A regal presence in the midst of Kailua-Kona's tourist-oriented shops, this majestic house of John Adams Kuakini was built at a time when King Kamehameha III still resided in a thatched house in Honolulu. The two-story house was built of local materials. It has a lateral-running gable roof capping three-foot-thick walls made of lava rock with coral mortar. Ohia was used for the joists and beams and the interior was paneled with koa. The symmetrical facade, with its centered portico and shuttered windows, reflects the interior's central-hall plan. The hall and side rooms extend the depth of the house, allowing for excellent ventilation. A Gothic-arched doorway with sidelights opens on the front balcony. The deep makai (ocean-facing) lanai on the first and second stories afford excellent views of the bay. The editor of the Sandwich Island Gazette, who saw the house just prior to its completion, described it as “a mansion house, and [it] is in all respects the most splendid building at the Sandwich Islands. . . . The inside of the house is splendidly finished off with Koa, a wood of the most beautiful appearance.” He further noted that the residence “portrays an intimacy with good taste, and a passion for modern improvements on the part of its proprietor.” The reference to koa is the earliest known mention of the use of this native wood as an interior finish.
With Kuakini's death in 1844, the property passed to his adopted son, Leileiohoku, the husband of Princess Ruth Keelikolani. The house then passed to the Princess, the great-granddaughter of Kamehameha I and herself a governor of the island of Hawaii for fourteen years. In 1884 King Kalakaua purchased the property as a summer palace, modernizing it by stuccoing the exterior, widening the lanai, applying gingerbread brackets, and plastering the interior rooms. Through the efforts of the Daughters of Hawaii, the Territory of Hawaii acquired the property in 1925, saving it from demolition. Two years later, the house was placed under the care of the Daughters of Hawaii for operation as a museum. The earthquake of October 2006 damaged the interior; in 2009, the building was reopened to the public following restoration of the plasterwork.