HONOLULU — Students, staff and community members commemorated the renaming of the former Central Middle School back to its original name honoring Princess Ruth Keanolani Kanāhoahoa Keʻelikōlani in a ceremony today celebrating her 196th birthday.
“The restoration of the schoolʻs name celebrates Princess Keʻelikōlaniʻs devotion to the education of children in Hawaiʻi and connects our students today directly to her generosity and foresight,” Principal Joseph Passantino said. “Bringing back the name Keʻelikōlani allows us to respect the Hawaiian culture, respect our aliʻi, and empower our students by instilling in them the characteristics that she embodied.”
The late Princess Keʻelikōlani, a high-ranking aliʻi and a descendant of royal bloodlines on both sides of her family, played a major role in expanding access to education in Hawaiʻi. The historic school near downtown Honolulu was constructed in 1926 on the site of Keōua Hale, Keʻelikōlani’s grand royal palace, and was renamed soon after in 1927 as Central Intermediate School.
The renaming process was launched in 2019 and steered by an inclusive committee of teachers, librarians, alumnae, students, historians and community members. Progress was briefly paused in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, but work resumed virtually, culminating with an approval by the Board of Education on Sept. 17, 2021.
A beautiful new campus mural honoring Princess Keʻelikōlani was also dedicated as part of the celebration. It displays the grand palace of Keōua Hale in Honolulu, her traditional thatch-style home on the grounds of Huliheʻe Palace in Kailua-Kona, and Mauna Loa, where she intervened to help protect the city of Hilo from a lava flow in 1880. Official school signage was also unveiled and will be installed in the coming weeks.
Upon her death in 1883, Princess Ke‘elikōlani’s property, including Keōua Hale, was bequeathed to Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. After Princess Pauahi’s death in 1885, the Board of Education purchased the Keōua Hale property for what was to become Honolulu High School in 1895. When Honolulu High School vacated the property in 1907, the property became Central Grammar School. Efforts were then made to rename Central Grammar School to Ke‘elikōlani School. However, due to the difficulty some had in pronouncing Ke‘elikōlani, the school reverted back to Central Grammar School.
Central Grammar School later became Central Junior High School in 1928, Central Intermediate School in 1932, and Central Middle School in 1997. The buildings on the campus were placed on the Hawaii Register of Historic Places in 1994. To this day, a building on campus still displays the name Ke‘elikōlani School.