Recent History of Lana’i
Lana’i, the sixth largest of the Hawaiian Islands, is owned by one individual. Ok, not the entire island, just 98% of it… This has always fascinated me. How can an individual own an island with a population of approximately 3000 people? Briefly, this is how I understand the chain of events as explained by numerous residents we have visited with over the years.
In the 1920’s, James Dole, owner of what ended up being Dole Food Company, purchased the entire island. Anywhere that pineapple could be grown, it was. Everyone living on the island was involved in the pineapple growing industry in one form or another.
In 1985, David Murdock acquired 98% of the island during a business deal that included Dole Food Company. The other 2% is now owned by the state. Mr. Murdock was also the largest shareholder in Occidental Petroleum. Most of you may also know it better as Oxy.
The pineapple industry in Hawaii diminished as it became less expensive to grow in other parts of the world. The resilient residents of Lana’i who had been working on the world’s largest pineapple plantation for generations, suddenly became construction workers. The two Four Seasons Resorts found on Lana’i were built by the hands of the residents of Lana’i. The resorts opened in or around 1991. Once the construction was complete, the residents were quickly transitioned into some of the best hospitality employees that the world has ever experienced.
Up until the time the Four Seasons Resorts opened, the only hotel on the island was the Hotel Lanai. It was built while James Dole was there to house his guests and business associates who came to visit the island. There was really no tourism on the island prior to 1991.
In June 2012, Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle Corporation, purchased Mr. Murdock’s share of the island. This was AFTER we had already found and fallen in love with the island. Mr. Ellison has big plans for the island. He plans to make the island self-sustaining, transition to electric cars and build a desalination plant among many other projects.
A few days ago, while we were on Lana’i, we noticed only subtle but positive changes thus far. The main difference is the redecorating of the public areas in both resorts and a handful of silver Mercedes that weren’t there before.
Hopefully the changes will continue to be subtle, respect the history and culture of the land and benefit the residents of the island. Only time will tell.
Disclaimer: By including only the recent history of Lana’i, I in no way meant any disrespect to the deeper history of Lana’i or the Hawaiian Islands in general. Be sure to visit the Lana’i Culture & Heritage Center for a more complete look at Lana’i’s history.