Sunday, August 6, 2017

Tustin's Tahitian Terrace

Pool house at the Tahitian Terrace, Tusin, 2017
Sometimes the best way to do urban archaeology is just to find a spot that interests you and start digging. This is one of those times. I'll get the ball rolling, and perhaps someone else will jump in with additional information or new leads to follow.

Years ago, an apartment complex (now called Waterstone Garden Apartments), at the north corner of Red Hill Ave. and Walnut St. in Tustin, California, caught my eye for it's mid-century Tiki design. Recently I stumbled across a couple photos of the place when it was only four years old, and I was inspired to not only drive over and photograph the place anew, but also to spend a bit of time looking for more of its story.  Here's what I've found so far,...
The Tahitian Terrace apartments in 1967
Waterstone Garden was once two separate developments with complementary Polynesian themes. The first, situated right on the corner at 14441 Red Hill, was the Tahitian Terrace complex.
The Tahitian Terrace was built in 1963 -- just a year after Stouffer's Tahitian Terrace restaurant opened at nearby Disneyland -- and began renting units that same summer.
It's one of a relatively small handful of Orange County complexes that have made it to 2017 with much of their original Tiki style still in place. One must assume that a good deal of Tiki decor has disappeared, including the pitched A-frame entryway which has now been replaced with a conventional awning. But much of the original vibe remains.
Aerial photo from 1963 courtesy the Orange County Archives.
The aerial photo below shows the Tahitian Terrace under construction (on the left and center), with another complex next door, the Whispering Woods, still only in the process of being graded (on the right). Notice that both complexes were -- like so much local development at that time -- simply carved out of the orange groves.
Some newspaper ads for Tahitian Terrace promoted "island luxury."
The second complex now folded into "Waterstone Garden" was the thirty-unit Whispering Woods, at 14421 Red Hill Ave. This second complex was built for real estate investment wiz James T. Bakos of Rossmoor by the Valencia Construction Co. The landscaping was designed by Hugh Paulsen. Although grading began while Tahitian Terrace was still under construction, Whispering Woods was still unfinished as late as spring of 1964. Once finished, no children or pets were allowed, and like its neighbor, it bragged about being "all-electric."
The Whispering Woods, 2017
Unfortunately, much less is known about the origins of the Tahitian Terrace, except that the land was surveyed in 1957 by then-owners Mr. & Mrs. Albert Nieblas, who seemed to be movers-and-shakers in the Tustin business and social scene at the time.

In its first years, newspaper ads promoted Tahitian Terrace as featuring "Island Luxury," which sort of sounds like an oxymoron. (I'm picturing Thurston and Lovey Howell driving around in a pedal-powered Mercedes made of bamboo.)
The Whispering Woods, 2017
Although taking a less-than South Seas-inspirted name, the Whispering Woods' lava rock chimneys and planters, A-frame pool house, nautical wormwood facades, tropical landscaping and other details reflect a faux-Polynesian influence, even today. Was it intentional?
Aerial photo of the Tahitian Terrace apartments, late 2010s
Eventually, the Tahitian Terrace and the Whispering Woods were brought together under the flavorless yet Flintstones-like moniker, "Waterstone Garden Apartments." Of the two, the Tahitian Terrace half offers the most reward for today's Tiki-appreciating urban archaeologist.
Even the carports behind the Tahitian Terrace have South Seas rooflines.
One suspects that there was more of decorative element to some of the buildings once, especially the two-story buildings that now seem so bland once you get below their Tiki rooflines. So many of these kinds of places lost a great deal in being de-Tiki-fied, and it seems like that happened here as well. Still, the rooflines, the outrigger beams, the lush tropical landscaping, and the wonderful pool house make the Tahitian Terrace worth a stop.
Inside the Tahitian Terrace courtyard, 2017.
The Whispering Woods seems to continue with its identity crisis: Is it or was it Polynesian themed, or did its rustic version of 1960s architecture combined with tropical landscaping and lava walls just give that impression? Perhaps more information will come to light on both complexes in the future. In fact, part of why I'm posting this is in the hope that those who know the story of this corner of Tustin will come forward and share what they know.
The Tahitian Terrace apartments in 1967

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Photos from "Tiki In Orange County"

Many photos from my Tiki In Orange County exhibit at Chapman University are now posted in an album on my Flickr account. If you took more photos, let me know and I'll post them, too! The exhibit remains up through late August.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tiki on KUCI

Ellen Bell, host of "Vintage Orange"
I’ll be talking about my new “Tiki In Orange County” exhibit and all things Polynesian Pop on Ellen Bell’s Vintage Orange radio show on KUCI, 88.9 FM on Wed., Feb. 21, 2017, from 4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Podcast version should be posted to her blog sometime later in the week.

Visiting with Ellen is always great fun, and I’m looking forward to the interview!

I’ll also be giving a little tour of the exhibit to Chapman University staff and faculty on Thursday at 4:00 p.m. This will be the little sneak preview sampler platter version, and not the big opening event, which will be on March 4th, which anyone can attend (if they RSVP).

Monday, February 13, 2017

"Tiki In Orange County" exhibit

I'm curating an exhibit at Chapman University called "Tiki In Orange County," which through August 25. The big kick-off event/reception/program is March 4th, and I hope to see you there! (Bring your friends and family, but please click through and RSVP so we know how many little paper umbrellas we're gonna need.)

Quoth the promotional blurb,...
Chris Jepsen, Guest Curator, presents Tiki in Orange County, on display in the Frank Mt. Pleasant Library of Special Collections and Archives. From architecture, d├ęcor and music to literature, theme parks and backyard luaus, the South Seas was a wildly popular theme throughout mid-twentieth century America. Artifacts, photographs, documents and music, offer a look at the origins of Tiki in the South Pacific, its interpretation in mid-century Orange County (and Southern California), and how both have inspired today’s Tiki revival.

Opening Reception: Saturday, March 4, 2017, 4:30 - 6:30 p.m.

Location: Special Collections and Archives, 4th Floor

Exhibit hours are Monday through Friday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Visitor parking is available with purchase of a temporary permit. For parking fees, maps & directions, visit:
Thanks not only to my gracious aforementioned hosts at Chapman, but also to the amazing folks who loaned, installed, or helped me create parts of this exhibit, including Stephanie George, Carlota Haider, Kevin Kidney, Jody Daily, Ben and Vicki Bassham, Bob Van Oosting and Leroy Schmaltz of Oceanic Arts, Scott Schell, Dylan Almendral, Sven Kirsten, Jason Schultz, Gail Griswold, Eric Callero, Laurie Gates Cussalli, David Eppen, Patrick Jenkins, the Orange County Archives, the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society, the American Heritage Museum, and Jane Newell and Patricia Grimm of the Anaheim Heritage Center. It's an honor to know these people and I apologize in advance if I've forgotten anyone.