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The Polynesia, Seattle, WA (restaurant)

Pages: 1 2 70 replies


Name:The Polynesia
Street:Pier 51



From Seattle Times September 3, 1961

*The Polynesia, new $500,000 restaurant on Pier 51, is like a prologue to a romantic poem, with every word and every syllable in the right place.

The materials and the motif go together in creating a South Seas atmosphere in a beautiful setting on Puget Sound. The high peaked 'long house' design with its interior walls of polished matched teakwood and grass cloth, the deeply carved beams and banquettes, the rattan chairs and the carved figures all have a Polynesian flavor.

Raymond H. Peck, the architect, who designed the restaurant, chose his central theme from the markings of ceremonial shields, canoe prows, and art of Tahiti, the Philippine Islands and Pago Pago.

Peck used lava rock from the big island of Hawaii, precious woods from the Far East, coral and tree ferns (hapu), art carvings, sea shells, and hand-woven materials.
The heavy posts and beams, all carved, are more than 50 years old. They were taken from the building razed to make way for the restaurant. They were carved with theme designs created by Peck.

The carving was done by Donald Keys and Donald Ingalls, Seattle artists. The markings on the post and beams are repeated in the china. A ceremonial shield design, taken from an authentic Marquesas shield found in a museum, is used as the cover for the menu.

A spiral fireplace in the main dining room rises from a reflecting pool on the floor to a black metal hood in the ceiling. The spiral is made of pipe, perforated to produce dozens of small open flames.

Three Tahitian Torches will mark the entrance.

The banquettes were carved by Witco of Mt Vernon, a company which specializes in the carving of darkened cedar. A life-size Tiki figure, in the hallway, was carved in Manila of monkey pod. Solid teak door pulls and a door panel were made by Keys and Ingalls.

Transparencies with Tahitian emblems laminated in plastic by Fay Chong, Pacific Northwest artist, mark the front on view side of the restaurant.

There is a modern air to the building, with its wide window walls taking in the broad sweep of Puget Sound and Seattle to the north and south.

A menu has been created to go along with the setting...(The restaurant) will feature lunch and dinner. It also has a cocktail lounge.

(Owner) Dave Cohn has engaged Anita Moore, a former resident of Tahiti, to inform guests on the customs and art of the Polynesians.*

The Polynesia Restaurant (called the Poly by locals) remained at Pier 51 (which was also owned by David Cohn) until the state condemned the Pier around 1981 in order to expand the Seattle ferry terminal.

The Polynesia closed around May of 1981 and all of it's interior fixtures and furnishings were removed. Cohn looked for another location to physically move the Polynesia but zoning restrictions blocked his efforts. "I'm just sick," Cohn said in a 1981 newspaper article, "I'd go anyplace. We've been kicked out of our own property by the state...and nobody will help us relocate...no one seems to care."

On the morning of January 25th, 1982 just after high tide, the entire Polynesia Restaurant was lifted in one piece off of Pier 51 by a large floating crane. Acocrding to a newspaper report he Polynesia was "placed on a barge and towed to a site on the Duwamish River while the owners search for a new location."

Unfortunately a new location was never found. According to David Cohn the problem was the size of the Polynesian and zoning restrictions for available locations. Sometime after the Polynesia's mothballing Cohn gave up and let the Seattle Fire Department burn the structure for practice.

David Cohn died in 2003 at the age of 85 but the restaurant business he started is still going strong. It includes major Seattle area restaurants such as the Metropolitan and Elliot's.

In 2002 I spoke to Cohn on the telephone. Of the Polynesia's origins Cohn said he had taken architect Raymond Peck to Pier 51 and said "Hey Ray, I want to build a Polynesian restaurant at this site and I can't even spell the word."

Cohn spoke very fondly of the restaurant and the staff that worked there. over 20 years after the Polynesia's closing it was obvious the Cohn still felt sad about it. I got the feeling that the Polynesia was really special to him.

Cohn said when the Polynesia was closed some of the Polynesia's fixtures were moved to some of his other restaurants but he couldn't recall what happened to the bulk of the interior.

Most of the above first appeared in this post here.


The below photos and information were originally posted by Puamana in this thread here.

...Visuals from a 1960's Polynesia souvenir menu mailer. This is the first paper ephemera I've seen which shows an interior photo of the restaurant ! Menus with the signature Marquesan shield logo are in two photos, as well as a nice view of the carved beams & spiral fireplace...

Front of mailer, with nice illustration of building exterior:

closer view:

Back page :

Interior photo of the restaurant:

Closer view...check out those tapa carved beams, and the spiral fireplace mentioned on the right :

Dinner & drinks page:

Closer view of drinks:

Restaurant description on mailer page:

The above photos and information were originally posted by Puamana in this thread here.

[ Edited by: woofmutt 2010-08-04 07:58 ]


The below photos and information were originally posted by Sweet Daddy Tiki in this thread here.

Here's some screen caps from the DVD of the 1962 Mutiny On The Bounty. They're from a bonus newsreel about a tour the replica of the Bounty made to various cities including Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle. Guess where the Bounty docked in Seattle?

The above photos and information were originally posted by Sweet Daddy Tiki in this thread here.

[ Edited by: woofmutt 2010-08-04 07:59 ]


The below photo and information were originally posted by Mo-Eye in this thread here.

...The Seattle Polynesia from 1978.

The above photo and information were originally posted by Mo-Eye in this thread here.

[ Edited by: woofmutt 2010-08-04 08:02 ]


The below photos and information were originally posted by Sabu The Coconut Boy in this thread here.

Some more images of the Polynesia in Seattle. I think I posted these first two a long time ago, before I had a decent scanner. Time to re-post them on this thread.

These next three are from Sept. 1964 issue of "Architectural Record" magazine:

The Polynesia restaurant has a dramatic setting at the end of a 125-foot-wide pier which extends 800 feet from the Seattle waterfront into Puget Sound, and its unusual triple A-frame form - inspired by the "halau" or long house - accentuates the dramatic location. The structure is of heavy timber, with special precautions due to the building's location. The necessary sprinkler system is installed, however, so that only the sprinkler heads penetrate to the interior; supply lines are mounted on the outside and run 2 inches off the roof. Charcoal-colored asbestos shingles provide fire-resistant roofing. The red cedar siding, set on a slant to parallel one line of the A-frames, is stained dark brown. The two-level dining area looks out over the sound to a panoramic view of the Olympic Mountains. Most of the seating is built-in to resemble carved Polynesian benches. The cylindrical "fireplace" consists of 1-inch copper tube, bent into a spiral and drilled for gas gets, surrounded by a mesh screen. The architect no only designed the building but the menus as well, and selected the costumes for waiters and waitresses, using tangerine, gold, black and seal brown - the same basic colors used elsewhere in the building.

The above photos and information were originally posted by Sabu The Coconut Boy in this thread here.

[ Edited by: woofmutt 2010-08-04 08:06 ]


The below photo and information were originally posted by bigbrotiki in this thread here.

...Page 249 Tiki Modern:

The above photo and information were originally posted by bigbrotiki in this thread here.

[ Edited by: woofmutt 2010-08-04 08:10 ]


The below photos and information were originally posted by Sophista-tiki in this thread here.

Long story short, the giant mask was found floating in Elliot Bay. Apparently pieces of decor were being chucked in the water before they hauled (the Polynesia) away.

The above photos and information were originally posted by Sophista-tiki in this thread here.

[ Edited by: woofmutt 2010-08-04 08:18 ]

first time Iver checkd this thread since all the new photos were added. EEEE I love this building, noiw that i have all this refrence material so convieniently located in one spot, I'm going to work this into a painting.


Actually I was shocked and ashamed to discover there wasn't a thread in this forum for the Poly. So I wrangled it all together.

It really was an amazing place. But hey, at least we have an AWESOME ferry dock now!

I picked up an old double page ad from an architectural magazine that featured the Polynesia Restaurant. A modern design indeed!

Some close ups of the front exterior A-Frames and port cochere.

The Tiki out front in the bushes.

The ad also contained the interior layout design from the architect Raymond Peck.

Here is the description of the woods and craftsmanship used to build the Polynesia Restaurant.

A nice historical record of the building!


Nice! Do you know which issue (month/year) of that mag it was in? It' s interesting that both, in Puamana's rendering at the beginning of this thread and now in the photo the two humongous Witco masks in the far left and right A-frame are not present.


The advertisement I posted is dated April 1962 and Sabu's photo with the Witco masks is dated September 1964... so sometime between the two dates the masks were added.



Wish that plan was labeled. Is the kitchen and bathrooms to the left and bar to the right and dining rooms at the top of the plan?

I came across some more old photos and history on the Polynesia on a historical Seattle website.

Here two photos of the restaurant under construction. These types of construction shots are hard to come by, I can only think of one or two others.

Great details in the beams.

Next up a few aerial shots from the buildings across the way. You really get a sense of the scale of the piers from this vantage.

An early view from the adjacent pier 50.

Another shot of the Bounty docked beside the restaurant.

This is the Skagit Belle which was moved to Pier 51 and operated as another restaurant.

It sunk in place in 1965.



Thought I'd add a matchbook I have to the thread. But what is this shield like design from, it's on the menu, flyer and matchbook. What island region? Anyone know?

aloha, tikicoma

This is a good question, in a good thread, by a good Tiki archeologist, and it deserves an answer. The short answer would be that the Polynesia's logo is Marquesan (from the Marquesas Islands, the cradle of Polynesian culture, North of Tahiti)

But it wouldn't be quite correct for the above, because the match book example you picked here depicts a stylized, modernist version of the initial Marquesan logo art that can be seen on the menu on page one of this thread. Here is another menu page with the rendering in its original form:

But then they used that stylized version on another (later?) menu. This version really had very little to do with Marquesan art:

I guess that menu cover artist didn't know or care what he was depicting (now how could THAT be !? :) )

Then you calling it a SHIELD makes sense, but I knew that the Marquesans did not use shields, so I went and looked where in Marquesan art this form had been used (I had asked myself before about that). The patterns could have been from tatoo sample boards...

...but that rounded-off form was not used for those. That form kinda reminded me of this Paul Gauguin print:

...but I guess that is more phallic. The best likeness of shape I could come up with was this TOBACCO CONTAINER:

(Tobacco was a dried plant that natives would put in "pipes" and light on fire to inhale its smoke - would you believe it !?)

Does anybody have any other suggestions, please?

[ Edited by: bigbrotiki 2011-08-10 11:49 ]

Boy that second graphic artist sure butchered the original Marquesan design of the menu!

Very good question from Tikicoma and an excellent response from Bigbro. Some other possibilities for design inspiration:

The top of a war club

A bowl with a similar shape.

Another tobacco holder

I think the tobacco holder has to be it.


Thanks DC, it is good to be talking to someone. :)

The only other source I could come up with are carved wooden bowl LIDS

  • but they have too symetric of a shape.

When I looked at the shape on the Polynesia menu, my first impression was of a stylized turtle shell, albeit without head and flippers, and maybe inverted... could be too many Zombies, though...


bump cause i need to find it easily


I haven't found the source of the image for the Polynesia but I did find some interesting designs.

From Mrbalihai's site, his Marquesan paddle.

and another Marquesan paddle from the web.

They sure look similar to the menu design. Now what oceanic art books would an architectural design firm in Seattle have access to from before 1961?

aloha, tikicoma

"For an evening quite unlike any other..." The Polynesia.

The ad is from the Seattle Greeter of 1962.

aloha, tikicoma

Here is a great news-wire photo of David Cohn, the owner of the Polynesia with a Tiki that must have been at the restaurant (from ebay).

Never seen this Tiki in any of the photos from the Polynesia.

But it reminds me of the Tiki from the Leilani restaurant in Wisconsin.


Found on the restaurant groups website that owned the Polynesia,

this shot shows what must be one of Fay Chongs Tahitian emblem transparencies.

and, well, piles of food!

aloha, tikicoma

I picked up this menu from the Polynesia that has a good copy of the PNG design on the cover.

I am thinking those paddles that Tikicoma posted are the closest match to this design.


The large Witco mask seen in pictures below and posted by Sophiti-tiki is either
one of two or the same one that has been in storage for many years (this is the
same mask seen on the front of the Polynesian Restaurant). The same mask is owned by a
local decorator who swears it is from The Polynesian. My band, The Ukadelics, used it as
a backdrop for the Leeteg velvet art show a few months back. Same one? More than one?

Cap'n cook, thanks for the info on the mask. Where is it it storage?

I picked up a postcard showing the Seattle ferry terminal with a view of the Polynesia building in the background.

The building in front is Ye Olde Curiosity shop.


Just got this nice drink menu from the Polynesia in Seattle.

The cover. Looks like you could have not one, not two, but three drinks!

Inside message.

The great drink photos, this one with a photo of the large Tiki I posted previously.

More drinks, drinks, drinks.

Looks like they used the Trader Vic's line of Tiki mugs.


Wow... what a cool menu and finally one that speaks to me and my "three drink" minimum. Fantastic find DC and thanks for posting.

On 2013-05-23 17:18, Dustycajun wrote:
Just got this nice drink menu from the Polynesia in Seattle.

The cover. Looks like you could have not one, not two, but three drinks!

Inside message.

The great drink photos, this one with a photo of the large Tiki I posted previously.

More drinks, drinks, drinks.

Looks like they used the Trader Vic's line of Tiki mugs.

Nice one! Wonder why they felt the need to add that tiny Moai next to the giant Ku...I guess it's from POLYNESIA!

Cocktails from 11:00 am :)

[ Edited by: bigbrotiki 2013-05-24 23:46 ]

On 2013-05-24 23:45, bigbrotiki wrote:

Nice one! Wonder why they felt the need to add that tiny Moai next to the giant Ku...I guess it's from POLYNESIA!

Cocktails from 11:00 am :)

A bigger version of that Moai was located in front of the Polynesia.

A few more Polynesia art-i-facts.


I'm bored so here's a new photo...

aloha, or should I say, see you ladder.


Great photo, where did you find that?

Picked up another postcard showing the ferry terminal and the Polynesia.


Picked up an earlier drink menu from the Polynesian (again encouraging a three drink minimum!)

This one did not have any graphics, but there are some great drink names that I had not heard of before.

The Lost Navigator, Leeteg's Legacy, Capt. Bligh's Dream to name a few.

Not a bad appetizer list.


Three drink "minimum" is a new one on me DC, I've heard of two max, great post as always,


And all I can find are matchboxes.

Dig those black matches!

The flip side. (sorry about the blurry photos, I deed to work on that)

aloha, tikicoma


"A triple-peaked Polynesian longhouse on the end of a pier--with excellent food."

From You Still Can't Eat Mt Rainier by William Speidel, ill. by Bob Cram (1961).

I also ran across this YouTube film that has a shot of the Polynesia, with torches in full flame (from 14:42 to 14:47).

"1962 World's Fair Service Scouts"

aloha, tikicoma

[ Edited by: tikicoma 2014-10-23 02:38 ]

Did they maybe have a separate lunch menu? The Polynesia menu (yellow front with shield) that I just bought has very non-exotic food choices. It lists hamburgers, sandwiches and some fish dishes.


Hello! I am new to Tiki Central but found this forum from doing some research on the Polynesia Restaurant in Seattle. I recently became interested in this restaurant because I recently moved to a new place of residence that has a car port here with some beautiful hand carved beams. I was fascinated by the beauty of the beams located on the carport and found out from my landlord that the beams came from the Polynesia Restaurant in Seattle. When I found this forum, I was blown away when I saw the beautiful hand carved timber beams in the restaurant--those are the beams that are located in the carport here! I loved reading everyone's posts and the history of this restaurant, and the photos and stories people posted are absolutely fascinating! I especially love the photos that show the timber beams and the story of how the Tiki head was found floating in Elliot Bay. What an interesting history for this restaurant, but it saddens me as well to hear about it's demise. I wish I could have had the opportunity to visit this amazing architectural building and restaurant. I don't know the story of how the beams got here--that is a question for my landlord next time I speak with her. I have posted some photos of the Polynesia Restaurant beams here in the carport and would love to talk with others more about this amazing restaurant. Now every time I go out in the carport area, I look up at the beams and think "Wow! This is a bit of local history right here at my residence!" I feel blessed to have these beautiful pieces of artwork here, but a part of me also feels like they should have been used for something else other than a carport. Looking forward to hearing from others soon!


Wow. Looks like it!

smini posted on Tue, Nov 25, 2014 8:19 AM

I know Swanky,when I saw the posted picture earlier in this thread, I was completely blown away by the similarity. If anyone else has any information about the Polynesia or these wooden beams, I would love to hear from you. Or have any of you visited the Polynesia when it was open?

FANTASTIC!!! Just goes to show that these items show up in the strangest places. At least someone thought enough to save them.

[ Edited by: uncle trav 2014-11-25 15:27 ]

This is one of many great threads on TC that compiles so much info and imagery on one certain place.

I always assumed that these moldings were Witco made, because I know Witco was involved in the restaurant. I cannot check to make sure right now, because I am not with my archive. But even if the wood is not swamp cedar, I think they still could have been carved in the Westenhaver shop.

[ Edited by: bigbrotiki 2014-11-25 21:52 ]


It is pretty amazing that these beams were saved and that someone thought enough to save them. I am so curious to know if a previous owner of this house knew David Cohn or had some kind of connection that allowed them to gain access to these beams. Next time I speak with my landlord, I will see if she knows more about the beams and who/when they were brought here to the property.

I looked up Witco, as I wasn't sure what it was. I know in the Seattle Times article at the beginning of this thread, it states that Donald Keys and Donald Ingalls, local Seattle artists, both hand carved the beams. Were these two gentlemen part of the Witco Company?


What a cool find, thanks for posting.

This piece from my magazine ad provides a little more detail on the beams.


Thank you DustyCajun for posting this! Very interesting information on the beams and the type of wood used. I wish I could have seen this restaurant--it sounds like it was really an amazing place! Dusty Cajun, I saw the tiki mug and dishware from the Polynesia that you posted on this thread--that is very cool! Where did you find those items? Did you ever get the chance to go the Polynesia?

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