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Black Pearl, St. Petersburg, FL (restaurant)

Pages: 1 17 replies


Name:Black Pearl
Street:9980 Gulf Boulevard
City:St. Petersburg

Polynesian restaurant.


This is another hidden gem I just found. I don't think anyone knew about this one.

The Black Pearl opened May 30, 1959 on Treasure Island, at the site of the Reef Restaurant.

Here is an amazing article about it in the June 21, 1959 issue of the St. Petersburg Times.

Exotic Aura of the South Seas Brought to Suncoast's Shore

Indicative of the St. Petersburg Area's Increasingly Cosmopolitan taste is the advent of a restaurant that has gone all out to acheive an exotic decor as well as specializing in exotic foods.

With exterior walls of bamboo introducing the tropical effect, Vincent Auletta's The Black Pearl at Treasure Island has followed through on the interior with a Polynesian theme of aesthetic interest for its artistry, authenticity and imagination.

Decorations are by Kali and Taneo Kumalae, who did the Luau at Miami and a number of other Polynesian restaurants throughout the country. The Kumalaes are also known for their daily TV show in Miami on American and International homemaking arts, run a private catering service, direct a troupe of eight dancers, and supervise costuming, for, decor and entertainment for restaurants and night clubs.

The Black Pearl is divided into four units, the bar, a bamboo enclosed space for private parties, the main dining room and the Witch Doctor's Den.

In the dining room the tropical decor is carried out with palm frond ceiling fans, sea shell light fixtures and tapi - cloth prints of Polynesian design on the walls, while all the Gulf side wall is of glass, giving a splendid view of the open water. A rock fountain, flower draped bamboo poles and varied philodendrons add to the atmosphere.

Most novel is the Witch Doctor's Den, which is entered through a thatched canopy supported by skull topped poles. Inside all is dark except for the strobe lighting reflected off the decorations and the white clothing of the patrons. There are no chairs, just cushions set beside very low tables. Weird faces of various Polynesian gods share the eerie atmosphere of the den, each hand painted on the wall by Kali Kumalae.

Waitresses are attired in sarongs and leis, while music is provided by the Tropicaires, Hawaiian Duo who came here from the Eden Roc in Miami Beach. Late entertainment features Luana, Tahitian dancer, here after six months in the Hawaiian Room of the Lexington Hotel, New York City.

Here's an ad I found for the place:

More to come in a little bit...

Fan-a-tastic! A pearl, indeed: The"Witchdoctor's Den"! Luana posing with flash bulb lighted Akua! Fluorescent TAPI-cloth!? :lol: It don't get any better than this. Geoff Sundstrom, are you seeing these? Florida must have been a haven for Polynesian dance troups!


The thing I can't believe is how much of a Tiki Mecca St. Petersburg was. They had a good 5+ Polynesian themed places. And I'm still finding more as I go along.


It gets even better, here is a large article about the couple that designed the place, from the May 9, 1959 St. Petersburg Times:

Their Business is Polynesian Culture

Hungry, you say? Here's just the meal for you: lomi lomi kamano (cooked over an imu) accompanied by kaona and uwala, and washed down with a coconut shell ful of hua inu. For desert there's a choice - haupia or mai a.

Taneo Kumalae can whip up this Hawaiian feast faster than you can say Oahu. And while she does she'll explain what it is: massaged salmon cooked over an underground pit oven, corn on the cob, sweet potato, fruit punch and coconut pudding or baked banana.

Taneo and her husband Kali, both half-blooded Hawaiians, have made a business of food, crafts, customs and dances of other lands, particularly those of Polynesia and the Middle East.

TV Shows
Rather, several businesses, Mornings over Miami's television channel 10 Taneo discusses American and international homemaking arts; Tuesday afternoons Kali joins her in a TV show of Polynesian dancing; and once a month they produce a TV "Festival of the Month" combining food, arts and music of a specific culture or nation. Recent shows have dealt with Hungary, the American Indian, Polynesia and Mexico.

Amazingly, they also find time to run a private catering service, outfit and train a dance troupe of eight, and supervise costuming, food, decor and entertainment for restaurants and night clubs.

the restaurant they're overseeing now is the Black Pearl, scheduled to open about May 30 at the site of the former Reef Restaurant, Treasure Island. Operator will be Vincent Auletta, ex-manager of the Colonial Inn's Plantation Room.

Besides decorating and planning menus, the Kumalaes are teaching Black Pearl waitresses to make their own flower leis. "I can dance, sing and cook in 13 languages, and speak middling well in seven," Taneo said.

"The Black Pearl will be Polynesian, of course, but there'll be food from the East Indies also. I look after the food and entertainment; Kali's been making black light paintings and carving statues of island gods.

"See that dried blowfish and those conch shells? They're going to be lamps."

Another recent Kumalae effort was the Ivory Tower atop Miami Beach's Saxony Hotel. A newspaper describes it thus: "A bevy of harem clad beauties to serve you exotic liquor concoctions, wondrous coffees, gourmet delicacies as you dance barefoot on our plush oriental carpet... glide heavenward in our Crystal Ball, the remarkable outside elevator..."

Hawaiian Wedding
Taneo and Kali were married last year by a kahuna (high priest) in a traditional Hawaiian wedding, believed to be the first held in the United States - excluding, of course, Hawaii itself.

"I use to live in Palm Springs, Calif." Taneo said. "Then I visited Miami. One day I was walking down the beach, when suddenly this fish net engulfed me. That's how I met Kali."

Both Kumalaes were born into their profession, although neither was born in Hawaii. Taneo's birthplace was New York.

"My mother was a singer," she said, "so I learned to sing and dance very early - most Hawaiian girls do." "I've been dancing professionally, in fact, since I was 14. When I was 17 I started lecturing for Pearl Buck's East and West Association. She saw me perform at the Ethnological Dance center in New York, and since she didn't have a Polynesian lecturer, she asked me to join her group."

As for Kali, he was born in Montana. His father sold ukuleles throughout the South Pacific and America, and is now, Kali says, the oldest pureblood Hawaiian living in the continental United States. Kali's grandfather was in the last Hawaiian king's Cabinet.

Singing Prodigy
As a child Kali was a singing prodigy and traveled across the country with a Hawaiian troupe. He can play all percussion instruments, bass, guitar and, naturally, ukulele.

"No, we don't travel to pick up background on other cultures," Taneo said. "We've learned most of what we know from artists of other lands who come to this country." "However, we're going to move to Hawaii Permanently one of these days. We're happy about statehood, of course. We feel Hawaii's culture will remain the same regardless of politics and that all changes will be for the better - roads, utilities, things like that."

"First though, we'd like to visit South America. We're amateur archeologists too, you see. I guess you might say neither of us believes in being a stick in the mud."


So, I assume that Kali's father was...

Jonah Kumalae

Jonah Kumalae's smartest business decision was to take a booth at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Here, he showcased his finely crafted ukuleles and taropatch ukuleles, even bringing over Hawaiian musicians to play with his instruments. As a result, he was awarded the "Gold Award" (whatever that was), which he put on his headstock.

During his heyday in the 20s and 30s, Kumalae made over 600 ukuleles every month, employed 50 people and had a 20,000 square foot factory. He also made instruments for other companies, such as ukulele teachers Paul and Harold Summers. Kumalae ukuleles were known for their beautiful binding and very curly Hawaiian koa wood.

Unfortunately, like many other manufacturers, Kumalae closed his business in the early 40s due to a dropping off of business during the war.

Wow, how cool. Apparently Taneo went on to practice Huna, the ancient Hawaiian mysticism. Her name (with the adage "Sands", maybe her maiden name, or she remarried) is on a bunch of New Age websites offering exercises practiced by her:


(The only Ahi ritual I am familiar with involves Sushi). She must have founded a school of huna, because she is mentioned by name as a source among other practices:

"Tags: Kahuna, huna, huna healing, hooponopono, ho'oponopono, taneo sands kumalae, aka cords, huna kahuna,.."

Here a little info about Huna:


It makes perfect sense that in the 70s, when the children of the Polynesian pop generation turned their back on cocktail culture and became incense burning, dope smoking, "Aquarius" singing hippies, active members of the Poly pop set evolved into New Age believers, also. She sounds like she had a great life. :)


Now back to The Black Pearl...

You'll notice in the small ad the restaurant is called Joe Mucciano's Black Pearl. I can't find any info on who he was, other than he seemed to stay in that area his whole life and passed away in the 1990s.

But to add a twist to the story, I found that he opened the S.S. Black Pearl in St. Petersburg in Dec. 1963, which was a restaurant on a boat. There's a small article about it's opening, but it doesn't say anything about having Polynesian food or decor. There is a photo of it in the paper, and it looks pretty plain:

I thought it was odd that he would open a new restaurant under basically the same name, and the article doesn't mention the Supper Club at all. Does that mean it was already closed?

I did find a 1964 food article that gave 2 of Muccinao's recipes from the S.S. Black Pearl, and one of those was a Samoan Island Salad Dressing, so it looks like he may have held on to a little bit of Polynesia. The article says that he brought this recipe back from Samoa when he went there to attend a wedding.

But that's about all I could find on the web, so far...

Anybody else?


And just another little tid bit:

An April 1960 article states that "The popular Black Pearl at Treasure Island is undergoing more changes and all for the better. Jow Mucciano is this very week building the patio for dining right on the gulf. the newly enlarged kitchen is preparing American cuisine in addition to the Polynesian Luaus."

They must have been doing pretty well to expand less than a year since opening???

Wow, these folks have SOME Polynesian pop lineage:

The father a ukelele manufacturer in Pre-Tiki times, the daughter a Polynesian lecturer/TV show host/dancer at the peak of Poly pop, and after that, going New Age --what a mirror of the 20th Century!

Being that the two were married by a Kahuna, they might have been Huna followers all along, just doing the Polynesian dog and pony show for the whities. :D


To add to all of that, I just found that they opened their open Tiki temple right after the Black Pearl. That's my next post coming shortly.


I think it's kind of funny that there are so many sites on the web about her Huna, and nothing about herself. All I could find is that they did have a daughter Nani who passed away last year at age 48, and her obit listed both Kali and Taneo as having already passed away. But it does list that Nani has 3 sisters and a daughter.


After searching some more, the only other thing that I can confirm is that the Black Pearl was definitely gone by 1973, as a new hotel was being built at that address....

On 2009-04-25 12:28, Mo-Eye wrote:
The thing I can't believe is how much of a Tiki Mecca St. Petersburg was. They had a good 5+ Polynesian themed places. And I'm still finding more as I go along.

I lived there through most of the '80s, and I can't believe it. Looks like all this stuff you dug up was long gone by then. It was a pretty sleepy town when I was there, apparently things were different before that.

That said, I do remember Hawaii being a big influence there, though more in terms of the surfing culture (even though there isn't really surf on the gulf coast.) Thanks for posting.


[ Edited by: Tonga Trader 2009-04-27 07:53 ]

Yes, St. Petersburg really did have some gems, although most of them were gone by the time I developed my interest. I'm always on the lookout around here for finds at garage sales and flea markets, that represent that time period.


Just an update on the timeline - I found a 1964 article that mentioned the chef of the "old Black Pearl restaurant" working at a new place, so it looks like the Black pearl may have not lasted too long and have already been gone by 1964.

Dang, how I would love to see some good pictures of that self-made decor, and of the Kumalaes!

This is really great stuff. Witch Doctor's den is an almost perfect "tiki" lounge name since it is all about exotica rather than polynesian. So if was Kali was from Montana, was he from Kali-spell? Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Pages: 1 17 replies