Don Graham dies, developed Ala Moana Center

Don Graham
Don Graham

By Howard Dicus - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The dean of the Hawaii developer community, Don Graham, who developed Ala Moana Center and was its first general manager, has died at the age of 96.

Graham, who worked on affordable housing projects in recent years, developed an infection last week, was hospitalized at Straub Medical Center with pneumonia on Sunday, was diagnosed with acute leukemia, and died Wednesday.

"He lived every minute to its fullest until leaving us," business partner Phil Russell said in an email to friends and colleagues.

Graham worked as a contractor for the Dillingham Corp. getting zoning permits for Ala Moana Center in 1949, and became the mall's general manager when it opened in 1959 with 80 tenants. Today it has closer to 300 tenants.

Magic Island was built with fill dug up for the foundations of the mall.

One of the world's largest malls, Ala Moana Center raised the bar for other retail developments across Hawaii. It was acquired by Daiei Corp. in the 1980s and sold to General Growth Properties in 1999. At the time Graham said he approved of the sale because he found that foreign ownership could delay the decision-making process.

"Don was an icon in the industry," said commercial real estate executive Wendell Brooks, who remembered learning a lot from a class Graham taught in Dallas, touring a troubled shopping center and discussing how to revitalize it.

"Most major development companies hired as key executives people that he hired and trained," developer Christine Camp said.

Graham and his partners developed Liliha Square Shopping Center, selling it to Finance Factors in the late 1990s.

"He was a nice man and brilliant," said Steve Sofos of Sofos Realty. "It was the dean of shopping center development in Hawaii."

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