Tuesday, March 27, 2018
|1960s view of Sam's Seafood (now Don the Beachcomber)
Proprietor Delia Snyder told the O.C. Register, "We are not closing." However, the bands that were scheduled throughout April have been told to find other accommodations, some of the decor has already been taken down, and no upcoming Tiki Makeke event has been announced. And the bartenders (according the Register) are telling customers that Don's will close soon. (Read more about the conflicting reports in Los Angeles Magazine.)
In a visit on 3/28/2018, I couldn't help but notice that they'd run out of ingredients for about a third of the items they normally serve, which tells me they may not be re-ordering food and certain drink mixers. I also noticed that they were woefully understaffed. (The few that were left were really getting a workout.) Meanwhile, at the Karaoke Night event in the bar, some young lady was belting out Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" to an understanding and cheering crowd:
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got til its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
|In the main dining room
|Old matchbook cover
|Modern view of Don's entrance
|Duke Kahanamoku with the Katsaris boys at Sam's Seafood, 1960s. (Photo courtesy Gary Katsaris)
|Interior view at Sam's Seafood. (Photo by author)
|Dinner with Don the Beachcomber owner/reviver Art Snyder and friends
|The Ding Dong Devils play the Dagger Bar in 2016.
|Me, speaking at the Orange County Historical Society's annual dinner at Don's.
|Tiki Makeke swapmeet, Jan. 2018 (Photo by author)
Friday, March 2, 2018
|Jungle Island at Knott's Berry Farm. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.
Shortly after grading land at Knott's Berry Farm for use as an amazing South Seas Island Boat Ride, theme park legend Bud Hurlbut abandoned the tiki theme for the boat ride. Either on his own, or under advisement from Russell or Walter Knott, Bud decided that another "Old West" type ride would suit Knott's Berry Farm better. Other than some Hawaiian-style patio decor for sale in the Basket Shop, Knott's didn't have much of anything that evoked the South Pacific.
So it was that plans for the South Seas Island Boat Ride were transformed into plans for the Northwest Fur Trapper Boat Ride. It was essentially the same ride, but with different set dressing and no flow of "red hot lava" to simulate.
|Concept painting by Mentor Huebner for the Northwest Fur Trapper Boat Ride. Note the incongruous Polynesian island motif still depicted on the far shore of the lagoon. Image courtesy Christopher Merritt.
Bud and his crew at Hurlbut Amusement focused on making improvements to the mine ride, and on a variety of new projects -- some of which came to fruition and some not. There were unrealized plans for a monorail with 2,000 feet of track, and plans for a variety of attractions that were built near the farm's seal pool.
However, in 1963, there were new signs of life across the highway. With no progress evident on the boat ride, John Holland -- an employee of Knott's stagecoach concessionaire Bill Higdon -- suggested using the boat troughs as the pathway for an outdoor "Tallyho Ride," where guests would be taken past scenes of animated woodland animals and deserted pioneer wagons in a horse-drawn Omnibus.
|Concept model for Overland Trail, 1963. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.
Indeed, the Overland Trail Ride only lasted a few years. But it seemed to ensure that the boat ride plan would never rise again.
|Overland Trail Ride at Knott's, 1964. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.
At about that same time, the small paddle-wheel steamboat Hurlbut originally intended to have circling the entire South Seas Island Lagoon, was completed. It would have served something of the same purpose as the old Mike Fink Keelboats at Disneyland. But with no water in the South Seas Lagoon, the steamboat Cordelia K (named for Walter Knott's wife) was put to use in a small manmade lake also on the property.
|The Cordelia K paddle-wheeler. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.
|Forrest Morrow carving one of his Wood-imals: "a completely unique race of 'Natural-Art' creatures in a fantastic Jungle setting." Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.
Morrow's Wood-imals were fanciful depictions of various animals (and occasionally people) made from twisted and gnarled tree branches and stumps.
It was decided that Morrow would populate Jungle Island with his Wood-imals and operate it as a children's playground with a 25-cent admission fee. Finally, the portion of the Lagoon immediately around Jungle Island was lined with gunnite and filled with water, the existing tropical landscaping was supplemented, and Morrow moved himself and his family to California to run the operation. At the time, he was 77 years old.
|Map of Jungle Island, courtesy Orange County Archives.
|Evalee Webb, Walter Knott and Forest Morrow at Jungle Island, circa 1964. Photo courtesy Stack’s Liberty Ranch.
|Entrance bridge to Jungle Island. Postcard courtesy Orange County Archives.
However, in 1982, Knott's new C.E.O., Terry Van Gorder, who had wrested artistic control from the Knott family, decided that Jungle Island had to go. In 1983 it was turned into a park like "nature area."
|Lush, tropical, silly Jungle Island.
[Ed - A certain blogger once visited the nature area as a lad and was yelled at by "one of the Knott girls" for swordfighting with his friends using fallen bamboo poles from the landscaping.]
Eventually the nature area was turned into an area for corporate parties and events. The small lagoon bordering part of Jungle Island still remains, as does some of its tropical landscaping. Coincidentally, the large picnic shelters constructed in the 1980s were designed with a Polynesian look.
|Current corporate picnic area at Jungle Island/Knott's Lagoon. Photo by author.
Just to the north of Jungle Island, the planned site of the South Seas Island Boat Ride is now another corporate picnic area, called "Gold Rush Camp." The slightly rolling terrain still hints at how Hurlbut once carved the land to fit his vision.
Why Bud never built his elaborate South Seas paradise remains a mystery. But by looking at the remaining evidence, and by knowing his innovative and impressive work on the Mine Ride and Log Ride, we can be sure we missed out on something very special.
|Another view of Jungle Island. Postcard courtesy Orange County Archives.
(Click here to see Part I of this article.)
Friday, February 23, 2018
|Detail from ride concept art, with Tiki and volcano added by author based on comments by Bud Hurlbut.
The greatest tiki theme-park ride of all time was nearly built in the last place you'd expect: The Old West-themed Knott's Berry Farm, in Buena Park, California. And at least a few reminders of that unrealized dream can still be found today. The lush tropical vegetation and Tiki-style picnic huts of "Jungle Island" (now called Knott’s Lagoon) are just a tiny hint of what was and what almost was.
|Bud Hurlbut inspects a scene in his new Calico Mine Ride, 1960.
It was all to be built on land Knott owned on the opposite side of Highway 39 (Beach Boulevard) from the rest of "the farm." Plans (shown below) were drawn in April of 1959.
|Drawing of islands for Hurlbut Amusement by Dick Bagley, courtesy Christopher Merritt
In early January, 1960, Russell Knott, Walter's son and a key manager of the Farm, stopped by Bud's shop and found him mulling over ideas for the South Seas ride. He asked Bud to focus on getting the mine ride finished first. But just days later, Bud and his associate, Dick Bagley, (who had worked on designing Disneyland's steam trains) were out eyeballing the proposed South Seas area again. Bud would also go for walks on the land with his wife, Lou, and his dog, Beagle, turning over the possibilities in his mind. Still perpetually steeped in the mine ride project, his mind naturally turned to mountains and caverns. Whatever else the boat ride had, it should certainly have both of those. But he really didn't have time to do more work on the project until the mine ride was completed.
|Exterior of the newly opened Calico Mine Ride, circa 1960.
“...I got a couple of bulldozers, you can see all the passageways in there," Bud told Chris Merritt in a 1998 interview. "One was the South Seas with the big volcano and lava running down. I was kinda concerned on how I was gonna make lava red hot running down. I don’t know if I ever really got that all worked out or not…”
Later concept art, referencing South Seas plans, showed an Island village scene, with thatched huts on stilts and outrigger canoes on the beach. And the ride almost certainly would have included waterfalls, large tikis, and a variety of fake wildlife.
|"Leftover" South Seas Island Boat Ride scene in background of later "Fur Trapper Ride" concept art.
|Aerial photo of graded "islands" in South Seas area at Knott's, 1961.
Bud not only carved out the islands for the boat ride, but also an adjacent peninsula which he'd already identified as "Jungle Island." It's long been unclear what his plans were for Jungle Island, but according to an August 1961 article in Amusement Business magazine, Bud's plans for the overall area included not just the boat ride, but also "others in a South Sea theme." Dick Bagley served as the project's design engineer.
|Detail of Hurlbut map of proposed Jungle Island features. Courtesy Stack's Liberty Ranch
In 2018, the Facebook feed for Stack's Liberty Ranch -- an in-progress theme park museum and movie ranch -- posted two small portions of a March 19, 1959 "preliminary drawing" by Bagley for "Knott Jungle Island" featuring "some suggestions for points of interest, trails and signs." Elements depicted among the presumed tropical foliage included a climbing tree, a "boysen-berry bog" with a large plastic berry, a 10-foot by 15-foot "Knott's Cabin," a "Giggling lions den", "gay stepping stones," an underpass tunnel, another tunnel through dense brush, and such landmarks as "Laughing Springs," the "Chocolate River," "Ice Cream Cove," "Angry Cross-Roads," "Whispering Creek," and more.
|This drawing for the South Seas Island Boat Ride appeared a few years ago on Ebay.
But something happened, and suddenly the whole South Seas project was on hold. The" islands" just sat, with no water around them. In another interview, for "E" Ticket Magazine #35, Hurlbut told Merritt, "We got as far as digging the troughs... and then we abandoned the idea because we had some other more important things to do."
|Bud Hurlbut's Tiki mask. From the collection of Chris Jepsen.
Sunday, August 6, 2017
|Pool house at the Tahitian Terrace, Tusin, 2017
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
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.
|Aerial photo from 1963 courtesy the Orange County Archives.
|Some newspaper ads for Tahitian Terrace promoted "island luxury."
|The Whispering Woods, 2017
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
|Aerial photo of the Tahitian Terrace apartments, late 2010s
|Even the carports behind the Tahitian Terrace have South Seas rooflines.
|Inside the Tahitian Terrace courtyard, 2017.
|The Tahitian Terrace apartments in 1967
Thursday, June 29, 2017
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
|Ellen Bell, host of "Vintage Orange"
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).