I like that the county is allowing Kamehameha Iki Park in Lahaina, on the ocean near 505 Front Street, to be used for Hawaiian cultural purposes.
On one side, Mo'okiha o Pi'ilani, Maui's 63-foot open-ocean voyaging canoe, is in the final stages of construction. On the other lies a row of 200 banana trees to help feed the crew when she sails, and a thatched ceremonial pa.
This is fitting, since the park is the site of what to me was one of the most fascinating structures in old Lahaina: the western palace of Kauikeaouli, Kamehameha III, "Ka Mo'i Maika'i,"the beneficent king.
In a tale too delicate to tell here, the king and his sister, the princess Nahi'ena'ena, loved each other in the manner of the ancient ali'i nui. When she died, his grief was profound. The king married Kalama, a low-born chiefess with whom he found happiness, and early in 1837 the two moved to Lahaina, the kingdom's capital, where he sought solace in his roots.
They took up residence in a traditional thatched compound on Moku'ula island, living there for eight years. Prohibited to all but descendants of the mo'o goddess Kihawahine, the royal residence at Moku'ula was not to be entered lightly. It was a place of refuge, "the last resort of the traditional Hawaiian monarchy and the ancestral home of its last divine king."
But it was the lot of Kamehameha III to straddle two worlds, the old and the new. When John J. Halstead, a carpenter from New York, arrived in Lahaina the following year, 1838, the king put him to work building a "palace" at which to entertain foreign dignitaries.
This was Hale Piula, sited just across the causeway from the royal island, where sentries in white uniforms guarded a gate. It was a coral-and-frame building on the beach, 120 feet long, 40 feet wide, named for its corrugated iron roof. Hugely conspicuous in Lahaina's village of grass huts, it had two stories, with wide-open verandas and views of the shining Lahaina roadstead.
The Hawaiian flag commissioned by Kamehameha I flew over the grounds, imperfectly guarded by an odd assortment of cannon. The grand salon held mahogany furniture, red damask curtains and portraits of Liholiho and Kamamalu, the late king and queen.
The palace turned out to be "more curiosity than adornment," a formality used only on state occasions. Early in 1845, Kamehameha III reluctantly moved to Honolulu and took up residence at the first 'Iolani palace, a home with a widow's walk and a view of the harbor, predecessor of Kalakaua's creation on the same grounds.
Kamehameha III returned to Maui many times, but his last recorded visit to Moku'ula was in December 1846.
By then the palace - "nearly finished" according to a government report - had become the object of derision. An effort to make Hale Piula larger and grander by doubling its length was in the works, but this only succeeded in making "a still further blotch on the landscape."
Observed James Jarves, editor of The Polynesian, "The palace, as a huge graceless, incomplete, two-story stone building, encircled by a wide verandah . . . is a monument of a waste of government means. . . . The interior is not only wretchedly arranged as to rooms, but positively mangled; special pains being manifest to prevent ventilation, and make as many ill-shaped and comfortless apartments as possible."
By 1852, long fissures marred the corners of the building. When he was in town, William L. Lee held circuit court in the long lower room running the length of the building, otherwise occupied by the native district justice. A small upper room served as office of the police magistrate. "There are a great number of rooms in the building, but daily dropping to pieces," wrote Jarves.
Chronically damaged by wind that roared down from Kaua'ula Valley four times a year, local officials ceased to care about repairing the palace, and its appearance grew "peculiarly ruinous." Hale Piula was finally blown to pieces in the whirlwind of 1858.
An attempt was made to salvage doors and timbers for use in the impressive new Government House on Lahaina Harbor, inaugurated in 1859. But R.A.S. Wood, the superintendent of public works, found the material "so much decayed as to be unfit for use again."
I've never seen a picture of Hale Piula, and I don't know if one exists. But with the word pictures 19th-century writers conjured, who needs one?
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at email@example.com.