After methodically buying up individual parcels, by 1907, Charles Gay, youngest son of Captain Thomas Gay and Jane Sinclair Gay, acquired the island of Lānaʻi (except for about 100-acres.) He was the first to establish the single-ownership model for Lānaʻi (with roughly 89,000 acres.)
Around 1919, Gay experimented with planting pineapple on a small scale. In November 1922 James Dole’s Hawaiian Pineapple Company, Ltd (HAPCo) acquired nearly the entire island and began the subsequent establishment of its pineapple plantation.
HAPCo was incorporated in 1901 by Dole and began its pineapple operations at Wahiawa on the Island of Oahu. Over the next two decades, the company grew in scale and prospered. Production increased from 1,893 cases of canned pineapple in 1903 to over 1,700,000 cases in 1920.
The acquisition of Lānaʻi “means that (the) pineapple business which has grown so rapidly into large proportions may safely grow much further. The future of canned Hawaiian pineapple looms large.” (HAPCo, 25th Anniversary)
Plans for building Lānaʻi City were drawn up in early 1923, as Dole and his partners set out to make Lānaʻi the world’s largest pineapple plantation.
Dole contracted Hawaiian Dredging Co of Honolulu to ‘establish a small town … with suitable water supply, electric lights, sewerage, etc,’ build a harbor with a breakwater and wharf at Kaumālapaʻu, and a road from there to the site of the new city. (HABS)
Dole had originally proposed that his main town on Lānaʻi be named Pine City. He preferred this name for the town as a shortened version of Pineapple City.
When the US Postal service began to set up postal operations there, it informed HAPCo that it would not allow the use of the name Pine City (apparently that name was already over-used on the US mainland). The main town was instead named Lānaʻi City. (HAPCo, 25th Anniversary)
With Hawaiian Dredging Co. contracted to build much of the infrastructure, it fell to HAPCo engineers to formulate the design of the new city’s layout and its buildings. For this task they turned to HAPCo plantation engineer David E Root and his assistant James T Munro.
Root was plantation engineer for HAPCo on Lānaʻi from 1923 to 1926. HAPCo hired Munro in 1923 to assist Root by taking charge of the ‘development and operation of the water system and other responsibilities.’ In 1926 Munro took over as plantation engineer, a position he held until 1939 when he was transferred to the Honolulu office.
Building construction in Lānaʻi City began in 1923 using Japanese work crews under the direction of Kikuichi Honda, who was a contractor on Maui before coming to Lānaʻi City to work for HAPCo.
Honda and his crew worked on buildings (mostly residences) into 1924. Honda left Lānaʻi in mid-1924 for reasons unknown and did not return to do any more construction work.
In his stead, he appointed a member of his 1923-24 construction crew, Masaru Takaki as the crew leader for building on Lānaʻi. Takaki directed building from 1924-1929. (HABS)
“Lānaʻi is about 60 miles from the cannery. So we needed a harbor. By cutting away the cliffs on one side, running a heavy breakwater into the ocean on the other and then dredging, we got it.”
“Then a road for heavy trucking – seven miles back and 1600 feet up into the island. That was built. Water was brought across the mountain range on the windward side of the island to a reservoir near the town.”
“A city was needed where laboring families and overseers could live happily. Lānaʻi City stands (as) a model community of its kind – population already past 1,000 and complete even to stores, bank, schools, hospital, Buddhist temple, ‘movies’ and ‘Mayor!’”
“The island is completely organized and is in daily touch with the cannery by radio telephone.” (HAPCo, 25th Anniversary) (Lānaʻi City would ultimately house about 3,000 HAPCo employees and their families.)
Under Dole’s tenure, the Lānaʻi plantation and city grew, and at one time the island supported nearly 20,000 acres of cultivated pineapple, making it the world’s largest plantation.
Lānaʻi City blossomed upon the landscape; most of the buildings and streets which we still see today were constructed during this short period.
By March 1924, the general layout of Lānaʻi City was established and some 40 buildings—many of which remain in the present-day Lānaʻi City—were built or were under construction.
In the early years of the plantation, the largest group of immigrant laborers was made up of skilled Japanese carpenters and stone masons. Their initial work was undertaken on an almost barren landscape, overgrazed by years of sheep, goat, and cattle pasturing.
Lānaʻi City was the first planned community in the Territory of Hawaii and today is the last intact plantation town in Maui County.
It was laid out and built using the contemporary principles of the Garden City planning concept developed in the 1890s and adopted in the 1920s by the HSPA.
This was a rejection of the model of worker housing as an industrial slum. It embraced the idea that a well planned and laid out city in the midst of a greenbelt with open spaces and tree-lined streets was more conducive to worker productivity.
For seventy years, from 1922 to 1992 when the last harvest took place, the name “Lānaʻi” was synonymous with pineapple.
Early photographs of Lānaʻi City do not show it to be appreciably superior to other, contemporaneous plantation towns.
However, the wide streets and commodious-looking structures eventually enhanced by thousands of Norfolk pine trees make Lānaʻi City now one of the handsomest small towns in Hawaii. (HABS) (Lots of information here is from Lānaʻi Culture & Heritage Center, HABS and HAPCo 25th Anniversary.)