“In 1945 Governor Ingram Stainback requested that Director of Institutions, Thomas B. Vance, concentrate his efforts on developing self-supporting prison industries.”
“The industries established had to be almost entirely in noncompetitive fields and organized such that specific responsibilities, in the nature of long or short term contracts, could be given to the prisoners.”
“With that in mind, Kulani Prison Camp opened in 1945 as the successor to Waiakea Prison Camp, operated a lumbering enterprise producing logs and milled lumber of native hardwoods as materials to be processed and sold from Oahu Prison’s industrial area.” (Department of Institutions Summary 1939-1958)
The development of Kulani Camp and its means of access, the Stainback Highway, fell under the management of Vance. (Maly)
“Also established were agricultural, horticultural, and floricultural programs built around temperate zone crops, with the emphasis on crops not grown locally (apples, plums, dahlias, etc.).”
“Kulani … provided a reservoir of manpower for the construction of public roads on Hawaii …. – roads that would have been economically prohibitive if built under contract.” (Department of Institutions Summary 1939-1958)
Vance wanted to build a road to the top of Mauna Loa. (The reason Mr. Vance gave for choosing Mauna Loa was the resources of the Kulani area.)
A road like that didn’t command the funds necessary for ordinary people to do the job. Territorial law did not authorize appropriations for building roads by prison labor, but after some cajoling by Mr. Vance, the legislature allowed him to make labor available to nonprofit community service organizations.
In 1949, Vance went to the Lions Clubs of Hawaii and the Hilo Lions was specifically chartered to build a road to the summit of Mauna Loa. The Lions held their convention in Honolulu in the spring and came up with $300 for the project.
With this amount and other Lions Clubs’ money and some Mr. Vance had collected by selling small lava rocks from the slopes of Mauna Loa for a dollar apiece to anyone coming into his office.
He made nine miles of road above Kulani which became a show place. Contractors kept in contact to find out when a machine operator might be up for release so that they could hire him.
Funds were finally appropriated for building roads on most of the islands by Mr. Vance’s people. Actually, the inmates began to thin out with so many projects and civil service employees of the group, called instructors, not guards, did most of the work, helping with unemployment problems.
The US Secretary of Interior visited Hilo that year. Vance so enthralled him with another scheme he had that it was agreed to. This was the double idea of having short ski runs scrapped out on the lava fields up near the summit and having some of the “wayward boys” brought out of the institutions and given Park Service shirts and hats and have them act as ski guides and teachers when the snow came.
This, he said would restore a sense of purpose to these youths. The ski runs were just leveled off places at about 10,000 feet where one could use anything to slide on the snow like an old piece of roofing metal which was stacked for this purpose nearby. (Ellis)
In 1951, a weather station was set up by the Weather Bureau near the summit of Mauna Loa mountain on the island of Hawaii. An instrumented building was dedicated there as the Mauna Loa Observatory on December 12. (Ellis)
Also in 1951, members of the East Hawaiʻi business community approached Vance with a proposal meant to draw visitors to the Island of Hawaiʻi. The proposal was for the development of the “Gardens of the World Highway.”
As proposed, the highway would ascend the slopes of Mauna Loa, ending at the summit, near Mokuʻāweoweo. The idea was enthusiastically adopted by Vance, and supported by Governor Stainback. (Maly)
“When completed it will enable motorists to travel rapidly from a tropical wonderland through the projected Gardens of the World planned by the Hilo Women’s club, up to the 13,000 foot reaches of Mauna Loa into the atmosphere reminiscent of Lake Placid, NY.”
“Mr Vance said this road will serve two major purposes, each of which encompasses other secondary values. Running to the rim of Mokuaweoweo crater, it will, first of all, open up a winter sports area for the territory. From this would emerge an advertising and promotional value that would add to Hawaii’s fame as a resort area.”
“Ice skaters in grass skirts or snowball fights amid the palms are just fantastic enough to grip the public imagination.”
“But even though they sound unreal, they are in the process of coming to reality.”
“Not that such frivolous activities would in themselves justify the road now being pushed up the side of Mauna Loa on the Big Island.”
“But they will be a couple of the many by-products of the project to heighten tourist interest in the territory.”
“This was the substance if the report by Thomas B Vance, director of territorial institutions, yesterday. Mr Vance appeared before the territorial affairs committee of the Honolulu Chamber of Commerce.” (Star-bulletin, October 18, 1951)
“A garden of the world, to stretch from Hilo to the summit of Mauna Loa, was discussed at the business meeting of the Hilo Woman’s club yesterday afternoon at YWCA activities building.”
“The highly imaginative plan with its practical basis as a big boost to the tourist industry was endorsed by the Woman’s club.”
“A group of citizens, including Mrs Leo Lycurgus, chairman of the Woman’s club outdoor committee, Thomas Vance, head of the department of institutions, and persons interested in both the Kulani project and the beautification of the Hilo area had met informally at Hilo hotel and formulated the idea, which was written for the presentation to the Woman’s club and will be sent to all other civic groups here.”
“The garden, according to the plan, would follow the path the new Mauna Loa highway. Since the climate varies as the highway progresses up the mountain, the plan pointed out that ‘flowers from Argentine to the Arctic could flourish in the various sections of the area.’”
“The soon-to-be-completed Hilo waterfront area would be the base of the world garden while sectors near Hilo and the Panaewa forest reserve could be used for the long-talked-about botanical garden of island flowers.”
“Next would come an area of tropical trees, the flowering plumeria, the purple-budded jacquaranda, and the red African tulip. All these would be interspersed with the lush native tropical jungles which now border the highway. Flowers from temperate and cold climates would be planted at their proper growing levels.”
“Mrs. Lycurgus, who presented the plan to the Woman’s club, explained that ‘while it is a visionary idea which will take years of work before it can be completely realized, the plan for a garden of the world on the Big Island is a possibility.’”
“She said that the labor in planting and upkeep could be partially done by utilizing the prisoners at Kulani. In addition, she pointed out that the Hawaii Vocational school is beginning landscape courses and the training of professional work and set up a new profession on the island.”
“‘The big thing is the impetus such a garden would give us to the tourist industry,” Mrs Lycurgus declared.”
“‘People have gone to visit beautiful gardens all over the world. A great deal of interest would be generated by a long drive in which would be combined all the types of gardens throughout the world.’”
“‘We’ve always complained about the rains of Hilo,’ she continued. ‘Yet this idea offers us an opportunity to harness the fain for our benefit, to make it produce some of the world’s best flowers in the world’s most varied and all-inclusive garden.’” (Hawaii Tribune Herald, March 15, 1951)
Nina Lycurgus subsequently stated that the project was the work of many people and organization, and should not be solely attributed to her.
“I was not the originator of this wonderful Mauna Loa project. For many years the women of Hilo. Always interested in plans for beautifying their city, have supported and sponsored projects for beautification, and this idea for the Mauna Loa gardens is the final result to which many people and organizations have contributed. “
“The Lions club in particular has already started with their silversword gardens on Mauna Loa.” (Nina (Mrs Leo) Lycurgus, Star-bulletin, March 24, 1951)
By 1954, the Territory had spent about $100,000 for the road above 10,000 feet and had not gotten very close to either the “Gardens of the World,” a “snow road,” or a drive in volcano, not to mention the employment opportunities that had been expected. (Ellis)
On June 28, 1956, a larger building at 11,150 feet was dedicated as the Mauna Loa Slope Observatory, which in time became known as the Mauna Loa Observatory.
Mr. Vance was administrator of the Hilo Hospital from 1960 through 1965. He and the Hilo Lions Club were active in supporting the observatory from their strong political base during this period. (Ellis)
They, ultimately, did rough grade a road from Kulani to the top of Mauna Loa; however, “the three-hour ride up the road was enough to shake out what little enthusiasm they might have had.”
A four-mile link to the Saddle Road was made and opened on April 27, 1963. Thereafter, this was the route used to get to the observatory, with the road through Kulani not being used for this purpose anymore.