Fifty years ago this week, the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) opened and began a new venture highlighting the peoples and cultures of Polynesia through entertainment, arts, education, and personal interaction.
It was October 14, 1963, when the PCC welcomed its first guests. Today, more than 37 million guests later, the PCC continues to thrive on Oahu’s North Shore as the only cultural tourist attraction of its kind in the world.
“We’re very proud to be celebrating our golden anniversary and grateful to all our employees and supporters, past and present, who have helped fulfill our quest over these first 50 years,” said Alfred Grace, PCC’s President and CEO. “The Polynesian Cultural Center is an incredible story. Young people from islands and countries throughout the Pacific Rim come to Laie to be educated, inspired and find their way in life, and they in turn end up touching the hearts and minds of visitors from around the world with their culture.”
Grace assumed the PCC’s top executive position earlier this year. A native of New Zealand and 1988 graduate of Brigham Young University-Hawaii (BYUH), Grace is the first former “PCC Alumni” to lead the PCC, and only the second Polynesian. As a BYUH student, he worked as a cultural dancer and held several other jobs at PCC to help fund his education.
Situated on 42 lushly landscaped acres and intersected by a scenic lagoon, the PCC’s legacy is anchored by six island villages showcasing Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, Fiji, and Aotearoa (New Zealand), along with displays honoring Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and Marquesas. At each village, guests are immersed in the native culture through fun and engaging presentations, exhibits, and hands-on activities.
Guests have a wide variety of additional cultural experiences to choose from to match all interests and ages, including the newly opened Hawaiian Journey, a film in tribute to the Hawaiian culture that features Hawaii’s captivating scenery on one of the state’s largest movie screens; a festive canoe pageant performed on the lagoon, a delicious luau with Hawaiian entertainment; and the critically acclaimed night show, Ha: Breath of Life.
The PCC traces its roots back to the famed hukilau celebration in Laie that started in the late 1940s as a means to raise money for community needs while educating and entertaining visitors. In the first year following its opening, the PCC attracted 175,000 guests.
The PCC’s popularity steadily grew as word spread within the travel industry about the unique, festive cultural showcase being staged on the North Shore. PCC also benefited from being featured in TV shows and film in its early years, including Elvis Presley’s Paradise Hawaiian Style in 1966, a highlight of which was the “King of Rock n’ Roll” spending a week filming the movie on-site at PCC and mingling with employees.
Through the years, the PCC has also regularly hosted heads of state, kings, ambassadors and other international emissaries and dignitaries, particularly from the Asia-Pacific region.
As a non-profit organization, 100 percent of PCC’s revenue is used for daily operations and to support the education of its student-employees from BYUH. In its first 50 years, the PCC has provided financial assistance to more than 18,000 BYUH students from over 70 different countries. Currently, 750 BYUH students are employed at PCC.
$100 Million in Improvements
The PCC is in the process of completing $100 million in facility and experiential improvements over a five-year period, which is scheduled to conclude in fourth quarter 2014 with the grand opening of the newly expanded Pacific Marketplace.
The marketplace will double in size to accommodate more shops and offer a wider selection of goods and products from throughout Polynesia. Notably, the marketplace will be positioned closer to Kamehameha Highway and be more readily accessible, as people will be able to shop without having to actually enter PCC.
Other recent improvements of note for the enjoyment of guests include the following:
- A new Hawaii Village with a design and presentation inspired by the ahupuaa (land division used by ancient Hawaiians, usually extending from the uplands to the sea) that features new activities, architecture and exhibits honoring the native Hawaiian culture.
- Hawaiian Journey, a new cinematic experience housed in a theater built to resemble a volcano and shown on one of the largest movie screens in the state. The presentation brings to life the story of native Hawaiians and their connection to the aina (land) utilizing special effects that touch all senses.
- Renovation of Hale Aloha, home to the award-winning Alii Luau experience that features delicious cuisine, with the lively entertainment of the Hawaiian Islands.
- Revitalized Samoa Village, which is historically one of PCC’s most popular venues due to its exciting presentations, including the tree climbing and coconut husking demonstrations.
Grace noted, “Even as we remember and celebrate all that the PCC has accomplished in its first 50 years, we are continually looking to the future and seeking new ways for our guests to experience and appreciate the people and cultures of Polynesia.”
For information or reservations, visit Polynesia.com, or call the PCC ticket office at (800) 367-7060.
Photos courtesy the Polynesian Cultural Center.