Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison — whostepped downfrom his position as CEO on Sept. 18 — bought a 97% stake in the Hawaiian island of Lanai in 2012. The reported sale price was a jaw-dropping $US300 million.
The transition of ownership has been controversial among residents, as the island has played a number of roles in a fascinating history stretching hundreds of years.
We’ve rounded up some of the most interesting facts you may not have known about this tiny Hawaiian island.
1. Lanai is known as the “Pineapple Island” because it once was home to a plantation that produced 75% of the world’s pineapples.
In 1922, pineapple tycoon James Drummond Dole purchased most of the island of Lanai for $US1.1 million, an enormous sum of money for the time. He plowed the fields, created a harbor, and laid out a small town in the island’s center to house Dole employees. According to the New York Times, the island was exporting 65,000 tons of pineapples a year by 1930.
Production ended in 1992, a few years after ownership of the island had transferred to David Murdock, who had acquired Castle & Cooke and Dole Foods’ holdings in Lanai. Much of Lanai City has retained the vintage feel it acquired when Dole created his company town.
2. Before that, it was owned by sheep-farming Mormons.
Mormons started settling on Lanai in the 1860s, led by a controversial figurehead named Walter Murray Gibson. He built a Mormon colony in the interior of the island, fraudulently paying for the land with the church’s money though he put the titles in his own name. Gibson was later excommunicated, and many Mormons moved to Lai’e, where they built a still-thriving community.
3. According to local Hawaiian legend, Lanai was ruled by the god of nightmares for thousands of years.
Andy Beal Photography / Flickr
The Garden of the Gods, a popular attraction in Lanai.
Legend has it that a teenage chief from Maui was sent to Lanai to be punished for his bad behaviour. In retaliation, he killed the nightmare god who ruled Lanai. Then he lit a fire, which the people in Maui saw and interpreted as a signal that it was safe to come to Lanai.
One of the most popular tourist attractions on Lanai is the Garden of the Gods, an interesting red lava formation in the northern part of the island. Hawaiian legend says that the formations were created by gods who had dropped rocks from the sky while tending their gardens.
4. Lanai is the sixth-largest of the Hawaiian islands, but only about 3,200 people live there.
Most of the population lives in Lanai City, a small collection of buildings in the center of the island. Lanai City is really the only area of the island that can be classified as a town, and many of the island’s businesses are centered around the town square. There’s only one school, Lanai High and Elementary School, where residents attend kindergarten through 12th grade.
5. There are no traffic lights anywhere on the island.
Lanai is, for the most part, 141 square miles of rocky coasts and barren scrub. There’s only a total of 30 miles of roads, and not a single traffic light on the entire island.
6. There are few natural predators on the island, so some animal populations grow unchecked.
travelswithtwo / Flickr
Feral cats find a home at the Lanai Animal Rescue Center.
In one memorable example from an upcoming low-budget documentary on Lanai, French-Canadian filmmaker Henry Jolicoeur visits an animal-rescue shelter that houses up to 380 feral cats. According to an employee at the shelter, the cats have no natural predators on Lanai, so they continue to multiply.
7. Ellison owns a third of all the houses and apartments on the island.
Courtesy of Four Seasons
The Four Seasons at Manele Bay, which Ellison owns.
When Ellison bought 97% of the island in 2012, he took over pretty much everything. That includes small, local businesses — restaurants, shops, galleries, and markets — and large businesses like the two Four Seasons hotels on the island. He owns two golf courses, the community swimming pool, the water company, and a cemetery. He also owns nearly a third of all of the island’s housing. The rest is owned by the government.
8. All public transportation is supplied by the island’s hotels.
Lanai is small enough that there’s no established public transportation system. There’s a ferry that can shuttle visitors between the island and Maui, located just eight miles to the east, but otherwise guests have to rely on cars or hotel vans to get around.
9. Ellison reportedly bought out fellow tech billionaire Bill Gates.
Ellison isn’t the only tech billionaire to have an interest in the island. Bill and Melinda Gates got married here on New Year’s Day in 1994, reportedly during a ceremony that took place on the 17th hole of the Four Seasons’ golf course, which looks out over the Pacific Ocean. The ceremony was so secretive that the couple booked all of the rooms at the hotel to keep reporters from coming. Gates had reportedly expressed interest in purchasing Lanai before Ellison snatched it up.