Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Huki Lau - El Segundo, California

The year was 1961 and the race for tomorrow had begun. Billed as 'California's First Jet Age Hotel' the Thunderbird International Hotel was built at 525 Sepulveda Boulevard, in El Segundo, California, just a few blocks south of Los Angeles International Airport.

The Thinderbird was a sleek modern conference and hotel facility with a restaurant and attached Coffee Shop (seen in the lower right hand corner with the vertical glass windows).

The Polynesian Pop craze was at at its peak in the early 1960's in Southern California, and not wanting to be left out, the Thunderbird's Coffe Shop was renovated into The Huki Lau and reopened in August 1962, just one year after the restaurant originally opened.


Architectural Concept for The Huki Lau, drawn by Robert Mavis (1962)

The concept had a 2-story soaring A-frame over the entrance flanked with 3-story gas burning tiki torches. The folks standing in the middle of the A-frame give a sense of scale to the place. What a beautiful drawing.

Just a few short years after the Thunderbird opened for business, it was sold to a new ownership group and the facility was renamed the Hacienda Hotel.

The interior courtyard of the Thunderbird/Hacienda Hotel

Detail of the cool roadside signage along Sepulveda Boulevard

When the new ownership dropped the Thunderbird name in favor of the Hacienda, they also changed the name of the Polynesian restaurant and dropped Huki Lau for the more generic Tiki Hut.

Matchbook cover for the the newley renamed Tiki Hut at the Hacidena Hotel with the same dramatic A-frame and tiki torches

Real pictures of the Huki Lau/Tiki Hut are difficult to find, the best I have come across is this aerial photo looking south down Sepulveda Blvd.

You can make out the Hacienda Hotel with its tower and other buildings in the upper right corner of the photo. The hotel's signage is clearly visible out in front.

Just in front of the Hacienda sign, you can make out the A-frame and tiki torches (tipping towards Sepulveda) of the Huki Lau/Tiki Hut.

The Hacienda Hotel is still open for business, but has been remodeled and no traces remain of the Huki Lau/Tiki Hut.

Hacienda Hotel restaurant (2012) with A-frame removed

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Polynesia Apartments - Canoga Park, California

The Polynesia aprtments were originally documented in 2006 over at Tiki Central. I recently found some new information to share that shows how the place has changed over the last 50 years.

The Polynesia was built in 1962 by Mr. Max Resnick, a Southern California apartment builder. The newly constructed complex was featured in this May 1962 advertisement for General Electric Air Conditioners.

The Polynesia is the newest of Max H. Resnick's luxury apartments. Tenants stay tradewind-cool all through Southern California's long, hot summers, thanks to General Electric Built-In Air Conditioners.

The Polynesia - May 1962

Unlike most tiki apartment complexes, The Polynesia did not have an A-frame at the entrance. Instead, it had this interesting arrangement of large beams decorated with exotic patterns to provide an entrance canopy.

The Polynesia still stands and the mural on the front of the building remains.

Photo: Sven Kristen, 2007

However, the decorated canopy beams have long since been removed.

Photo: Google StreetView 2012

Back in 2006, they were still lighting the mural at night.

Photo: Chongolio (Tiki Central)

The Polynesia is located at 7314 Variel Avenue in Canoga Park, California.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tahiti Apartments - Torrance, California

The Tahiti Apartments opened their doors for business on Saturday, October 14, 1961 in the SouthBay suburb of Torrance. Did you note the description of the interior courtyard?...Sounds like a great place to live.

The two story, $190,000 Tahiti Apartments were built by Gilbert Sellan in 1961 and included 18 units. Each unit was rented as a completely furnished apartment with “color-coordinated interiors and striking Polynesian modern d├ęcor.”

Wow, these apartments were pre-decorated with tikis inside and out!

Gilbert Sellan (left), prominent Southern California builder, is presented with a Gold Medallion plaque, as evidence that his new ‘Tahiti’ apartment building meets high standards of the electric industry.

Check out those two large tikis in the background. Directly behind Mr. Sellan (striped sport coat) stands a 10 foot tiki. Over the left shoulder of the representative of Southern California Edison you can see another 10 foot tiki with a ‘rootball’ headdress. The eyes of the tiki are just above his shoulder and the nose, mouth and base continue down his back and legs. Those are fantastic tikis and made quite and entrance to the ‘Tahiti’!

Torrance and the SouthBay area of Los Angeles was a hotbed of tiki activity in the 1960s. If you lived at the Tahiti, you could have stopped in at the Tiki Kai in Lawndale for dinner (just 3 miles north) and then visited the Polynesian in Torrance for after dinner cocktails (just 2.5 miles south). Both the Tiki Kai and the Polynesian featured live nightly entertainment, ….ahh, that would have been the life of a swinging bachelor!

Here is a Google StreetView picture of the Tahiti Apartments taken June 2011.

The ‘Tahiti’ name has long since been removed from the building, but the font style of the address looks like it may provide a clue as to what it may have looked like.

The two 10-foot entrance tikis are long gone from this 50 year old complex, but I wonder if there is still anything thing hiding inside of that courtyard, there used to be??? Any Southern California tikiphiles up for some urban archeology, drop me a photograph if you find anything.

Good Hunting!

Tahiti Apartments (1961) – 21109 Reynolds Drive, Torrance, California.

Update (March 2012) - Link to a follow-up post with new pictures.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Hana Kiki Garden Apartments - Part 2

The location of the mystery tikis has been verified. Chris Jepsen went back to visit the Hana Kiki Garden Apartments and they are in fact the correct location of the original 1961 photograph. You can read about his recent visit and see his before and after photos over on his blog.

Thanks Chris!