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More Los Angeles Tiki Archeology - circa 1954

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Recently I purchased a 1954 Hot Rod magazine on Ebay because the description touted an article on "The Tahitian - Custom Ford with South Pacific look". I wanted to see if there was a Hot-rod/Tiki crossover in the early 1950s.

When the magazine arrived, though, I was a little disappointed. Here's the owner's idea of a "South Pacific" look for his customized 1951 Ford Victoria:

The caption reads: "The Tahitian - the car with the South Pacific look - features conservative restyling carefully executed."
Conservative is right! I guess I was expecting bamboo, a thatched interior, tiki headlight covers etc. I always tend to be a little overly-optimistic.

I was about to re-list the magazine on e-bay when I noticed the restaurant the car was parked in front of in the photos. It had bamboo shutters, lots of tropical foliage, and a neon sign reading "BAR-B-Q TO TAKE HOME" on the side. (There was no view of the front of the restaurant). Wouldn't it make sense that they would pose a car called the Tahitian in front of hip Tiki or Polynesian Restaurant for the photoshoot? I was suddenly interested in the article again.

Furthermore, I could tell by the street signs that it was located at the corner of 1st and Fairfax in La Brea. That ruled out the restaurant actually named "The Tahitian", because it was on Ventura, and it also ruled out The Luau, The Islander, and all the other LA tiki spots I knew about. I decided to take a field trip and had the chance this last Sunday afternoon. I brought my camera and the magazine.

Here's what the site looks like today:

I knew I was in the right place, because the CBS studios building across the street on Fairfax looks exactly as it did in the 1954 photo. What was once the restaurant, however, was now a white, gleaming Warehouse Music store.

Now I needed to talk to some old people who lived in the neighborhood since the 1950s or 60s and who remembered the restaurant. This turned to be surprisingly easy! All I had to do was walk two blocks north to famous Cantor's Deli, and on a Sunday afternoon the place was literally packed with elderly, well-dressed patrons in their seventies. Most of them have lived locally since the 1960s at least and most of them were happy to talk to me.

Without any prompting from me, many of them recognized the place in my magazine as "that old Luau-style restaurant" or "that Tahitian-themed place". So I was excited that I was on the right track. They remembered the sign and some had even eaten there, but they couldn't remember the name. It was a curious name, they told me. They also remembered a fact that many of us mug-collectors now know - that most of the local Chinese restaurants went Tiki in the 1950s and 1960s as well, but they didn't think this was a Chinese restaurant.

Too fascinated to give up, I walked the other direction, to the old Farmer's Market at the corner of 3rd and Fairfax. There I found a tall man in a hat, peering into a shop window.

"You didn't happen to live around here in the 1960s, did you?" I asked.

"Oh didn't I?!" He said, as if slightly offended. "I've lived right in this neighborhood since 1954. Let me see what you've got there."

He snatched the open magazine from my hand and stared for just a moment at the picture I pointed out.

"That was Kelbo's," He said matter-of-factly. "There was a Kelbo's down on Pico in West L.A., but this was the second Kelbos. It was at the corner of 1st and Fairfax."

I was ecstatic. "That makes sense!" I said, "Because they were famous for their Barbeque Ribs. I just never knew where the second Kelbo's was located."

We got to talking, and boy! This old-timer had been to every Los Angeles Tiki restaurant you could think of back in the heyday. He rattled off The Luau, The Tikis, The Tahitian, The Seven Seas, Wan-Q's, The Islander, Trader Vic's in The Beverly Hilton, (he was pleased that I knew it was called The Traders in the old days), Clifton's Cafeteria and Don The Beachcomber, among others. He even used the correct names, such as "Steve Crane's Luau" and "Bob Brook's 7-Seas". We talked animatedly for a half-hour or so, and then he bid me a "Good Afternoon" and caught his bus. I had jotted down a few new leads that he had given me - Tiki spots that I hadn't heard about to research later.

I know I could have probably posted the photos and the address to Tiki Central and several of you could have told me I was looking for KELBOS, but it was really satisfying to do it the hard way and have success in the process.

Do any of you know if the Kelbo's on 1st and Fairfax served drinks in those big-toothed mugs like the Kelbo's on Pico did?



Sabu - like always, wonderful detective/archaeological work - your posts on Tiki Central never fail to entertain and enlighten! Keep up the good work!



From Associated Press:

CARSON, CA December 2- In what appears to be the latest homicide in the Southland, a programmer was found dead today in his home, apparently beaten to death by a series of antique novelty mugs. Found next to body was a note, written in blood and covered by what appear to be dark rum stains, which reads, "Zere can be only vun urban archeolgist in zis town! Let zis be a varning to ze rrrrrest of you!" Local witnesses reported a stately grey-haired man fleeing the scene, screaming, "Ja, und I discovered ze Vunderful Verld of Vitco! So zere!" The victum, a charming cherub of a man known by neighbors as "The Coconut Boy", was seen recently harrassing elderly Jewish people at a neighborhood deli. "We were just enjoying our kreplach when this guy comes up to our table with all these three ring binders. I thought he was going to try to sell us a timeshare", reports one man.

nice work, sabu.


Very interesting post. I bet there's lots of old-timers out there who have some really cool stories about long gone Polynesian palaces. Would definitely be cool to hear them and maybe compile them into a "tiki diary" of sorts.

On 2002-12-03 00:50, martiki6 wrote:
which reads, "Zere can be only vun urban archeolgist in zis town! Let zis be a varning to ze rrrrrest of you!"

No no! There can be, there MUST be MANY urban archeologists, in MANY towns!

I've never seen a picture of the Fairfax Kelbo's! It's purported to be the first one, that's where Popo Galcini practiced his fine mixology. Thanks, fellow hunter and collector.


Excellent hunting, Sabu! What a great story to read! I think more people- me included- should do fact finding missions like that. It's fascinating!

...and I cracked up at Martiki's little yokeee :lol: Kudos to you!!

Great work Sabu...though I can't decide which post I enjoyed better, yours or Martiki's reply.

Nitpicking department - It's a Rod and Custom Magazine. And thank god the custom cars form the 50's did not look like the later 60-70's garish examples of bad taste. The car could have been named the Tahitian because of a color scheme...but the pics are probably all B&W.

Thanks again Sabu...keep posting your discoveries


Reever posted on Thu, Dec 5, 2002 5:08 PM

Love a great piece of detective work Sabu. Great story! Great find!

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