Various methods of modernist concrete forms adorned these structures, including precast arches, folded plates, thin shells, and barrel roofs. The Modernist architecture of post-war Hawaii blended an international east-west appeal and construction techniques, with a distinct regional style that looked to reinforce the unique quality of island life and articulate new perspectives on Hawaii’s multi-ethnic identity.
These shopping centers retain varying degrees of integrity. Over time, market-driven development and continuous renovations have erased a significant portion of the mid-century aesthetics. Occasionally, original elements such as sculptural artwork, breezeblocks, embedded signage or decorative manhole covers, and structural components hint at a comprehensively planned site design. At its construction in 1959, the Ala Moana Center was the world’s largest single application of pre-stressed concrete.
While appreciation for Modernism grows, conversely, many more resources are lost or altered. A decade ago, Sears Holding Corporation sold several of its retail stores to the Chicago-based company General Growth Properties, Inc., which immediately announced plans to close long-time tenant Sears department store at Ala Moana Shopping Center in Honolulu by the end of 2013. Sears was an anchor tenant of the shopping center for 54 years, since the mall’s construction by developer and contractor Hawaiian Dredging Company. Now a nostalgic memory, Sears disappeared as did many of the earliest shops (i.e., McInerny’s, Sato’s, Fishland, Crack Seed Center, etc.), in favor of new retail. Its original storefront and footprint ceased to exist with redevelopment of the mall’s Ewa (western) wing, which added over 340,000 square feet of new retail space in 2015.
Along with the ebb and flow of retail tenancy since the mall’s inauguration, multiple additions and renovations have drastically altered the mall’s original appearance. Today, two main components retain their character from the original mall designed by architect John Graham & Company: La Ronde, the country’s first revolving restaurant, and Macy’s department store whose eaves showcase a Hawaiian-inspired tapa cloth design from its predecessor Liberty House, which was constructed during the 1966 eastern wing addition of the mall.
New chapters for these shopping centers are continually being written. The Ala Moana Shopping Center has undergone extensive renovations and numerous “face-lifts” to modernize its retail space. The mall, which originally housed up to 80 merchants on two levels, now offers four levels with more than 350 shops and restaurants under new owners Brookfield Property Partners.
Changes at the shopping center correlate to major periods of commercial development that occurred in Hawaii during the decades following World War II. With Hawaii’s admission to Statehood in 1959 and significant advances in commercial aviation, a large number of people flocked to the islands. Oahu, in particular, became a major hub for national and international travel for business and leisure. During the 1960s, the island experienced a significant economic boom, partially driven by tourism. This building boom directly spurred city planning and architectural development. It propelled the rapid transformation of what was once a sleepy island territory of plantation villages, sugar cane and pineapple fields, and mangrove forests into an international modern metropolis. Chain-stores and shopping centers, which had developed much earlier on the mainland during the 1920s & 1930s, now began to appear in Hawaii.