Honolulu Harbor, just a few miles cast of Pearl, remains the fulcrum through which passes most of that vast array of goods which Hawaii cannot or will not make for itself. Some 1,700 ships put into the harbor each year. There is still a color and pageantry that no jetliner's arrival can match when one of the big passenger liners steams into port or away, its coming and going punctuated with an outpouring of hula troupes, flowers, and music of the Royal Hawaiian Band. (Modern life seems too short of those moments, with their delicious sentimentality.)
The harbor, still dominated by its colorful old Aloba Tower, is close by the downtown financial district. This area is home still of the Big Five's storied economic power. With other financial giants, the Big Five are housed in an odd combination of soaring modern skyscrapers and placid, squat older buildings so reminiscent of the small, tropical port of yesteryear.
A block or two to the east one comes on Iolani Palace, a wonderful old Victorian extravagance completed by the last of the Hawaiian kings, Kalakaua, at a cost of some $350,000 in 1882, The old palace, all done up in the iron and grillwork considered so elegant in its time, fairly reeks with history. Queen Liliuokalani ( 1891-93) ruled from its chambers until her autocratic ways led to the overthrow of the monarchy; two years later, after an attempted counterinsurrection, she was held prisoner in the palace for nine months. Sanford Ballard Dole, the son of a missionary who led the republican revolution in the Islands, ruled from the palace first as president of the independent republic of Hawaii (starting in 1893) and then as the first Presidentially-appointed governor of the new territory. (Ceremonies to mark Hawaii's annexation to the United States were held on the front steps of the palace on August 12, 1898, with an emotional moment when the Stars and Stripes were first raised.)
For the next six decades, the territorial Senate met in the onetime royal dining room in the palace, the House in what had been the throne room! The old palace was still the chief government building in 1959, when the last appointed governor, William F. Quinn, became the first popularly elected state governor. Not until a decade later, 1969, did John A. Burns, Quinn's successor, sit for one last day as governor in the Iolani Palace and then move to the new State Capitol.
That new Capitol must be considered one of the most exalted public buildings of our times. The strong but airy design by San Francisco architect John Carl Warnecke is rife with Hawaiian symbolism. Like an island, the building stands in a reflecting pool. Its great interior courtyard has openings both to sea and to mountains. And high above, that courtyard is open to the sky through a cone-shaped roof unmistakably patterned after a volcano. just inside the roof opening, there is a band of deep blue. And up and through that great aperture, one sees the skein of light Hawaiian clouds in constant movement. Suddenly there is unity between sky and viewer, the building of now and the timeless geologic history that it stands for-a remarkable, perhaps unique phenomenon. (On a less ethereal level, I might add that the Capitol has the most spacious offices, California possibly excepted, that I have seen for state legislators anywhere in the U.S. In terms of facilities, staff support, and good management, the Hawaii legislature has been ranked second only to California's in the country.)