Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Enchanted Tiki Library

Back in August 2011, on my other blog, I wrote about the world's only "Enchanted Tiki Library," located in Huntington Beach, California. Now, depending on who you believe, it may either be torn down and replaced or simply made to disappear entirely. And best of all,... it involves election year politics.

The photo above shows the 2,400-square-foot Banning Branch Library, which began life in 1962 at 22171 Bushard Ave. as the tract office for the housing developments being built all around it. Several of those tracts, including Newport West, featured some Polynesian-themed roof lines and street names, and the tract office was built to echo that theme.

"It's beach party time at Newport West" one of developer's lackeys told the L.A. Times in 1966. "Residents here are one block from the ocean and the popular entertainment of the season is an early evening beach party." The article went on to describe the tract homes exteriors, which "range from island modern to beach contemporary." Another article described some of the styles as "Tahitian, contemporary modern, and California conventional."
Illustration of a "Tahitian"-style home in Dutch Haven's Newport West tract from a 1963 newspaper ad.
On March 26, 1968 the whole tract office building was moved down the road and around the corner to 9281 Banning Ave., and was turned into a neighborhood branch of the Huntington Beach Public Library.

In 2007, the City hired an architectural firm to draw up plans for a new 12,500 square-foot building to replace the current one. Then the economy stalled off that plan indefinitely.

Now the library is being used as part of a larger game of political blackmail. This coming election day, "Measure Z" will appear on the ballots of Huntington Beach residents. If passed, this measure will remove a property tax that currently helps pay for city worker's pensions. Those campaigning against Measure Z, including some city leaders, say they will be forced to cut a number of basic community services if Measure Z passes -- And the Banning Branch Library is on the short list.

On one hand, I recognize this is the same kind of reprehensible blackmail that Jerry "No-you're-no-hallucinating-I-really-am-governor-again" Brown is foisting on us this year: "Give me what I want or I will make sure that all budget cuts come from the programs you most love." On the other hand, Measure Z would indeed force the city to find the money for pensions elsewhere. And considering that at least a couple of our councilmembers probably pronounce the word, "li-barry," it wouldn't be surprising to see our libraries clobbered. Already, the city has forced the reduction of library hours.
The middle-ground between a new library and no library, of course, would be to keep "The Enchanted Tiki Library" just the way it is. Maybe even gussy it up a little with subtropical landscaping and new interiors by Oceanic Arts and neighborhood resident Bamboo Ben. It's a fair compromise, and a great way to save not only a tiki building but an extremely rare example of something that personified the most important boom in Southern California's history: The Mid-Century tract office.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Roger's Tikis

This is some sort of sign of the current state of the tiki revival: A nice little selection of tikis are now available at Roger's Gardens -- the high-end, jaw-droppingly amazing king of all nurseries, located in Newport Beach, California. How will people get these home in their tiny but expensive European sports cars?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Kahlua Apartments, San Gabriel

Less than a mile north of the Bahooka restaurant are the Kahlua Apartments, at 5339 Rosemead Blvd., in San Gabriel, California. These apartments appear to have been built in the late 1960s, although I have no solid date of construction. The photos in today's post all come from this complex. I'm a little disappointed that I couldn't get into the central courtyard to get some pictures in there. Somehow I suspect that more tiki goodness awaited beyond the locked gates.

Based on the careful efforts to preserve the tikis and the working condition of the waterfalls, it seems clear that the management understands what a gem they have here. Let's hope the residents do also.
Architect James Black, on a site called The Lower Modernisms, observed that the Kahlua "is equipped with plenty of gables. Technically, this is a gablet roof (also called a Dutch gable roof), a combination of hipped and gabled roof construction. There is some bona fide justification for using this form in a Polynesianized theme building, because such roofs are frequently seen in older Hawaiian buildings. At the Kahlua, whereas the ridge of the roof is flat, the top of the gabled portion slopes up, another method of pursuing that sense of jaunty-casual sought in the aforementioned buildings by the raking of their projected gables."
I'm sure Mr. Black didn't intend the term "lower modernisms" as a slight -- but rather as a contrast to the sort of "high modernism" that made all the big architecture and design publications in the mid-20th Century. Still, I always feel a bit reflexively defensive when people use terms like "lower" to describe "tiki architecture", "Googie architecture," and their various cousins. The form of these sorts of architecture fit their function perfectly -- Even if that fuction was advertising apartment rentals or selling cheeseburgers. After all, ever since the dawn of the car culture, snappy roadside commercial appeal has been a perfectly legitimate function for a building's design.
Carved tikis, waterfalls, tropical plantings, lava rock, bridges over water features, (Dutch) gabled roofs, "outrigger beams," and a pseudo-Asian sign font all add up to a Polynesian oasis worth stopping to admire.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Reader Connie Moreno was the umptee-hundredth person to tell me I simply had to visit Bahooka restaurant in Rosemead, California. So on our way back from the Postcard & Paper Show in Glendale, my friend Phil and I stopped for dinner.

Located at 4501 N. Rosemead Blvd., Bahooka Ribs & Grog is more nautical than tiki, but there are certainly plenty of nods to Polynesian Pop in this landmark. One gets the feeling that some really creative thought and effort went into creating this place initially, but that many layers of additional decor have been added over the decades -- some of which evoke Party City, the local scrapyard, or Uncle Moe's Family Feedbag (with a "whole bunch of crazy crap on the walls") more than tropical islands or Trader Vic's.
Tiki Magazine is available at the Cashier's counter.
Bahooka has a lot of features you won't find at other restaurants, including an anti-aircraft gun in the parking lot and a penchant for lighting your beverages on fire -- even the non-alcoholic ones!

Decor-wise, the highlights at the Bahooka are the more than 100 fish tanks, featuring an interesting array of critters, including an enormous, 35-year-old, carrot-eating pacu named Rufus. (The pacu, a close relative of the pirahna, has become known as "the testicle-eating fish" after some unfortunate incidents in Papua New Guinea's Sepik River. Tip for the day: Never fish naked in tropical rivers.) Although it sometimes feels a bit like dining in a pet shop, the aquariums are visually arresting and add a mysterious blue glow to the dark, maze-like restaurant.
A blast to the Mid-Century past.
This is the second of what were once two Bahooka restaurants. According to Humuhumu's wonderful Critiki website, the original Bahooka in West Covina was "started by two brothers and a sister in 1967. One of the brothers, Jack, had worked for 10 years at Kelbo's. The building was expanded over the years, which was ultimately its downfall -- it grew over a property line, and in the ensuing dispute, Bahooka lost its lease. In 1980, the building was demolished. Fortunately, four years earlier a second Bahooka location had been opened in Rosemead, which still operates today." 
The largest and most visible tiki at Bahooka guards the bathrooms.
The Bahooka seems to be a family-owned operation, the prices are fairly affordable, and the service we received was prompt and very friendly. Unfortunately, the food was lacking. We each had a steak (noted as one of the house specialities on the menu) -- Phil's with a baked potato and salad and mine with fries and New England clam chowder.

The steaks were cooked as ordered and reasonably well seasoned. But the meat was also tough, thin, and really pretty scarce by the time fat, gristle, and bone was cut away. The salad was drown in dressing (which didn't seem to phase Phil). The fries, though plentiful, weren't quite cooked enough. And the clam chowder (which is generally one of my favorite foods) had a rather un-chowdery flavor to it that kept me from eating more than a few spoons full. Phil's baked potato was okay, but unremarkable.

To be fair, we visited early in the evening on a Sunday, and made no follow-up visit. So I don't know if our experience was unique or par for the course.
A banquet room in the back features a moai and treasure chests.

The Mai Tai I ordered was quite recognizable as a real Mai Tai (which is more than you'll find in most restaurants these days), and the presentation was nice, but the execution was a little uninspiring. On the other hand, I've probably been spoiled by occasional visits to Don the Beachcomber's and Trader Sam's.

For the record, this is the only Polynesian-ish restaurant I've ever been to that featured pastrami sandwiches on their menu. Just another curious twist.
So, should you visit Bahooka? By all means. Stop in, walk around to absorb the atmosphere, have a drink, and talk with their friendly staff. But don't expect to be wowed by the food. And don't try skinny dipping in the aquariums.