Many of my columns are prompted by readers’ questions. This one is a result of Paul Chikasue, who suggested I explore the history of Kahala Mall. There are a lot of remarkable aspects of the mall and its interesting tenants, but let’s begin with a quiz.
What was Kahala Mall’s original name? The shopping center had a purpose beyond retail. What was it? What was it the first to have in Hawaii?
Kahala Mall opened in 1954, five years before Ala Moana Center. It was an outdoor mall at the time, named the Waialae Shopping Center. Its builder, Bishop Estate, was transforming the Waialae-Kahala area from pig farms to a high-class neighborhood, and the new mall was designed to facilitate the sales of new homes.
Waialae Shopping Center began humbly. Its anchor tenants were Piggly Wiggly Supermarkets and a Benson Smith drugstore. The Dutch Girl Pastry Shoppe, a Realtor and a medical-dental clinic also opened at its inception.
A Piggly Wiggly spokesman said theirs would be the “best supermarket in the Territory and among the most modern in the entire country.”
Piggly Wiggly first came to Hawaii in 1935. The Waialae store was its 11th on Oahu. The chain was founded in Memphis, Tenn., in 1917 and claimed to have invented self- service supermarkets.
Benson Smith drugstores began in 1883 on Fort and Hotel streets by Henry Benson and George Smith. Waialae Shopping Center was their sixth store. Teens loved their long soda fountain.
The center was successful, and several new stores opened in 1957 during Phase 2, including Liberty House, which had 70,000 square feet of retail space. Today it’s a Macy’s.
The Waialae Shopping Center was remodeled into the indoor Kahala Mall in 1969. The mall’s size doubled to 350,000 square feet, and it had parking for 1,300 cars. It was the first air-conditioned mall in the islands.
Enormous glass chandeliers were ordered from Venice, Italy. A large sculptured fountain was built under a 60-square-foot skylight. Outdoor cafes offered places to dine and “watch the passing throng.”
The mall offered a variety of civic and cultural promotions, fashion shows, puppet performances, cooking demonstrations, art exhibits, music and educational gatherings.
Some of the new stores at the time included Reyn’s Mens Wear, J.C. Penney, F.W. Woolworth, Carol & Mary’s, McInerny, Andrade, India Imports, Ed & Don’s Candies, Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour, the Winter Garden restaurant and Reuben’s. Star Supermarket took over the Piggly Wiggly site. Today it’s Whole Foods.
J.C. Penney claimed that its store would be the “most elaborate store ever opened by the Penney chain.” It offered a professionally staffed wig salon.
McInerny’s president, William Fontana, offered the “aliveness of Ala Moana with the elegance of Kahala.”
John Stevens opened The World of St. John, promising “everything that is kicky, groovy, and way-out for the swinging set.”
Often gracing the center with their presence were Jack and Marie Lord. After “Hawaii Five-O” went off the air in 1980, Lord retired and could be seen walking the mall or sitting on its many benches.
A bust of the actor was commissioned by sculptor Lynn Weiler Liverton and unveiled in 2004 outside the Koko Head entrance near California Pizza Kitchen and Macy’s.
Let’s look at some of the restaurants, shops and businesses that have been there at one time or another and some of their interesting backstories.
Yum Yum Tree
“We were building a sandwich shop in Kahala Mall,” former partner James L. Gray said, “when John McIntosh bought Vi’s Pies in California. Halfway through construction, we shifted the concept to pies, and the Yum Yum Tree was born.”
The Yum Yum Tree name was inspired by the 1963 movie “Under the Yum Yum Tree,” starring Jack Lemmon.
The Yum Yum Tree did well, but the small kitchen hampered things. Gino Boero, who worked there for over two decades, recalls not having enough room for the pies when they came out of the oven. “We’d stack them on boxes, shelves and anywhere we could find a place.”
The Following Sea
Two Kahala Mall stores were named for sailing terms. The Following Sea store was named for a state of perfection in sailing: when the waves are driving you forward and the wind is at your back. It could also be used to wish someone well. Sailors might wish you “fair winds and a following sea.” Kalapana released a song with that title.
The first store opened in 1973 at Ala Moana. In 1984 it moved to Kahala Mall. At one time there were two in Southern California.
Owner Pam Ross closed the stores in 2002 and focused on her other store, Ohelo Road, which was named for the ohelo berry, which grows in volcanic soil on Maui and the Big Island.
Ross says, “My dad used to say that out of the mud comes the lotus, and out of volcanic ash comes the ohelo berry. He was talking about me because I was a difficult child. He wanted me to know that I would turn out just fine. I guess I did.”
The other Kahala Mall company named for a sailing term was the Spindrifter restaurant. “Spindrift” is the spray that comes off the bow of a ship. Manager Biff Graper says it was chosen because it was a single word and was uplifting.
A popular restaurant at Kahala Mall in the 1980s, Spindrifter, was previously called Reuben’s.
John Reuben McIntosh copied the simple menu and casual style of Buzz’s Steak and Lobster in Waikiki.
The restaurant was called Reuben’s, his middle name, and opened in 1960. It was a big hit, and soon there were three in California and one in Kahala Mall, Kona and on Kauai.
Spindrifter closed in the late 1990s, and a Barnes & Noble bookstore occupied the site. Today it’s a Ross Dress for Less.
Other current or former tenants have interesting origin stories, too.
Cinnamon Girl originally was a kiosk at Aloha Tower Marketplace. It then opened stores in Ward Warehouse, Waikiki, Maui, Ala Moana Center, Pearlridge, Kahala and Las Vegas.
Brookstone, which sells items that are “functional in purpose, distinctive in quality and design and not widely available from other retailers,” began in 1965 with a small classified ad selling “hard-to-find tools” in Popular Mechanics magazine.
The first Panda Express opened in Pasadena, Calif., in 1973. It was named for the Chinese giant pandas that were first sent to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., in 1972.
Paris Station began as an online eBay business in 2001.
Sanrio Surprises was founded in Japan in 1960 as the Yamanashi Silk Co. Its name became Sanrio in 1973. “San” means “holy” and “rio” means “river.”
In 1974 its breakthrough design Hello Kitty was introduced. The white cat with red bow and no visible mouth is today one of the most successful marketing brands in the world.
Whole Foods opened at Kahala Mall in 2008. The company was started in 1978 by a 25-year-old college dropout and his 21-year-old girlfriend with $45,000 they borrowed from family and friends.
They named their store SaferWay Natural Foods (in a nod to Safeway). There was a store on the first floor and a health food restaurant on the second.
Starbucks’ name came from the Herman Melville book “Moby-Dick.”
Starbuck was the first mate on the Pequod. The name evoked the romance of the high seas and the seafaring tradition of the early coffee traders. Interestingly, Melville had once lived in Hawaii.
I congratulate Kahala Mall on its 65th anniversary and thank it and its tenants for its contribution to our community.
Have a question or suggestion? Contact Bob Sigall, author of the five “The Companies We Keep” books, at Sigall@Yahoo.com.