George Lycurgus (1858–1960) was a Greek American businessman who played an influential role in the early tourist industry of Hawaii. He ran afoul of the government of the Republic of Hawaii and was accused of treason. Later he was instrumental in the development of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
He was born in 1858 in Vasara (near Sparta, Greece). In 1877 he traveled in steerage class to New York, New York, and worked his way across the country. A relative convinced him to join a wholesale fruit business trading between Hawaii and California in 1881. In San Francisco, California he shipped California produce and wine to his cousin in Honolulu, who shipped Hawaiian bananas to the mainland. He became friends with Claus Spreckels, whose family owned the Oceanic Steamship Company and a sugar cane business in Hawaii. In 1889 he was supervising shipment being loaded at the docks, when some of the Spreckels family invited him on board for a poker game. By the time he noticed, the ship was on its way across the Pacific. He spent only a week in Hawaii, but must have enjoyed the stay, since he took more trips and spent more time on the islands.
In 1892 he sent for his nephew Demosthenes Lycurgus, who would help him manage his Hawaiian enterprises. Along with other recent immigrants, he formed the Pearl City Fruit Company. Their competition was the Hawaiian Fruit and Packing Company, owned by established descendants of American missionaries such as Lorrin A. Thurston, who was also a powerful politician. Eventually he would sell his restaurant in San Francisco and move to the islands.
Sans Souci Hotel circa 1893
Lycurgus leased the small guest house of Allen Herbert in 1893 on Waikīkī beach in Honolulu. He expanded it and renamed it the "Sans Souci" (French for "without care") for the Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam. It became one of the first beach resorts and the area at coordinates 21°15′49″N 157°49′17″W is still called "Sans Souci Beach". Celebrities such as Robert Lewis Stevenson stayed there on his second trip later that year, and it became a popular destination for tourists from the mainland.
In 1894 Lycurgus made his first trip to the Kīlauea volcano with Admiral Royal R. Ingersoll, sailing to Hilo aboard the USS Philadelphia. The volcano impressed him and he took note of the future possible business opportunities.
A friendship had evolved between Lycurgus and the Hawaiian royal Kalākaua family, who were regulars at his resorts. This earned him the nickname "Duke of Sparta". Despite being a commoner, he felt more comfortable with monarchy than the Americans.
In 1893, after the death of Kalākaua, Thurston and other Americans led the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii and declared a Republic of Hawaii, hoping to join the United States of America. The new government, controlled by conservative missionaries, fined Lycurgus for selling liquor at his resort. Lycurgus hired a band of Hawaiians who played music honoring Queen Liliʻuokalani instead of the Star Spangled Banner.
After the failed 1895 counter-revolution, he was accused of smuggling guns to the Royalists. Several leaders had meetings in the Sans Souci hotel. By January 20 the leaders were all captured. Lycurgus was arrested, charged with treason, spent 52 days in jail, but was never tried.
By 1898, the Spanish American War had increased American interest in the Pacific. He entertained press correspondents on their way to the Philippines at his Sans Souci hotel. Hawaii was annexed as a territory of the United States that year and the practical Lycurgus applied for American citizenship.
He opened a restaurant called the Union Grill in Honolulu in 1901 and would hold "Jailbirds of 1895" nights which were not popular with the new government. He phased out of the politics of Honolulu over the next few years. Lycurgus invested in a logging venture in 1907, and bought the Hilo Hotel from John D. Spreckels in 1908.
In 1903, when he returned to Greece to visit his mother, he met and married Athena Geracimos from Sparta, the second of nine children. She was probably the first Greek woman in Hawaii.
Demosthenes Lycurgus in Volcano House, 1908
In December 1904, George and Demosthenes Lycurgus became principal stockholders of the Volcano House Company and took over the management of the Volcano House hotel on the more remote Big Island of Hawaii. His nephew Demosthenes always introduced him as "Uncle George" to the guests, which earned him his new nickname.
Kīlauea had been inactive for almost a year, but Lycurgus had other enterprises to keep himself afloat. Two months after the Lycurguses acquired the business, the volcano erupted.
He eventually made peace with Lorrin Thurston, who worked with him for ten years, starting in 1906, to have the volcano area made into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. However, the Lycurgus family kept a shrine to deposed Queen Liliʻuokalani at the Volcano House and related the legends of Ancient Hawaii to the visitors. Prayers were made to the fire goddess Pele, said to live in Kīlauea, to provide spectacular eruptions. They were better for business.
In January 1912, geologist Thomas Jagger arrived to investigate the volcano. The Lycurgus family raised money to build a small building next to the hotel for scientific instruments. By February 1912 construction was begun on the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Jaggar resided there the next 28 years, often giving scientific talks to guests at the hotel.
While visiting Greece in 1914, World War I prevented him from returning. In 1919, Demosthenes Lycurgus traveled to Athens to marry Maria Yatrakos, but died of influenza within a week of his wedding in the 1918 flu pandemic. Finally George was able to return to Hawaii in 1920 with his sister-in-law Poppy Detor.
In 1921 George Lycurgus sold the Volcano House and moved to Hilo, Hawaii. The Inter-Island Steam Navigation Company bought the property and invested $150,000 into expanding it.
In 1932 during the Great Depression the Inter-Island Steam Navigation Company was going bankrupt after expanding the Volcano House to 115 rooms. Lycurgus bought it back for $300 in a receivership sale, but very few guests showed up until an eruption in 1934. He started the tradition of tossing gin bottles into the volcano, a practice certainly not approved by park officials.
The Volcano House hotel c. 1912
In 1937 his wife Athena died of cancer in Hilo. A fire destroyed the hotel in 1940, ironically from a kitchen oil burner, not volcanic lava. Only a few artifacts, such as a koa wood piano were saved. Embers from the fire were taken to the 1877 Volcano House building to claim the fireplace had burned continuously. The old structure was used again for guests; it now houses the Volcano Art Center.
At the age of 81, he traveled to Washington, D.C. and convinced influential friends, many of whom (including Franklin D. Roosevelt) had stayed in the Volcano House, to assign the Civilian Conservation Corps to construct a park headquarters building farther back from the cliff. That allowed him to build a more modern hotel at the former Hawaiian Volcano Observatory site. He reopened the new Volcano House (designed by Charles William Dickey) by November 1941.
After another eruption in 1952, at the age of 93, he arranged a publicity stunt involving riding a horse to the rim of the erupting vent and tossing in his ceremonial bottle of gin. Despite the efforts of park officials, the event went off as planned, pleasing the spectators and the press. The Volcano House was renovated and expanded again in 1953. He died in 1960 at the age of 101.
Harry Miller Blickhahn (1961). Uncle George of Kilauea: The Story of George Lycurgus. Volcano House.
^ a b Helen G. Chapin (1979). "From Sparta to Spencer Street: Greek Women in Hawai'i". Hawaiian Journal of History 13. hdl:10524/561.
^ a b c d e Helen G. Chapin (1981). "The Queen's "Greek Artillery Fire": Greek Royalists in the Hawaiian Revolution and Counterrevolution". Hawaiian Journal of History 15. hdl:10524/422.
^ Ralph S. Kuykendall (June 1967). Hawaiian Kingdom 1874-1893, the Kalakaua Dynasty. University of Hawaii Press. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-87022-433-1.
^ "Sans Souci Beach Park (Waikiki)". Official web site of City and County of Honolulu. Retrieved November 27, 2010.
^ M. Winslow Chapman (1985). "When Halley's Comet Came: Letters of Anne Goodwin Winslow 1908-1911". Hawaiian Journal of History 19. hdl:10524/397.
^ a b c d "The Volcano House". Hawaii Nature Notes (National Park Service) 5 (2). 1953.
^ Albertine Loomis (1979). "The Summer of 1898". Hawaiian Journal of History 13. hdl:10524/212.
^ "Jaggar, Dean of Pacific Volcanologists". Hawaii Nature Notes (National Park Service) 5 (2). 1953.
^ Lynda Arakawa (July 2, 2006). "George Lycurgus". Honolulu Advertiser. Retrieved June 27, 2009.
^ "History". Volcano House Hotel official web site. Retrieved 2009-07-10.
^ "Buildings and Facilities". United States Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Retrieved 2009-07-10.
^ J. Meredith Neil (1975). "The Architecture of C. W. Dickey in Hawaii". Hawaiian Journal of History (Hawaiian Historical Society) 9. hdl:10524/210.
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