(published in the Society For Commercial Archaeology newsletter, Road Notes, winter 2015)
Aloha, SCA Villagers!
Even though this year’s Hukilau celebration officially ended June 14th, it’s hard not to have the Hukilau spirit stay with you long after the last Tiki torch light dims and the final Mai Tai disappears.
There is much about the Hukilau, billed as the World’s Most Authentic Tiki Event, which connects to SCA interests, from the Polynesian kitsch to the commercial wonders of the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 tower built in 1965 and the iconic Mai Kai Polynesian Restaurant of Ft, Lauderdale, Florida. Just added to the National Register of Historic Places, the restaurant will soon celebrate its 60th year in business. Its authentic Polynesian Island Revue transports everyone to another place and time.
“There is nothing like that back home,” exclaims Oahu native Alika Lyman, lead singer and guitar player for the Alika Lyman Group.
And there is nothing here quite like Alika, the great nephew of legendary Exotica and jazz musician, Arthur Lyman. Alika, who performs 4 to 7 gigs a week in and around Waikiki but only 1 or 2 mainland shows a year, was embraced by the Hukilau Villagers during performances at the Mai Kai’s famous Malokai Bar and at the Friday Night Opening Event in the Pier 66 Panorama Ballroom.
“It was great. The audience was very appreciative and it made the experience on stage so that all the goodness came out.”
That goodness tended to spill over the five day event as well as Villagers attended a variety of nostalgic Tiki themed events. There were sessions covering the history of Walt Disney’s original Polynesian resort, the sad story of Tiki Gardens “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”…as a Florida local, that one hurt a lot…the rise and fall of Los Angeles’ Space Age Nautical Pier, Chinese American Nightclubs from 1936-1970, and more. If that wasn’t enough, there was a Tiki Tower Takeover of the Pier Top Lounge and a three hour tour cruise on the intercoastal waterway with none other than Dawn Wells, a.k.a. Mary Ann, from Gilligan’s Island.
Ms. Wells was amazingly gracious, signing autographs, overseeing a costume contest…my favorite was a dead ringer for Thurston Howell the third, complete with colorful ascot…and finally, chatting with each passenger who wanted a photo with her. No, I was not in costume, but I am thrilled that she thought with my red hair that I should have dressed up as Ginger. As I said, she was amazingly gracious.
Even amidst all this Hukilau Madness, an unexpected example of SCA appeared in the bustling Tiki Treasure Bazaar. Surrounded by booths overflowing with vintage Polynesian fashion, Tiki kitsch and mid-century furnishings, there it was, Harold Golen’s creative tribute to the Holiday Inn signs of the past, complete with one missing light, a testament to its very authenticity. Harold, a Miami native, owns the Harold Golen Gallery in the Wynwood Art District in Miami. The gallery features pop surrealist art, an art form, conceivably appealing, intrinsically and aesthetically, to many SCA members. His booth featured a fascinating variety of paintings and creations by well-known artists of the genre.
“It is the X-generation, more or less, their interpretation of mid-century to current pop culture and then they take it to a fine art level,” Harold explains. “They take all the ephemeral type art and trendy art…velvet paintings, paint by numbers, comic book art, vintage toy art, 60’s graphic art…what some would consider trash, disposable art and take it to this higher level,” Harold explains. “Isabel Samaras, a quintessential pop surrealist, for example, will do a portrait of Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie with Larry Hagman as Major Nelson and put them in a classical painting.” Now, that’s neoclassic cool!
Though not an SCA member yet, Harold has intuitively connected his gallery and surrealist pop art to commercial archaeology and the vintage hotel chain and its beckoning arrow which both he and SCA’ers appreciate.
“I was in heaven,” he recalls of family vacations to beloved roadside attractions like Silver Springs and Cypress Gardens which often included stays at his favorite hotel. Even though he was from south Florida, there was no pool at home, so the first thing he did was change into swim trunks and jump in the pool. To this day, he still has vivid memories of the hotel room itself.
“The smell was so distinct…it smelled like Pine Sol and cigarettes and a little bit of Aqua Net!”
The stuff of SCA dreams! Aloha ahiahi until next year!
Cool Tiki site recommended by Aliki digitiki.com