On the Scene: PCC celebrates 50th anniversary

Sep. 12, 2013 | 0 Comments

BY JOHN BERGER / jberger@staradvertiser.com

Visitor industry executives, political figures, North Shore and Laie area community leaders, Polynesian Cultural Center alumni and senior members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were among the guests as PCC President and CEO Alfred Grace celebrated the visitor attraction’s 50th anniversary with a Golden Anniversary Special Private Dinner Sept. 7 at the PCC.

VIP guests included Michael Chun, retired President and Headmaster of The Kamehameha Schools Kapalama Campus, and his wife, Bina Chun, Oswald and Ku’ulei Stender, and retired airline pilot Harry Soukop and his wife, Honolulu businesswoman Kalo Mataele Soukop.

Kalo graduated from Church College of Hawaii (now known as BYU-Hawaii) in 1962; she was one of the first performers at the PCC when it opened in 1963 and continued on as a producer of Polynesian revues in Waikiki for more than 30 years.

The private dinner capped a week of commemorative events for the public and several for PCC alumni and their families.

Alfred Grace, center, President and CEO of the Polynesian Cultural Center, welcomed Hawaii State Rep. Tom Brower, left, Violet Ding, Honolulu City Council Chairman Ernie Martin and his wife, Melanie Martin, to the PCC’s Golden Anniversary Special Private Dinner on Sept. 7 in the Hale Ohana open air longhouse. Council Chair Martin presented Grace with a framed proclamation from the council commemorating the historic event. (Star-Advertiser Photo by John Berger)

Alfred Grace, center, President and CEO of the Polynesian Cultural Center, welcomed Hawaii State Rep. Tom Brower, left, Violet Ding, Honolulu City Council Chairman Ernie Martin and his wife, Melanie Martin, to the PCC’s Golden Anniversary Special Private Dinner on Sept. 7 in the Hale Ohana open air longhouse. Council Chair Martin presented Grace with a framed proclamation from the council commemorating the historic event. (Star-Advertiser Photo by John Berger)

“The spirit that they started 50 years ago continues today,” said Grace while members of the current PCC cast entertained the dinner guests with Hawaiian mele and hula. “The guests are still coming to Hawaii looking for the Aloha Spirit and the Polynesian Cultural Center provides it for them in a comfortable environment.

“Exotic people meeting with our guests, finding a common ground, common values and a shared sense of values. Our guests seem to really enjoy interacting with the different cultures but recognizing also that we all have a lot of similarities.”

Grace, who is Maori, is the first person to work his way up from student-performer to President/CEO and also the first BYU-Hawaii grad to reach the top spot.

“My first job was performing in the night show and then as my class schedule changed I went into reservations and then to tour guide, sound technician and so forth until I graduated and started in the sales and marketing division for the PCC,” he said.

Grace entertained the crowd during dinner with one of his favorite stories about the PCC:

“It was in 1963, the year we opened, that a Honolulu business magazine ran an article that said that experts expect the PCC to flop. It’s too far away from Honolulu and Waikiki, and no one will drive that far to watch amateur performers.

“And then only a couple of years later the same magazine ran another article entitled ‘The Flop That Flipped.’”

Yes, people will go from Honolulu to Laie to watch “amateur performers.”

Fifty years later, more than 37 million people have experienced the PCC presentation of cultures and traditions of Polynesia. It employs around 1,200 people — student performers working their way through college and professional support staff — who collectively represent the island nations of Hawai’i, Samoa, Maori New Zealand (Aotearoa), Fiji, Tonga, Easter Island (Rapa Nui), Tahiti and the Marquesas.

Looking forward, Grace said planning is well under way for the next half-century. Renovations in progress include more than $100 million worth of upgrades and new attractions.

“By the end of next year we’ll have spent most of that $100 million dollars on renovating all of the major facilities plus introducing a new night show, having a new major restaurant that’s just an amazing building, a new Hawaiian village, a new four-dimensional movie experience, ‘Hawaiian Journey,’ narrated by Al Harrington, and next year we’ll be opening a marketplace that will extend right out towards Kamehameha Highway,” he said. “There will be no admission fee to visit the marketplace. All of this will provide employment and educational opportunities for students as well as the local community, and we think that we’ve still got a formula that appeals to visitors. They’re still looking for a one-on-one experience who come from different cultures and experiences, so I think that formula will continue to work for us for the next 50 years.”
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John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email jberger@staradvertiser.com.

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