Ala Moana Center Turns 60!

Ala Moana Center Turns 60!

Posted by Hawaiian Isles on 11/26/2019 to Best of Hawaii
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Ala Moana Center Turns 60!

Learn how the Center has transformed over time into a shopper's paradise.

When Ala Moana held its grand opening on Aug. 13, 1959, Hawaii wasn’t even a state yet. That latter milestone followed eight days later when it was officially admitted as the 50th state of the union.

Opening with 680,000sf of retail space, the center was lauded as the largest shopping mall in the United States. Today, it maintains status as world’s largest open-air shopping center with 2.4 million square feet of retail space that features more than 350 outlets that include 160-plus dining options.  

Fun Facts about the 60-year-old Ala Moana Center

Ownership of the land where the Ala Moana Shoping Center now sits was passed down through the Hawaiian Royal Family. After the death of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, Bishop Estate put the property up for sale.

There were no buyers when the land was eventually put up for sale after Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop passed away 10 1884 because it was a mosquito filled swamp, the city used as a garbage dump and it was considered to be a health hazard.

"Maybe it'll be worth something someday" was Walter F Dillingham's reply when he was asked why he purchased the 52 acre parcel of swampland for $25,000 in 1912.

Walter Dillingham was also the founder of the Hawaiian Dredging Company. He used the dredging equipment to fill the wetlands in with coral and sand that was dredged up from nearby dredging projects. (It had to go somewhere)  Some of Hawaiian Dredging’s early projects included dredging the Ala Moana Beach Park, the entrance to Pearl Harbor, constructing the Ala Wai Canal and the development of much of Honolulu’s waterfront from Honolulu Harbor to Waikiki.

In 1949, Walter Dillingham's son, Lowell proposed the idea of building something called a "Shopping Center" and hired John Graham Jr. who previously designed the Northgate Mall in Seattle Washington, Gulfgate Mall in Houston Texas and the Northshore Mall in Peabody, Massachusetts.

Graham proposed a double-decker shopping center with a whopping 4,000 parking stalls. Part of the project also included the Ala Moana Building with the first ever revolving restaurant in the united states. A few years later he went on to design the Seattle Space Needle with it's iconic revolving restaurant.

The mammoth construction project began on March 18, 1958

Construction required 360 miles of reinforcing steel cable and a thousand tons of steel framing. A quarter of a million feet of piling, girders, beams and curbing which were all manufactured on the site. The building and parking deck covered nearly a million square feet which were all framed in pre-stressed concrete. It was the world's largest single application of pre-stressed concrete. 


Hundreds of tradesmen built Ala Moana Center in only 17 months and it opened on Thursday, August 13th, 1959 with 10,000 people on the parking deck for the grand opening. It was an instant success as well as an instant tourist attraction!

Ala Moana Center originally opened with 680,000 square feet of retail space, 74 stores on two levels and 4,000 parking stalls which made it the largest shopping center in the United States. The shopping center attracted about 30,000 daily shoppers on weekdays and 40,000 on weekends. It did forty million dollars worth of business in it's first year.

Among Ala Moana Center’s original tenants, seven are still open today! They include Long’s Drugs, Foodland (now Foodland Farms), Reyn’s (now Reyn Spooner), Shirokiya (now Shirokiya Japan Village Walk), Territorial Savings Bank, U.S. Post Office and Watumull’s. (Foodland and Longs are both great places to find Hawaiian Isles Kona Coffee)

In 1966, the second phase opens, doubling the size of Ala Moana Center to 1,351,000 square feet of leasable area, with 155 stores and 7,800 parking spaces. New stores include anchor tenants JCPenney and Liberty House.

1966 photo of the Ala Moana Center Stage with Keiki Hula.

Food Court! 1987, Phase Three, a two-year, multi-million dollar renovation and remerchandising program, is completed. It involved the relocation of Woolworth and Foodland and the creation of the Makai Market Food Court, with more than 900 seats, making it one of the largest food courts in the United States.

Ala Moana Center now has three main food courts. Makai Market Food Court (opened in 1987). Shirokiya Japan Village Walk (opened in 2016) and The Lanai (opened in 2017) is also known as the “Old Shirokiya” Photo Credit: IK's World Trip via Flickr

1998: Neiman Marcus opens for business in September, becoming Ala Moana Center’s fourth anchor store, with 160,000 square feet of retail space.

2016 photo of the Ala Moana Center Stage with Keiki Hula. 
The center stage area was eventually expanded back in 1990 as part of "Phase Four" with another 66,000 square feet of the Center’s mall level area; 11,000 square feet of the street level; and the addition of a 51,000 square foot third level vertical expansion. Center Court is merchandised with luxury designer stores such as Chanel, and Gucci.

Shoppers can catch a free 20-minute hula show daily at 1pm on Center Stage that features both kahiko (traditional) and modern hula. On Sundays, a Keiki Hula Show shows how this dance tradition is perpetuated through Hawaii’s children.

In February, 2006, Ala Moana Center had it's official groundbreaking on a two-year expansion project, included Hawaii’s first full-line Nordstrom store (210,000 square feet). The project also included an additional 25,000 square feet of new retail along Kapiolani Boulevard, another 45,000 square feet of new retail on the Third Level connecting to the new Nordstrom store and an 800-stall parking garage.

On Feb. 23, 2012, Sears Holding Corporation announced it would close its store at Ala Moana Center by early 2013. Sears held its original location and had a presence at the mall since its opening in 1959. This created room for the Ewa Wing Expansion in 1013 with more than 1,000 additional parking stalls. A Center Court Redevelopment including new stores, restrooms, Guest Services, common area finishes and Centerstage opened in November.

In 1998, Ala Moana Center was the first mall in the U.S. to reach $1 billion in annual sales. Since then, only three other malls in the country have reached this milestone.

Ala Moana Center is one of Hawaii’s most frequented destinations, attracting 53 million shopping visitations annually.

To honor the iconic Big Santa that is also turning 60 years old, the center is offering shoppers a Limited-Edition Big Santa Ornament with $500 in Ala Moana Center receipts dated Nov. 9-Dec. 24, 2019.

Today, the center has grown to include 350 retail and dining outlets on four levels, and a grand total of 11,000 parking stalls.

Photo Credits & Special Thanks To:

Ala Moana Center, Bishop Museum, DeSoto Brown Collection
Hawaiian Dredging Construction Company
Hawaiian Historical Society, Hawaii State Archives

We hope you enjoyed our little taste of Aloha! If you ever have any questions or story ideas, please e-mail us at [email protected]!


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