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Tiki Archeology - The Shield Sign

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Bigbro and I have mentioned this architectural artifact on enough other threads that I think it needs to be discussed in a topic of its own. It looks like there was a company back in the 1960s that manufactured a lighted tiki sign with shields and gas-fed torches that was quite popular with several establishments. Here are the ones I've come across:

The Leilani in Wisconsin :down:

The Islander in Los Angeles :down:

Some had four shields, and some like the Kon Tiki in Tucson, AZ had three.
Here's a vintage rendering of the Kon Tiki sign, next to a photo of the actual sign today :down:

:up: It looks like the tiki head on top of the sign may have been changed at some time. The artist-rendering leads me to believe that it once looked like the Leilani or the Islander.

Here's another puzzle. The second location of the Kon Tiki chain, the one in Phoenix, had this sign :down:

The upper tiki mask on this sign matches pretty close the mask on the previous three signs. Could it have been made by the same company? If so, it would be an evolutionary jump from the simpler model. Or did the owners of the Kon Tiki chain have someone else create the sign for Phoenix, based on the one in Tucson? For that matter, which location came first, Tucson or Phoenix? I'm hoping my Arizona specialists can help me out.

Finally, there were signs with the same shield and torch arrangement, but with different tiki masks at the top. I still think they were made by the same company, mainly because they have that cross design on the shields. Decide for yourself. Here is the Tahiti in Wildwood, NJ :down:

...And the Trade Winds in Spokane, WA :down:

There were other places that used shield shapes in their signs, but I don't know if I'd attribute them to the same company. The Kapu Kai in Cucamonga, CA, for example :down:

Does anyone have any insights or information as to who manufactured these signs?

Do any of these signs still exist, besides the Kon Tiki in Tucson?

Does anyone know of any other tiki restaurants or hotels using this sign that I haven't listed yet. There had to be more. For instance, did the Coral Reef in Sacramento, CA use the same sign? Their logo has the exact same tiki face as the Islander and Kon Tiki Tucson signs. Compare the eyes, the lips, and the lines on the forehead :down:

If I found 5 or 6 in just my postcard collection, I'm betting that there were more of these great signs out there at one time. They have a fond place in my heart. Driving up La Cienega Blvd with my parents Sunday nights, on the way to church, we would pass the Islander with that sign illuminated, torches flaring wildly. It was mysterious and exotic and a powerful image for a young boy. It stayed with me years later and influenced my choice to delve back into tiki culture.


[ Edited by: Sabu The Coconut Boy 2006-02-06 00:24 ]


Excellent. Excellent post Sabu!

Would Bob & Leroy have any info on possible manufacturers of these kind of signs?

Or is it likely that these weren't created by one manufacturer, but just closely copied by the various designers at these locations? The all have similarities - but none seem totally identical.

In any case - interesting! A topic not discussed here yet on TC (hard to believe)!


very, very cool post sabu!

this mystery could be easily solved if someone wants to take a little time out to visit the county building department. if we could convince someone local to the islander whereabouts, and maybe one of our arizona tc friends to go to the county permit office, we could find out the exact manufacturer of these beauties. the key is to know when these places first opened. once you have that date, you can go to the permit office and page through the permits from that year. they have a separate section just for signage (at least, the one i went through for the stockton islander did). i think it is pretty routine that it is split up in that way. once you flip to the signs of that year, they thoroughly list all of the building permits--including manufacturer, date, size, and exact location.

i wish i could find the sign graveyard and steal one!

THE ISLANDER! Of course, that's the one I couldn't think of in the Seattle post! I knew you would get it, Sabu, thanks.
The Kon-Tiki Phoenix and the Kapu Kai are their own mystery I think (remember the Kon Tiki masks in the Del Webb's Ocean House/Jerry Lewis movie!), but that Tiki mask on the Coral Reef match book was also used by Helen Yue for her YUE's Restaurant.


Fantastic post, Sabu ! I think that Tahiti sign is one of my all time favorites. Growing up, we used to pass the Tahiti Motel on the way to the Wildwood boardwalk, during the summertime. I was recently looking for more info on the old Wildwood hotels and restaurants, and came across a more recent photo of the Tahiti. It shows some updates to that sign, here's the link to the website:


That tiki mask on the Coral Reef matchbook was also used by Mishima's, for their tropical drink menu. And the Trade Winds Motel in Lake Tahoe, has a slight variation of that tiki mask on their sign, but no shields. I'll take some pics and post them soon.


Here's a pic of the Mishima's menu, with the same tiki mask on the front:

Still need to find the Trade Winds Motel sign photo, will post as soon as I locate it.

Excellent Tiki urban archeology, Sabu!

Would the Fantasy Island (formerly Kelbo's) sign be one?


I'd say it was at least influenced by (or vice versa). Same lines on the forehead of the tiki mask. But that's the major similarity I can see. Thanks for that link and pic.

Here's another derivitive sign in Tucson, that I forgot about:

Since it's in the same city as as the Kon Tiki, I guess it's possible that design elements could have been copied from the Kon Tiki sign? Although the lips on the tiki mask look a lot like the one in Spokane, WA.

I'm going to take tikicleen's advice and visit the county building office here in Los Angeles. See if I can track down who made the Islander sign.



On 2006-02-05 23:37, Sabu The Coconut Boy wrote:
Does anyone know of any other tiki restaurants or hotels using this sign that I haven't listed yet. There had to be more. For instance, did the Coral Reef in Sacramento, CA use the same sign? Their logo has the exact same tiki face as the Islander and Kon Tiki Tucson signs. Compare the eyes, the lips, and the lines on the forehead :down:

During this weekend's Tiki Crawl, we went to the Bamboo Hut, which has been on the crawl for the last 4 years, at least. The Bamboo Hut's website (which looks like it was done a few years ago and not touched since) makes mention that the tiki there dates from 1948, though it doesn't mention anything about its provenance:


Someone we were chatting with this weekend (I don't remember who, I'm afraid -- AquaZombie?) mentioned that they'd learned where it came from when Bamboo Hut first opened in 1999, and that it was from a place in Sacramento, but we couldn't figure out the name. I'm betting now that it's the tiki from the sign at the Coral Reef that now resides at the Bamboo Hut in San Francisco:

It's a whopper!


I think we're getting away from the shield design, but there is also a similarity in the tiki on this sign I spotted in Grimes, CA, and discussed in this post: http://www.tikicentral.com/viewtopic.php?topic=10490&forum=1&start=last&

Humuhumu, I bet Otto knows where the Bamboo Hut tiki came from. Otto, are you listening?

Is this Tiki Lounge sign a mid-century modern adaptation of the shield theme?


This may be a more loose interpretation, but does Fantasy Island (formerly Kelbo's) also incorporate the sheild?

Lastly, does the Pitcairn, which was the inspiration for the Tiki Lounge light (above), do so as well?


Hot link from Space Age City (.com)
Cool website. This has to be a TCer. ?

Thanks, Unga Bunga.

He did post on TC when he was compiling these photographs.

Now, is the Pictairn also a shield design?

Yes, and I still occasionally read posts around here. I still love this stuff, I just don't have as much time for reading the forums as I used to.

Also I now have two sites...



Mahalo, Space Age City.

Sabu, after rereading this thread, you really shared some very insightful tiki archeology.

I'd be willing to gamble since nobody really knew any definitive information, that a good lead would be YESCO. The Young Electric Sign Company, or YESCO was Americas premier sign makers, especially dealing in neon. For those that do not know, they are the owners of the Las Vegas Neon Boneyard....Where all casino signs go in the end. YESCO was Las Vegas leading authority when it came to neon and custom signs, and I'm sure that if they didn't make any of these, they probably would know who did and who was their competition in the larger custom sign era, especially the 50s. I don't think sign shops were like starbucks in the 50s, on every corner, so it shouldnt be too much of a mystery to the elders at YESCO. try em' out if anyone is still interested in trying to solve this piece of tiki history.


Sabu, there were some great pics that you had posted at the start of this thread. Any way that you can repost them, or fix the broken links to them? :)

Pages: 1 18 replies