HONOLULU (AP) – Every day, tourists flock to a downtown Honolulu palace for a glimpse of the way Hawaii’s royal family lived, marveling at its gilded furniture, lavish throne room and grand staircase made from prized koa wood.
But few know Iolani Palace – America’s only royal residence – has relied in part on the generosity of a descendant of that family while the relic of the monarchy’s rule now serves as a museum.
Multimillionaire heiress Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa, considered by many to be Hawaii’s last princess, has paid the palace’s electric bills for the past six years.
But the intensely private Native Hawaiian, whose $215 million fortune includes race horses and real estate, is no longer in a position to fund her pet charities, including the palace and various Native Hawaiian causes.
A court struggle is playing out for the 91-year-old’s fortune. Her longtime lawyer persuaded a judge to appoint him trustee, arguing a stroke over the summer left the heiress impaired. She claims she’s fine, and has since fired that lawyer and married her girlfriend of 20 years.
Since the court battle began, the electricity payments have stopped, Iolani Palace Executive Director Kippen de Alba Chu said. Officials who run the palace completed in 1882 have relied on a backup plan to pay the light bill and stay open.
Also disrupted, according to court documents, were funds earmarked for a Native Hawaiian nursing student’s scholarship and materials to repair a damaged crypt at the Royal Mausoleum, where members of Hawaiian royalty are buried.
Over the years, Kawananakoa has used her money to fund protesters fighting a giant telescope on a mountain some Native Hawaiians consider sacred; to challenge a contentious Honolulu rail project; and to support the Merrie Monarch Festival, a prestigious hula competition.
She also has donated items owned by King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani for public display, including a nearly 14-carat diamond from Kalakaua’s pinky ring.
Credit : Jennifer Sinco Kelleher for http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com | Photo : Provided Iolani Palace