George Lycurgus (1858–1960) was a Greek American businessman who played an influential role in the early visitor industry of Hawaiʻi.
He was instrumental in the development of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.
In 1893, Lycurgus leased a small guest house on Waikīkī Beach. He expanded it and renamed it the “Sans Souci” (French for “without care” and named after the palace of Frederick the Great in Germany.)
It became one of the first Waikīkī beach resorts (that end of Waikīkī is still called “Sans-Souci Beach.”) Among its guests was Robert Louis Stevenson.
Stevenson wrote in the guest book: “If anyone desires such old-fashioned things as lovely scenery, quiet, pure air, clean sea water, good food, and heavenly sunsets hung out before their eyes over the Pacific and the distant hills of Waianae, I recommend him cordially to the Sans Souci.”
“In 1893 Sans Souci was a rambling hostelry, nestled among the coconut and palm trees of Waikiki Beach. The guests occupied small bungalows, thatched-roof affairs about ten by twelve, the bed being the principal article of furniture.”
“It was in one of these bungalows that Stevenson had established himself, propped up with pillows on the bed in his shirt-sleeves.” Scribner’s Magazine, August, 1926.
By 1898, the Spanish American War had increased American interest in the Pacific. Hawaiʻi was annexed as a territory of the United States and Lycurgus applied for American citizenship.
He opened a restaurant called the Union Grill in Honolulu in 1901. He later invested in a logging venture in 1907 and also bought the Hilo Hotel in 1908.
In 1903, when he returned to Greece to visit his mother, he met and married Athena Geracimos from Sparta. She was probably the first Greek woman in Hawaiʻi.
In December 1904, George and his nephew (Demosthenes Lycurgus) became principal stockholders of the Volcano House Company and took over the management of the Volcano House hotel on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi.
His nephew always introduced him as “Uncle George” to the guests, which earned him his new nickname.
He worked with Lorrin Thurston and others for ten years, starting in 1906, to have the volcano area made into Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.
In January 1912, geologist Thomas Jaggar arrived to investigate the volcano. A building for scientific instruments was built in a small building next to the hotel. Jaggar stayed in Volcano for the next 28 years.
In 1921, George Lycurgus sold the Volcano House to the Inter-Island Steam Navigation Company and moved to Hilo. During the Great Depression the company was going bankrupt and Lycurgus bought it back.
A fire destroyed the hotel in 1940, ironically from a kitchen oil burner, not volcanic activity. Only a few artifacts, such as a koa wood piano, were saved.
At the age of 81, he traveled to Washington, DC to have the construction of the new park headquarters building farther back from the lip of the crater.
That allowed him, in 1941, to build a more modern hotel at the former Hawaiian Volcano Observatory site. He reopened the new Volcano House (designed by notable architect Charles William Dickey.)
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. (The offering of gin became a regular at Volcano after that.)
Uncle George died in 1960 at the age of 101.
The National Park recently announced that Hawaiʻi Volcanoes Lodge Company has been selected to operate the Volcano House Hotel, Nāmakanipaio cabins and campground and other commercial services within Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. The facility is scheduled to reopen in late-2012.
Volcano has been a special place for me.
As a kid, our family often visited Volcano and regularly stayed at the Volcano House. I remember seeing and meeting Uncle George while he was sitting before the continuously-burning fireplace at the Volcano House.
Decades later, I purposefully went to Volcano to plan the formation of my first business; the initial planning was on cocktail napkins at the Volcano House bar (the business succeeded.)
Today, the Young siblings own a house at Volcano our mother built; I used to visit there once a month, but now get back to it less frequently.
The Volcano Art Center Gallery is located in the 1877 Volcano House Hotel (now adjacent to the Volcano Visitor Center) under a cooperative agreement with the National Park Service.