Born in Mirschikau, Pilsen, Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) July 24, 1860, James Steiner received business training at Frankfort-on-the-Main and moved to the United States in 1881.
“(Steiner) first worked as a bell hop or a waiter someplace in Missouri, someplace in St. Louis, Missouri. Then he met a man that spoke German, like himself, and this man whose name I do not recall since it was not given to me, suggested that he, my father, come out to Hawai‘i and find a place for himself. That’s how he got here.”
“(M)y father came down here (in 1882) and he worked for a restaurant up on Hotel Street just on the ‘Ewa side of the old YMCA. The owner of that restaurant was a Lionel Hart and the restaurant was known as Hart’s Restaurant.”
“It was in this restaurant that my father worked as a waiter and later on he was taken in by Mr. Lionel Hart as a partner. There was one of my brothers named Lionel after this said Lionel Hart. At a later time, the family established a home close to that restaurant.”
“(I)t was there, on that corner or that area there bounded by Adams Lane, Bishop Street, and Hotel Street that ice cream was made here commercially. He was the first one that sold ice cream here commercially.” (Ernest Steiner, Oral History)
A February 15, 1887 ‘Notice’ in the newspaper noted a co-partnership had been formed (Hart & Steiner) and they carried on the Elite Ice Cream Parlors in Honolulu, manufacturing ice cream, Cakes, Candles, Curios and other incidentals. (Daily Bulletin, February 15, 1887)
Steiner was known all over the islands as the “Ice Cream and Candy King.” (Nellist)
“Over a thousand guests recepted the generous hospitality of Hart Co last evening in participating in the opening of their beautiful and handsome ice cream parlors in the Elite building”
“There are very few parlors in the United States that will rival the Elite parlors in beauty refinement of taste or excellence in appointment.” (Independent, November 1, 1900)
“He decided to give up the restaurant business and then he established another business right in that area there and it was known as the Island Curio Company.” (Ernest Steiner, Oral History)
The Island Curio Company was a major producer of postcards. Whether or not the subjects depicted on postcards had originally posed for the photographs that were sources for the cards, once imaged on postcards, these subjects became mass commodities in a visual economy of images that linked Hawai‘i with America and Europe.
From mass production and sale in Hawai‘i, the postcards became individual or private objects for the purchasers and the ultimate recipients. (UH)
They sold more than postcards … “Next to the Bishop Museum, the greatest and best Polynesian collection, is that of the Island Curio Company with its headquarters on Hotel Street, Honolulu … (and) for nearly half a century has been stacking up these native curios from almost every part of the island.” (Mid-Pacific Magazine)
In 1889, Steiner and Rosa Schwarz (from Czechoslovakia) were married in Hawai‘i. They had a family of four boys and one girl .
Steiner pioneered in the purchase and improvement of beach lots at a time when Waikiki was considered too far from the center of Honolulu and only served as a week-end, outing and bathing resort, and selected his property with good judgment and vision for the future. (Nellist)
“(T)hey moved to Waikiki in about 1899. The area there where they moved was on Kalākaua Avenue, just on the ‘Ewa side of what is now known as Kuhio Beach.”
“I don’t think there were any, there was very few other people in the area. There was one prominent Hawaiian family there that lived, oh, within eighty or ninety feet from our place. That was the William Kanakanui family. Mr. Kanakanui was a surveyor and engineer working for the Territory.” (Ernest Steiner, Oral History)
Steiner named his Waikiki home Kaiona “the native word for English ‘mermaid’ and German ‘lorelei,’ the suggestion having come from CL Hopkins, Hawaiian court interpreter.”
“Colonial in style, modified to suit the tropical climate, the house interior contains many innovations in the building craft. Ripley, Reynolds & Davis are the architects, while the Pacific Engineering Co., Ltd., is the builder.” (Star-Bulletin, August 10, 1912) It later became the Halekai Officer’s Club during WWII and later the Sands Nightclub and Restaurant.
“James Steiner is about to retire from the curio business, in which he is one of the local pioneers. Beginning as a clerk in Hart’s ice cream parlors about a quarter of a century ago, Mr. Steiner developed into one of Honolulu’s shrewdest business men.”
“A monument to his enterprise is the Elite block, one of the first three or four modern business structures of Honolulu.” (Hawaiian Star, June 20, 1911)
The three-story brick with terra cotta trimmings building was part of a “New Era of Building in Honolulu” which the 1900 Thrum’s Hawaiian Annual anticipated as “promising to be the handsomest business block in the city, so far.”
He retired from business in 1914 to devote his time to the management and development of his extensive property holdings in Honolulu and Waikiki. Steiner died in 1939.