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Alumni recall memories, celebrate anniversary of Polynesian Cultural Center

Published: Thursday, Aug. 29 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Since it was founded in 1963, the Polynesian Cultural Center has grown to entertain more than 37 million visitors and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Hawaii. The PCC will celebrate its 50th anniversary in September.

Skylar Nielsen

Tema Hunkin figures she owes the Polynesian Cultural Center her life.

“If it wasn’t for that place, my parents wouldn’t have met and joined the LDS Church,” she said with emotion in her voice. “That place is really special. It transforms lives.”

Hunkin is one of countless alums who continue to relish fond memories of working or performing at the “PCC” in Laie, located on the northern shore of Oahu, Hawaii. Many, including Hunkin, plan to return the first week of September to celebrate the center’s 50th anniversary.

What began as a way to help students earn money and preserve the culture of the Pacific Islands has grown into a rich legacy and one of the biggest tourist attractions in Hawaii.

“It’s one part of the Lord’s vineyard that really has influence in the world,” Hunkin said. “The miracles that have happened in that small but significant town of Laie, it’s remarkable.”

A rich history

A timeline on pcc50.com highlights the key events that led up to the construction of the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Elder Matthew Cowley of the Quorum of the Twelve first shared the idea for a Polynesian village while speaking at the Oahu Stake Conference in March 1951.

Three years later, the First Presidency announced the establishment of The Church College of Hawaii, a two-year college.

In the late 1950s, Elder Cowley’s idea began to take shape. Groups of local youths and students were organized to perform traditional dances for tourists in an effort to stimulate the economy and allow students to earn money. Initially these performances drew small crowds. But by the early 1960s, the groups were entertaining sellout crowds.

LDS Church President David O. McKay approved funding and plans for the “Polynesian Village” in 1961. Labor missionaries began construction on the 12-acre property the following year.

President Hugh B. Brown of the First Presidency dedicated the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oct. 12, 1963.

With time the center began to thrive. A major expansion took place in 1974.

Over the years, stars including Elvis Presley, Lee Majors and others produced films and TV shows at the center.

More additions were made. Ground was broken for a new large-format theater in 1989. The Hukilau Theater, the first of its kind in Hawaii, was dedicated in 1991 by President Thomas S. Monson, then a member of the First Presidency.

In 1997, the center opened its $4 million, 16,000-square-foot food preparation and distribution center. Attendance at the PCC surpassed 25 million the same year.

In 2003, the center completed a $2.4 million renovation project that included the addition of new museum displays, landscaping and other various needs.

In 2010, President Monson and President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, visited the center while in town to rededicate the Laie Hawaii Temple.

A year later, the PCC announced intentions to spend $38 million over a five-year period to enhance and upgrade facilities and programs, including a makeover of the Gateway Restaurant, an expanded shopping plaza and changes to the Hukilau Theater.

When visiting the Laie Stake Conference in 1981, President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I never come to Laie that I don’t have a feeling that this place occupies some peculiar position in the plan of the Lord.”

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