Friday, March 12, 2010

Iolani Palace Restoration Project - with Leonard McCann

Retired Curator and Museum Director, Leonard McCann at his home in Vancouver, Canada, going over his notes from the restoration of Iolani Palace. Len was one member of a group who worked on the initial Iolani Palace Restoration in 1969 and 1970. This restoration, which led to a book published by Friends of Iolani Palace, was considered the nonpareil of it's time. Looking back on his life as a curator, Leonard is most honored to have had the opportunity to assist Hawaiians in bringing their Palace to its' former glory.

Lili`uokalani Kawananakoa Morris, grandniece of Queen Kapi`olani, who founded The Friends of `Iolani Palace in 1966, inspired the Project. The book is dedicated to her. Len says, " was almost experimental, in that we were developing new ways of recording things. At the time, restoration was a very slow process and not well documented. We were on the forefront." The book is pictured here. "Iolani Palace Restoration" - A Report: Iolani Palace Restoration Project; Planning, Phase 1 details the preliminary work accomplished, outlines an approach and detailed methodology leading to the refurbishment and public utilization of Iolani Palace as a Living Restoration - by George Moore, Geoffrey W. Fairfax AIA and E. Blaine Cliver, Barbara Furstenberg, Leonard McCann, Glen Miyashiro, John Shklov, Philip R. Ward and Clyde Wong. Published Lei Day, May 1, 1970

Project Director, George R. Moore, had been a Museums Adviser in British Columbia, Canada with his office in Victoria, attached to the Provincial Museum (Royal British Columbia Museum). Previous to the Iolani Palace Restoration, George had been working on an important First Nations project in Canada. At his home in Canada, Leonard McCann has a few letters from George. These irreverent letters between George Moore and Leonard are an amusing read, and show the mutual respect between these two restorers.

Part of Len's job was to write a thesis on the purpose of the Restoration and how the Palace could sustain the improvements: "What we are trying to present is a section of time out of the past...a not too distant past...but a past that has totally vanished. This past was a much more leisured and unhurried age - but it was also a much more intensely personal and dramatic age...Iolani Palace is the culminating point of the monarchial system of government of the Hawaiian Islands. It was the monarchs' personal home, and insofar as the political lives of the only two monarchs who lived in it were concerned, the decisions that determined the fate of the monarchy were made in the Palace..."

When asked what he felt upon arriving at the palace, Len emphasized, "I was completely astonished. I never expected something so grand". As well as wielding a sledgehammer to take down false walls to uncover the splendid woodwork we see today, Len spent much of his energy actively searching out, locating and retrieving items that had been sold or removed from the palace during the prior 50 years when it was used as American government offices.

Leonard has dedicated his life to uncovering the facts, and preserving history not only of his own nation, but nations of the world. At 14 years old, Leonard Guy McCann was taken to Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila, The Philippines where he and his mother were interred for four years. Now, seventy years later, Len is in the process of sorting the documents and books from his lifetime of curatorial and conservation work throughout the world.


  1. Leonard McCann may be contacted through The Vancouver Maritime Museum.

  2. Reading about Mr. McCann has brought up memories of my dear late friend, Henry James "Jim" Bartels, for many years the Curator of 'Iolani Palace, and for a short time before his untimely death, Curator of the Queen's home, Washington Place. No one ever lived who had a more passionate devotion to his Ali'i, their Palace, and the Palace's sacred grounds. My sister and I treasure those times spent walking the grounds in Jim's learned and mystical company...sharing about the Queen, and of course, Princess Ka'iulani. Jim's loss remains incalculable to the world of Hawaiian scholarship...and his wisdom, humor and spirituality to his friends.

    Mindi Reid

  3. Aloha Mindi,

    I wish I had the fortune to meet Jim Bartels. His work and dedication to Iolani Palace and Washington Place is spoken of in such high regard by so many. Thankfully we are all able to benefit from his years of care and research.
    Yes, Leonard McCann is another generous individual, who, like Mr. Bartels, has devoted his life to conserving and preserving the history of many peoples.

  4. Aloha no -
    Yes, we need to appreciate these great people while we have them! I should note that Corinne Chun Fujimoto, who was Jim's assistant at the Palace for many, many years, and who took over for him as Curator when he shifted to Washington Place, is another "living treasure" carrying on the good work for Hawai'i at the Queen's home. When Jim died so abruptly, Corinne - who had left the Palace by that time - stepped into the breach, and continues to do so. At the present moment, however, it is a very tough time in Hawai'i's economy, and her hours are severely curtailed. We pray things change so her expertise, wisdom and dedication may more fully be utilized.
    a hui hou, Mindi

  5. I'm interested in securing a monologue for my daughter to perform from either the screen play about Princess Ka`iulani or The Island Rose play.

    Please direct me as to how I can secure a copy of either script or a portion of the script containing a monologue.

    Thank you

    1. Hello,
      Please contact if you are still interested.

  6. I have known Len for years, he is a wonderful person and the master of the understated.