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Earlier Times - Sans Souci History

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Sans Souci, at the Diamond Head end of Waikiki ... with its sparkling blue surf and white sand beach ... has long been one of the best known resorts in Hawaii. At the base of Diamond Head, where the land thrusts out from the curve of Waikiki, Sans Souci is a favorite spot for swimming or surfing out beyond the reef. After the winter sun sets as a "green flash" beyond the horizon, torch fishermen wade through its waters for red weke and shimmering blue-green papio hidden in coral crevices. Or when the later summer sun sets beyond the Waianae range, one may listen to the rolling surf, seen as glowing tubes of phosphorous on a calm moonlit night.

When Hawaii was a 19th century Polynesian kingdom, Waikiki (which means “bubbling fresh water springs”) was the scene of history-making events, as well as a vacation resort for the royalty of Hawaii. Here, Kahekili, King of Oahu, died in 1794. And even earlier at Waikiki, powerful Kamehameha I landed his army in war canoes to conquer Oahu and unite the islands in 1793... (skulls of the defeated were unearthed here during the excavation for the foundation of the present Sans Souci). Kings and queens and their chiefs would leave the rigors of life in Honolulu and spend carefree days along Waikiki shores, swimming and surfing. The names of their favorite surfing spots have come down to us today – King’s Surf and Queen’s Surf.

In the old days, all the land belonged to the King, and the chiefs of Hawaii were granted the use of ahupua’a where their people could dwell. The ahupua’a was a tract of land stretching from the mountains, down through the fertile valleys, to the sea. Their community was complete, for the Hawaiians could catch their fish from the abundant sea, graze their livestock on its gentle slopes, and plant taro and bananas in the green valleys.

Sans Souci is a portion of land anciently known as the fisheries of Kapua in the ili'aina of Kekio of the ahupua’a of Palolo. In 1823 Liholiho, Kamehameha II, granted the ili'aina of Kekio to a member of his court, Chief Iona Pehu and his wife Ke’ekapu. Today their lands would run from the ocean up through Kapiolani Park, around Diamond Head and to the crest of the mountains above Palolo Valley.

Pehu’s possession was confirmed under the Great Mahele of 1848, when all land was recorded for the first time, by Kauikea'ouli, King Kamehameha III. History recorded this notation in the Book of Great Division: “The Ili'aina of Kekio, a portion of land in Waikiki: 'I hereby agree to this division. It is good. The lands herein-above mentioned are Pehu’s.’ Signed, Kamehameha III.”

The lands must have been good, for Pehu and Ke'ekapu lived there many years. Pehu was alert to anyone trying to take the land of his people from him, for in 1850 he wrote to Kamehameha III and said “... My ears have been bothered of hearing frequently that some persons who desire a kula are going to you, which is my kula, situate from Leahi to junction with Waiomao, which kula belongs to Kekio, Ili'aina in Waikiki, which was my division from you ...” The King was just, for the lands of Kekio remained in Pehu’s possession.

Ke'ekapu also wrote to the King to protect the fish at Kapua fishery for their people. In 1852 , she wrote, “I, Ke'ekapu, inform you of the prohibited fish of my land. Kekio, Iliaina at Waikiki, the anae (mullet) full of fish eggs is the prohibited fish there. That is what I let you know, Your Highness, for you to give notice through the Government press. I am, your maidservant, with everlasting love to you.”

Pehu’s descendants lived on the lands for nearly a century. They were willed to D.W. Pauahi who, in 1877, sold 15 acres to Edward Townsend O’Halleran. This land stretched from the foot of Diamond Head, across Kapiolani Park, and to the sea.

Then in 1884, Allan Herbert, who has been described as “a man of wealth and an enthusiastic student of botany and agriculture,” bought several acres of the land fronting on the ocean. It was situated next door to the fabulous McInerny home and estate (founder of the nearly 150-year-old McInerny retail stores), which is where the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel now stands. Herbert was “determined to open his premises at Kapiolani Park as a family resort and watering place.” Sans Souci – the name meaning “without care” and borne by the Potsdam palace of Frederick the Great – became the show place of Waikiki.

"in 1893, that first famous Waikiki hotel opened. George Lycurgus, from Sparta, Greece, leased Herbert’s premises, renamed the hotel “Sans Souci,” or without care, and turned it into an internationally known resort to which visitors like the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson were attracted." The beach in front of the Alfred Mitchell house in 1886, showing the old keawe tree which still existed until 1959. Note the original railing fronting the MacInerny Estate (now the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel Lanai Restaurant). The substantial residence in the background belonged to William Irwin and is where the 1927 World War I Memorial Natatorium now stands.

In 1889, Robert Louis Stevenson arrived in Hawaii on the chartered schooner yacht from San Francisco “Casco”, following a trip through the South Pacific. With him were his wife, his step-son and step-daughter, and his mother. He stayed at Waikiki, working on his novel “The Master of Allantrai.” When he was not writing, Stevenson enjoyed visiting with his various neighbors in the Waikiki area. At “Ainahau,” the Hon. A.S. Cleghorn home, he spent many happy hours under the banyan tree with their daughter, little Princess Kaiulani. Stevenson wrote a lovely poem to her which is still well remembered. It was during this visit that he became acquainted with Allan Herbert and spent many an evening on the lanai overlooking the ocean at Sans Souci.

Another of his friends and neighbors was King Kalakaua, who also had a beach cottage in Waikiki. The King had recognized a growing restlessness with his government, and hoped to enlist Stevenson as an articulate partisan of the Monarchy. Stevenson was sympathetic, but he did not actively enter Hawaiian politics. He did, however, enjoy a number of social occasions with the King. At one, Stevenson was treated to his first taste of luau dog, a great delicacy of former days. The dogs used for luaus were no scrawny strays, but animals specially fattened and pampered for this ultimate purpose.

Kalakaua died in 1891 and was succeeded by his sister, Liliuokalani. By the time that Stevenson returned to Hawaii in September, 1893, Liliuokalani had been overthrown in a bloodless revolution, and a provisional government, which later developed into a Republic, had been established. On the night of January 6, 1895 Royalists hoping to restore the monarchy smuggled in guns at Sans Souci. George Lycurgus, Prince Jonah Kuhio, Henry Bertlemann and 150 Royalists gathered to revolt. But when word of their plans reached the sheriff, he sent the Republican militia to catch the rebels. After an exchange of shots, the battle shifted to the slopes of Diamond Head. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Royalists fled to Palolo and Manoa, and 2 days later surrendered. Two Royalists died and 200 supporters of the Queen were arrested. Prince Jonah Kuhio and George Lycurgus went to prison , and the Queen was placed under house arrest for several months. Sans Souci became a victim as well, and went out of business as a hotel. Out of the frying pan, Greek-born Lycurgus ended up on the Big Island of Hawai'i, where he jumped into the fire, taking over the Volcano House.

A photo from the late 1800's, taken from the hau tree lanai fronting the beach side of the MacInerny Estate, shows the original Sans Souci pier faintly in the background.

Shortly after Stevenson’s first visit, Herbert sold Sans Souci to Judge Francis March Hatch, the Hawaiian minister to Washington. Herbert still retained a part of the land where he built another home. In 1893, Judge Hatch leased his property to George Lycurgus who opened Sans Souci and made guests welcome on its broad lanai as one of the first hotels in Hawaii.

New signs of the times were traffic, electrically lighted streets, an extensive telephone system which reached to the other side of the island, and five cents to take you anywhere in the outlying suburbs on the mule-drawn tramcars. At Waikiki, away from the city, Stevenson would find the seclusion he needed and desired. It was natural that he should settle down at Sans Souci among his friends.

Allen Hutchinson, who sculptured a bust of Stevenson, wrote a description of Sans Souci at that time: “It was in one of the rambling bungalows of Sans Souci, facing the surf, that Stevenson gave me sittings. In 1893, Sans Souci was a rambling hostelry, nestled among the coconut and palm trees of Waikiki beach. It was kept by an Englishman named Simpson, and was truly Bohemian, with no pretense at modern luxury; the only hotel I can remember. The main building was a ramshackle wooden structure, a huge room which served as lounge and dining room combined, called ‘lanai,’ to which the kitchen and offices were attached. The guests occupied small bungalows, thatched roof affairs about 10 by 12, 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.”

Mr. T. A. Simpson, the hotel manager, also set down a number of his recollections about Stevenson, and among them were these remarks: “.... Sometimes, during the heat of the afternoon, he would entertain those with whom he had grown familiar, seated upon the grass at Sans Souci, under the shade of a great umbrella-like tree (the banyan), where the guests had the benefit of the light trades that come over the mountain range beyond. Here they would lie in a group around the novelist, and talk on any subject that came to mind; and at no other time was Stevenson found more entertaining ...”

Although Stevenson was plagued by illness, there are many indications that his love of life reached its peak in Hawaii. His many friends and their great appreciation of his genius created a climate congenial to his artistic development and growth. When he left Hawaii to return to “Vailima” in Tahiti, the last words he wrote in the Islands were these in the hotel register:

“If anyone desires such old fashioned things as lovely scenery, quiet, pure air, clear sea water, good food, and heavenly sunsets hung out before his eyes over the Pacific and the distant hills of Waianae, I recommend him cordially to the Sans Souci.”

The Sans Souci in 1902. "The beau ideal of a summer resort", Paradise of the Pacific proclaimed, "there is no place on earth to which memory will revert with more pleasurable recollections than this tree-embowered, sun-kissed haven of rest at Waikiki."

Sans Souci later became the home of Mr. And Mrs. Alexander G. Hawes, Jr.. During their occupancy, Sans Souci was again briefly in the news when the Pacific cable was laid and a portion of the property was purchased as the site for bringing it ashore. This was a sensational development, for this was Hawaii’s first direct link with the rest of the world. (As Ruth Willbrandt witnessed the Pearl Harbor bombing from Tantalus when she went to pick up her girlfriend for church, her main concern was that an invasion by the Japanese through this most important channel could destroy Hawaii communications and put Sans Souci in the direct path of invasion.) The opening of the cable was a particularly gala event, and Sans Souci was thronged with thousands who attended the all-day open house. With technological development, the historic cable was finally abandoned a few years before the Sans Souci Co-operative Apartment Building was constructed.

During World War I, the property was purchased by Mr. And Mrs. Charles Hartwell. They decided to build a new home on the site but wanted to retain the charm of old Sans Souci. The new building was designed to open out to the twisting hau trees along the shore and curved in an “L” shape around the giant banyan in the garden. The koa wood flooring of the first Sans Souci was left “for sentimental reasons” under the site of the new building. Throughout the grounds new guest residences took the place of the thatch-roofed shacks of Stevenson’s time.

Below you can still see the pillars from the original 1902 Sans Souci in this view from the pier.

Literally translated 'without care,' Sans Souci was the name of Frederick the Great's Potsdam Palace. The Charles J. Hartwell family razed the original Sans Souci, replacing it in 1927 with this house which served as the residence and boarding house which Ruth Willbrandt owned and operated until 1960. It then yielded to the fifteen story cooperative apartment building which stands there today.

During the 1930's Mrs. Ruth Willbrandt purchased the property in two pieces, while she was working for RCA. She operated Sans Souci as a rooming and boarding house called "Sans Souci Inn." Through the war years she used the huge lounge area (which had a 20 foot ceiling and large fireplace made of imported Italian marble) as a dining room with a restaurant, where she did the cooking for all the tenants. She also did the laundry and cleaning for over 20 of her long term tenants. After the war she adopted her daughters, first Manya and then Tanya,(both of whom she adopted at birth from Kapiolani Hospital).

In the late 1940's she had the foresight to convert the lounge area into several larger apartments, including her own with a large lanai fronting the ocean. At the same time she was raising her 2 daughters as a single mother.

Sans Souci retained its great charm for the many people who lived there, most of whom were long-term tenants. The expression “you weren’t anybody until you had lived at Sans Souci” gained meaning, as many well known personalities resided there. Such people at wrestler Lucky Stipanovich, T.V. personality Kini Popo, and the famous first Tahitian dancers in Honolulu, the 3 Frisby sisters, added to the lore of Sans Souci.

With the large influx of people from all over the world, shortly after Statehood in 1959, she leased the property to developers to build the current Sans Souci Co-operative apartment building.

The existing Sans Souci was built in 1960. Notice the Kaimana
(New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel) was not a high rise at this time;
nor were the neighboring high rises on the other side built yet.

The golden sun and sandy beach of Chief Pehu’s time has turned into the Gold Coast of Hawaii with towering buildings stretching out along its shores. The city of Honolulu, no longer “three miles distant” has swept to and past the historic site. Yet the clear sea water, the heavenly sunsets and the distant hills of Waianae that so enchanted Stevenson, remain part of the charm of Sans Souci. The great banyan tree, under which Stevenson would entertain his friends (now grown even greater with age), remains as a memory of the great novelist.

Sans Souci retains its magic still, and the newest Sans Souci, rising amid the memories of the old, is a magnificent modern complement to its lovely setting and historic traditions.

Compiled by Manya Vogrig with
Excerpts from May, 1960
Sans Souci Apartments brochure & "Waikiki - In the Wake of Dreams"

"If anyone desires such old fashioned things as lovely scenery, quiet, pure air, clear sea water... and heavenly sunsets hung out before his eyes over the Pacific and the distant hills of Waianae, I recommend him cordially to the Sans Souci."
Robert Lewis Stevenson

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