By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
@body:Not surprisingly, there's still some confusion over exactly who designed the kitschy landmark. Mark Alexander credits Peter Lendrum, an architect still active in the Valley, and claims to remember seeing the architect on site during much of the motel's construction. But during a recent conversation, Lendrum insists he had absolutely nothing to do with the Kon Tiki and reports that the motel was actually designed by the late Ralph Haver, a Valley architect best remembered for his "modern" flat-topped homes of the Fifties. (City records indicate that a building permit was issued for the Kon Tiki in November 1961, but does not name the architect.)
Explaining that he's often been mistakenly linked to the Kon Tiki, Lendrum guesses that the confusion stems from the fact that he designed the Samoan Village Motor Hotel, a rival Hawaiian-themed hostelry built at 39th Street and Van Buren in 1964. Still standing but no longer in operation, Lendrum's long-neglected tiki huts now look disturbingly like a series of nuclear reactors.
"That Polynesian-village frou-frou stuff was big back in the early Sixties," says Lendrum. "Why was it so popular? I have no idea."
@body:For the answer to that head-scratcher, pop sociologists need look no further than August 21, 1959, a date that will forever live in cultural infamy. That was the day Hawaii became the 50th state, an event that would change the country's landscape--or at least the northwest corner of 24th Street and Van Buren--for years to come.
Knowing little or nothing about the tropical paradise except what they'd seen in movies and travelogues, many Americans couldn't have been more thrilled if Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room attraction had been admitted to the Union. Almost overnight, Polynesia pervaded virtually every aspect of American life, from literature, movies and music to television, fashion, home entertaining, even housing.
Hawaii, James Michener's mammoth tome of 1960, dominated best-seller lists for nearly two years, eventually inspiring not one, but two motion pictures, the first arriving on screens in 1966. For those who couldn't wait, there was Elvis Presley's Blue Hawaii, Gidget Goes Hawaiian, and Diamond Head, a turgid pineapple opera starring Charlton Heston.
Hi-fis reverberated to the exotic, easy-listening sounds of Martin Denny and Yma Sumac; even former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello got into the act with her album Hawaiiannette featuring the hit tune "Pineapple Princess." On television, hula skirts and homicide provided the background for Hawaiian Eye, a popular, if improbable, detective series that ran from 1959 to 1963. Still hungry for luaus and larceny, audiences helped turn Hawaii Five-0 into a big hit five years later. And for the couch potato with less bloodthirsty taste, there was always Adventures in Paradise (1959-1962), a sort of seagoing Route 66 with a schooner replacing the Corvette. Suburban hostesses who had previously thought that "muumuus" were sounds made by cows suddenly began sporting those voluminous floral-print cotton smocks, the attire for any woman attending a backyard luau. And when she and her happy-shirted hubby arrived at the neighbors' tiki-torch-lined lawn, it was a cinch they'd sip mai tais and nibble culinary exotica like "Flaming Cabbage Head Weenies With Pu Pu Sauce." Culled from a women's magazine of the period, this actual recipe involved heating cocktail franks over a can of Sterno stuck in a hollowed-out head of cabbage.
And for mainland-bound Polyphiles who were seriously committed to this leisurely new way of island living, there were brand-new subdivisions and apartments that boasted of enclosed patios, tropical landscaping and Hawaiian-style trim on the windows and roofs. Witness this florid prose from a 1960 sales brochure touting a Polynesian-themed housing development in northwest Phoenix: "At Sands West, your family warrior can retire from his daily battle to your private lanai and find relaxation. . . . At Sands West, your work will be done as if by menehune [Hawaiian elf], thanks to the convenience of all-electric living. Your home is also protected from Kumumahanahana--God of Heat--by complete air conditioning and superior insulation."
@body:While the high-visibility Kon Tiki was unquestionably the Big Kahuna of the Valley's Polynesian movement, the brochure quoted above proves that the fanciful motel certainly had no lock on the style. In fact, several commercial enterprises dating back as far as the mid-Fifties had experimented with faux tropicana. One of the earliest was the Bikini lounge at 15th Avenue and Grand, a small tiki bar in continuous operation for more than 40 years. Much more memorable are The Islands and Trader Vic's, two now-defunct Polynesian restaurants that opened several years before the Kon Tiki was built. For sheer architectural chutzpah, The Islands easily gave the Kon Tiki a run for its money, looking like the cover of a Martin Denny album come to life. Best described as resembling a ceremonial lodge house, the sprawling restaurant that once stood at 4839 North Seventh Street appeared to be constructed entirely out of bamboo and palm fronds. If that weren't enough, the building's exterior also featured a waterfall, a moat and numerous palm-tree trunks carved to resemble tiki masks. Trader Vic's in Scottsdale's Fifth Avenue District took a similar (if more restrained) approach, saving its big guns for the restaurant's interior. While the decor was pretty much standard issue for this type of place (catamarans, blowfish, fishing nets, lava lamps and other specious island artifacts were scattered throughout the hutlike building), first-time visitors rarely failed to gasp in awe as they slurped slushy rum drinks out of garishly decorated ceramic bowls only slightly smaller than a birdbath.