Demetrios George Camarinos
Honolulu Gazette, Jan. 20, 1903

The Camarinos family was one of the first Greek families to settle in the Hawaiian islands. They were pioneers in exporting fruit from the Hawaiian islands and Australia to California markets. They were the first to install refrigeration containers on sailing vessels in the 1880s. In spite of their brilliant business acumen, they also had a thriving (criminal) opium trafficking business.

The Camarinos family was from Tzintzina, Sparta. The family later relocated to Goritsa. The spelling of the family name in Greek is Kamarinos. However, for the purpose of this article the more commonly known spelling of Camarinos is used.  There were three brothers, Demetrios (1855-1903), Panagiotis (1862-1942), and John, and there were three sisters (Andreou, Chronis, Roumanis families). Their father, George Camarinos, was a grain mill operator in Goritsa. John Camarinos was a mathematics teacher at a gymnasium in Sparta.

Demetrios attended the University of Athens. He was educated to become a priest and gave it up to go into business. He traveled to New York in 1877, and then traveled to San Francisco in 1878.

Demetrios would later recall his first impression of the United States and specifically California in September 1902 speaking before a Senatorial Commission in Honolulu: 

"I am Greek by birth, and since you cannot understand the Greek language I must speak to you in the English language as best I can. Thirty years ago I came to America but finding the Atlantic coast cities filled, came to California. When I reached California, I saw olive and fruit trees, I said, "This is my home. I will go no farther."

After arriving in San Francisco Camarinos recalled:

"A few days after I landed in San Francisco a number of professors from the University of California heard of me, and came to see a live Greek. They asked me to spend Sunday with them. I did. They asked me a few questions about how the old Greeks would look upon American ways today. They asked me what the old Greeks would say to Madame Patti getting $5,000 for an hour's singing and John L. Sullivan getting thousands of dollars in one night for a prize fight. I answered them that in the old days honor was greater than money and in the old days men and women sang and fought for glory, not dollars and cents. In the Olympic Games of ancient Greece the laurel wreath of victory was a thousand times dearer than the thought of wealth."

Camarinos' first job in San Francisco was a dishwasher for a coffee and doughnut restaurant on East Street near Clay.  In 1879, he purchased a fruit store on Sutter & Powell streets from Phillip Mitrovich and lived at 426 Powell street. His younger brother Peter joined him in 1887. The business quickly grew. The brothers had a business idea to start a fruit company in Hawaii and export pineapples and bananas to California markets. Peter traveled to Hawaii in 1888 to set up a business.

On March 25, 1890, Demetrios Camarinos bought the Emerson, Butler, & Co. Fruit Company in San Francisco. He established large depots/stores for his fruit including the store fronts formerly occupied by Emerson, Butler, & Co. at 521-523 Sansome street. His company had packing houses in Acapulco and Southern California. By 1893, Camarinos is running the largest distribution house in San Francisco and occupying all the storefront on Sansome street between Washington and Merchant streets. At the end of the block, the NW corner of Sansome and Merchant streets (currently occupied by the SF fire department),  he is running his restaurant, Sparta Restaurant & Saloon, a popular San Francisco night spot.

Newspaper accounts described Demetrios as a young, charming, a bon-vivant and, at times, a bohemian. His friends gave him the nickname "Cammy." He was very generous and gave to charities.  His business ventures were not always successful and at times he extended credit to individuals or businesses that were high risk and took a loss.

Mitchell (Michael) D. Vanvales, c. 1910
San Francisco Chronicle, January 16, 1915

* Please note the typical spelling of the last name is Vamvalis or Vamvales even though the family used Vanvales in the United States.

Camarinos hired Mitchell (Michael) D. Vanvales (1859-1926). He was from Goritsa, Sparta. His first name was Michael. After arriving in the United States he adopted Mitchell as his first name. He was initially hired as a salesman and later became manager. Some newspaper accounts refer to Vanvales as DG Camarinos' nephew. However, there is no documentation available to suggest they were related. Vanvales would later have a significant role within the Greek community. He served as the president of the Hellenic Mutual Benevolent Society and the Pan-Hellenic Union. He served on the board of trustees to build Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, he frequently spoke on behalf of the Greek community at events, and led fundraising efforts for various causes.

Peter G. Camarinos
San Francisco Call, Feb. 11, 1898

Peter Camarinos established the California Fruit Market on King Street, near Alakea, in Honolulu, and in 1891, established the Pearl City Fruit Company with other Hawaiian-based businessmen.  They were pioneers in exporting pineapples and bananas and other exotic fruits to California markets.  He installed refrigeration containers on ships that can hold up to 2,000 lbs. of fruit. Camarinos transported their own goods to market and allowed other businesses to use their refrigeration containers for a fee. By 1892, Camarinos and John Kidwell were the two largest pineapple growers in Hawaii.

On March 7, 1892, DG Camarinos was appointed acting Greek Consul. He was 36 years old. He succeeded Horatio N. Cook who died October, 1891. On April 7, 1892, he met with members of the Greek community and reorganized the Hellenic Mutual Benevolent Society which had been dormant for many years. Dr. D. Pavlides replaced him as Greek Consul Dec. 2, 1893.

In 1892, DG Camarinos visited Honolulu for the first time for a conference of banana shippers. PG Camarinos was one of the largest exporters of bananas. Mark Robinson, Alexander J. Campbell, and Mr. Marshall were also engaged in the same business. The firm of Campbell, Marshall, & Co., based in the Hawaiian islands, paid DG Camarinos $6,750 so that Camarinos would export bananas only from their firm for ten years.

The End of Hawaiian Monarchy and Annexation

In 1887, a group of sugar planters, local businessmen, and politicians led a movement to overthrow the Hawaiian monarchy which failed. Greeks living on the island did not want annexation by the United States because business would be far more favorable under the Hawaiian monarchy. Peter Camarinos opposed annexation and believed he should fight on behalf of the monarchy.

In 1893, the Hawaiian monarchy ended and Sanford B. Dole was made president of the provisional government of Hawaii. In 1895, the Dole government deported the Camarinos family. The decision was appealed by the Greek government and they were allowed to return.

Legal Troubles

In January 1894, the San Francisco Chronicle published an article stating that DG Camarinos was involved with an opium ring. E. W. McLean, an ex-Chinese interpreter, played a prominent part of the ring and his principal headquarters was the Sparta saloon owned by Camarinos. The article states that Camarinos owned an opium factory in San Francisco that was managed by McLean. The opium was then smuggled into Honolulu.

On Jan. 13, 1894, he sued the SF Chronicle for $100,000 stating the newspaper published an article that he was engaged in the opium trade and owned an opium factory. He said he was financially damaged by the article.

In spite of DG Camarinos' lawsuit and denials, it was commonly known in Hawaii that the Camarinos brothers engaged in opium trafficking. The business was incredibly profitable. In the 1890s, a half pound tin of opium could be purchased in San Francisco for $2.50 to $5 and sold in Honolulu for $10 to $20. This was in an era where the typical monthly salary was $50 per month. There was an instance where the Collector of Customs in Honolulu claimed Peter Camarinos offered one of his employees a $150 bribe. 235 opium tins were confiscated from PG Camarinos' Kalihi ranch.

On Feb. 21, 1894, DG Camarinos was arrested for not paying his liquor license for his restaurant at the 1894 San Francisco MidWinter Fair. He was allowed to pay a fine and was later released.

Bankruptcy

In May 1894, Camarinos declared bankruptcy. In December 1894, he was able to reopen the Sparta restaurant.  In the following year, his health takes a turn for the worse.  Doctors remove a cancerous tumor from the groin (prostate cancer) and he makes a full recovery.

In June 1896, Camarinos was evicted from the Sparta restaurant for unpaid rent. Financial troubles force Camarinos to sell his business and restaurant to Mitchell D. Vanvales.

Peter Camarinos' Mental Illness

As early as 1894 Peter Camarinos started exhibiting signs of erratic behavior. Family and friends thought that he needed some rest and relaxation. DG Camarinos decided to accompany his younger brother on a trip to Greece for some needed rest. Upon returning it is very clear that Peter's illness was far more serious.

-- 1894 Admission to the Mendocino State Hospital for the Insane

We found a record and obtained copies for Panagiotis (commonly translated to Peter) Camarinos, who was admitted to the Mendocino State Hospital for the Insane in Talmage, CA (Mendocino State Hospital no longer exists and the hospital building is currently occupied by a Buddhist temple). Demetrios Camarinos is listed as his guardian in addition to his address in San Francisco. Peter Camarinos age, profession, and place of birth are correct.  He entered the hospital 10/4/1894 and stayed there continuously until he passed away August 22, 1942. We verified that his body was cremated and interred at the Russian River Cemetery District in Ukiah (cremation #1041, case #291).

The 1894 record conflicts with 1897 San Francisco newspaper accounts.

-- 1897 Admission to the Agnews State Insane Asylum

In 1897, the San Francisco Call newspaper reported that DG Camarinos took his brother to California to be examined by doctors. During the trip he had a violent outburst and needed to be restrained.

When Peter arrived in San Francisco he was examined at French Hospital. He was committed to Agnews Insane Asylum in Santa Clara (Agnews no longer exists and was located on land currently occupied by Sun Microsystems. Some of the buildings are still in use.). Peter Camarinos claimed that he was wealthy enough to buy the whole city. He said that when he looked up in the sky he could see angels.  He regarded the small skylights in the sidewalk as Greek letters he could put together in a work for Christ.  He threatened to kill himself numerous times. In July 1897, DG Camarinos was appointed guardian over his younger brother's business affairs and he starts to recover financially from bankruptcy.

The San Francisco Call newspaper reported that on Dec. 8, 1897 Peter G. Camarinos passed away at the Agnews Insane Asylum. He was 36 years old. On Dec. 12, 1897, funeral services were held at the Russian Orthodox Church on Powell, near Filbert. He was interred at the Greek-Russian Cemetery. There were subsequent articles in the San Francisco Call that suggested John Lynn, a person employed to attend to Peter Camarinos' needs may have murdered him.

-- Comparison of the 1894 and 1897 Records

We obtained copies of the Agnews State Insane Asylum record for Peter G. Camarinos and compared it to the 1894 record from the Mendocino State Hospital for the Insane. Both men were the same age, had the same profession and they were from Sparta. DG Camarinos, the older brother, was listed as the guardian for both men. Therefore we have concluded that Peter Camarinos did not die according to the newspaper articles in the San Francisco Call and the actual date of death is August 22, 1942.

Life in Hawaii

In 1897, DG Camarinos permanently relocated to Honolulu to run his younger brother's business. In addition to the fruit export business Camarinos had other business ventures. In April 1898, Camarinos established the "Honolulu Messenger Service" to service the needs of the growing business community. In October 1901, Camarinos opened a cafe which included an ice cream parlor on King & Alakea streets. Also in 1901, he opened the "Primo Beer Saloon" which featured a tropical garden.

In July 1902, he started a banana and pineapple plantation on Hilo.

His Passing

On Jan. 18, 1903, DG Camarinos was sitting at breakfast and he collapsed about 9:45 am from an aneurysm in the heart area. He was 48 years old. His Japanese servant Inouye called for a doctor and by the time he received medical attention he was dead. His nephew George Andrews (Andreou), owner of the Union Grill in Honolulu, was called to his uncle's home. He was interred at Oahu Cemetery in a plot owned by the Grand Army Republic (Union army veterans of the American Civil War). < See gravesite photo >.

His nephew George Andrews was made temporary administrator over his estate. His heirs were his brother John Camarinos and three sisters living in Sparta. On January 31, 1903, Camarinos' store opened under a court appointed administrator.

At the time of his death, Camarinos was working on several projects.  He wanted to create the "Hawaiian and American Commercial and Supply Company" which he intended to incorporate for $50,000. The company would fill grocery and hardware orders for individuals and businesses on Hawaii and on the west coast. Another project was a pineapple and banana plantation on Kona.

In Oct. 1905, the building that housed the Camarinos store on King street near Alakea was ordered vacated for building code violations. In the following year the building was torn down and replaced with a modern structure.

M.D. Vanvales & Co.

M.D. Vanvales & Co Advertisement
San Francisco Call, Dec. 15, 1901

After Mitchell Vanvales purchased the company from Demetrios Camarinos he changed the name to M.D. Vanvales & Co.  The business was moved to 318 Washington Street in 1897.  Vanvales had as many as four employees working for him. Shortly after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, he temporarily moved his business to 513 11th Street, Oakland.  Late 1906, the business was moved to 113-115 Washington Street. In 1909, the business was moved to 340 Washington Street until the business closed in 1915 or 1916. Vanvales moved to Hawaii in 1916 and purchased a home at 745 Kinau Street in Honolulu. Mr. Vanvales passed away in 1926 and he is interred at Oahu Cemetery in Honolulu.

Vanvales married an Irish actress, Mary McEntee, who he met in San Francisco.

The couple had one son, Demosthenes Mitchell, born December 2, 1907.  Demosthenes attended Lowell High School in San Francisco and later Santa Clara University.

1938 Santa Clara University Photograph

Demosthenes married (wife: Katherine - 9/26/1910 - 9/22/1988) and the couple settled in Long Beach, CA. 

If you are a descendant of the Vanvales or Camarinos families or if you have information regarding these families the historical society would like to hear from you. Please send us an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Thank you.

Contents Copyright -- Jim Lucas & Greek Historical Society of the San Francisco Bay Area