allowed to return to Washington Place where she endured five more months of house arrest before being given a full pardon. She continued to live at Washington Place and serve as the leader of her people until her death at the house in 1917.
The United States annexed Hawaii in 1898 and made it a U.S. territory in 1900. After the death of Queen Lili'uokalani, Washington Place became the executive mansion of the territorial governors from 1919 until Hawaii became a State in 1959, and after that served as the state governor's home until 2002. In 2002, Washington Place became a historic house museum.
Washington Place Information
Property Name: Washington Place
Street Address: 320 South Beretania St., Honolulu, HI
Multiple Property Submission Name:
Status Listed: 6/18/1973 NHL Designated: 3/29/2007
The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources.