“(I)n 1893, a placard was discovered hanging on one of the now padlocked gates of the property, the warning consisting of a skull and cross-bones, across which, written in red ink, were the words …”
“’Gold and Silver Cannot Stop Lead.’”
“This, added to the chagrin of being thwarted politically, resulted in the departure on the next Oceanic liner to leave for San Francisco of the whole Spreckels family.” (Advertiser, December 27, 1893) He vowed “not to return until Lili‘uokalani was seated upon the throne”. (Advertiser, April 3, 1904)
“Claus Spreckels, the Sugar King,… was for many years, intimately connected with the political and industrial history of Hawaii.”
“He was … connected in many important ways with the commercial and industrial life of the Islands, and he had, during the thirty-two years since he first extended his interest to the Mid-Pacific, rendered great services to the leading industry of this Territory.” (Hawaiian Gazette, December 29, 1908)
The career of the “sugar king” of California, Hawaiʻi and the American West consisted of building and breaking monopolies in sugar, transport, gas, electricity, real estate, newspapers, banks and breweries.
His first business venture was beer brewing, founding the Albany Brewery, together with his brother Peter Spreckels and Claus Mangels, among others; it was the first large-scale producer of beer in San Francisco.
He sold his beer operation in 1863 and switched to sugar, starting the Bay Sugar Refining Company. After selling that, he constructed the California Sugar Refinery in 1867 to process sugar, introducing the European process of packaging granulated sugar and sugar cubes (so customers could more easily divide the portions.)
In 1878, through his friendship with King Kalākaua, Claus Spreckels secured a lease of 40,000-acres of land on Maui and by 1882 he acquired the fee simple title to the Wailuku ahupuaʻa. He then founded the Hawaiian Commercial Company, which quickly became the largest and best-equipped sugar plantation in the islands.
Needing transportation to move his Hawaiʻi sugar for refining on the continent, his sons formed JD Spreckels & Bros. shipping line in 1879, which was incorporated as the Oceanic Steamship Company in 1881. (It became a subsidiary of Matson in 1926.)
It was the first line to offer regular service between Honolulu and San Francisco, and his sons managed to reduce travel time immensely. While the sailing ship Claus Spreckels made a record run of less than ten days in 1879, by 1883 the new steam vessel Mariposa needed less than six days.
Claus Spreckels was a controversial figure. For friends, he was a man “with a fine presence, an open, pleasant countenance and a cheerful word for everybody.” Others, however, characterized him as impatient, implacable and ruthless, driven by “Dutch obstinacy.” (Spiekermann)
Hawaiʻi served as only one of the venues for the Spreckels holdings. During the 1880s and early 1890s, he bought and built up several blocks of office buildings in San Francisco.
Back in the Islands, “Claus Spreckels was advocating the restoration of the monarchy, after the formation of the Provisional Government in 1893. He was a warm Royalist, and some one suggested in a joking manner that it would help the cause if Spreckels was put out of the way.”
“The sugar magnate heard the story and became alarmed at the threat. His alarm was intensified a few days later when, coming out of the gate of his Punahou street residence, he found a warning signal staring him in the face.” (Advertiser, April 3, 1904)
“In leaving Honolulu as he did, Mr Spreckels demonstrated his own faith in the belief that the condition he named for his return might be some day met with, by simply closing up his beautiful mansion on Punahou street and refusing to either sell or lease it.”
“The house has been opened since that time, however, once on the occasion of a visit here of his son, John D Spreckels, and later, a few years ago, when the Sugar King and his wife returned to pay a visit to Honolulu.”
“The mansion, erected on a tract of Punahou property purchased from O‘ahu College (Punahou,) was for many years the finest private residence in the city, being the only second to that of the King’s palace.”
“For years, until the hundreds of palms and other trees set out by the owner grew so as to practically hide the residence, the white three-story house of the Sugar King was one of the things pointed out to, tourists as a Honolulu landmark.” (Advertiser, December 27, 1893)
This wasn’t Spreckels’ only mansion, “Claus Spreckels has just bought a large block pf property on the swell part of Van Ness avenue and intends to build a magnificent mansion there (in San Francisco.)”
“Every one who knows Mr. Spreckels knows that he has long been casting his eye on Van Ness avenue with a view to buying a fine place of residence property.”
“It has taken him a long time to make up his mind, but he has made it up now, and as a result frontage on the owns the largest avenue of any property owner from Market to Union, and where ex-Alcalde Burr has blocked the march of progress.”
“When Mr. Spreckels does a thing he does it – and that’s what has happened in this case. He has gone in for residence property on Van Ness avenue, and has gone in for it heavily.” (Hawaii Holomua, January 11, 1894)
“One of the most valuable holdings, apart from the Claus Spreckels building, at Third and Market streets, is the family mansion at Van Ness avenue and Clay street.”
The Punahou mansion, two stories with cupola, frescoed ceilings and stained glass windows, was later purchased by Jonah Kumalae (businessman, politician and ukulele manufacturer,) who dismantled the three-story structure by sections in order to move it from Punahou Street to Mōʻiliʻili, where it was reassembled on Isenberg Street. (SB)
The St. Louis Alumni Association purchased the Kumalae home in June 1937. It was named Dreier Manor, in honor of philanthropist August Dreier, who founded Oahu Ice & Cold Storage Co. (SB) It then served as the St. Louis Alumni Clubhouse until it accidentally burned in 1954. (Mitchell)
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