Hawai'i State Capitol Celebrates 50th Birthday

Mar 15, 2019

The Hawaii State Capitol celebrates its 50th birthday today. Events recognizing its history and present role continues tomorrow.
Credit Hawaii State Capitol

Did you know the Hawaiʻi State Capitol that opened 50 years ago was once considered for Windward Oʻahu? Or that one idea for the building in downtown Honolulu called for it to be nine stories tall? That surprising history is part of the rediscovery underway marking the iconic buildingʻs golden 50th.

The birthday was celebrated with a reception in the Gov. David Igeʻs office today and a display of artifacts in a time capsule opened in December. 

Tomorrow, the Historic Hawaii Foundation hosts a symposium from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to talk about the Capitol’s past and future and the role of design in open government and democratic engagement. 

Don Hibbard, former head of the State Historic Preservation office, recently spoke with HPRʻs Catherine Cruz, host of The Conversation, in the rotunda of the Capitol building.

Lawmakers began talking about a new building back in 1939 and then started acquiring land around what today is known as the Capitol District. At the time, the territorial government was operating out of ʻIolani Palace.

"They enclosed many of the lanai with essentially plywood boxes," said Hibbard. That had to change, so in 1941, officials planned to ask the Legislature for money to proceed with a new Capitol building when World War II broke out.

It would take many more years before lawmakers settled on the current location of the building. At different points, such locations as Fort Amstrong  and Windward Oʻahu where Hawaiʻi Pacific University now stands were proposed. Finally, the architectual partnership of Belt, Lemon and Lo (Architects Hawaii Ltd.) and John Carl Warnecke and Associates was chosen as designers.

The building with its columns reflecting volcanoes rising out of a reflecting pool to represent the Pacific Ocean opened in March 1969. Today, it remains a popular tourist attraction as well as where the state conducts its legislative business.

Hibbard will be among the speakers at tomorrow’s symposium.