Remembering the Kapu-Kai


Among the Seven Wonders Past suggested by readers was the Kapu-Kai in Rancho Cucamonga.

This Polynesian paradise consisted initially of the Kapu-Kai Coffee Shop with an attached bowling alley. As I understand it, the bowling alley also boasted The Hut restaurant, Outrigger cocktail lounge and Tahitian Fire Room. This complex stood on the corner of Foothill and Vineyard from 1962 to 1994, when it was bulldozed, according to Charles Phoenix’s “Cruising the Pomona Valley.”

The name Kapu-Kai, he says, translates to Forbidden Sea. Ooooh! It was name-checked in Joan Didion’s famous essay, “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream.”

Here’s what reader Marilyn von Kuhlberg had to say about the Kapu-Kai in a recent e-mail:

“That was a unique design. Armstrong’s nursery in Ontario had been designed by the same architect. First, a bowling alley, then skating rink, it had a wonderful restaurant with memorable fried chicken, the best I have ever eaten. After it was damaged in the big flood of 1969, the roof and more could not be repaired. And so it languished.”

That corner is now famous for having two Starbucks outlets, one at the edge of the parking lot and a small one inside the Albertsons.

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  • John Clifford

    I believe that’s the place where I went to my Senior Prom. Who can resist a formal evening with Fire Dancers?

    That was WAY back in 1967, and I mostly remember that it was way out in the middle of nowhere. Afterwards we, of course, rushed back to Azusa and environs where there was civilization.

  • Ms. Lois

    I remember after the flood of ’69, it was closed but if you looked through (I can’t remember if it was a glass door or window) but you could see that the tables were still set. It creeped me out. It looked like something that came straight out of an episode of the Twilight Zone.

    [Do do do do do do do do… — DA]

  • Jon Scott

    I remember after the flood sneaking inside the coffee shop one day, and looking around. It was dark, and creepy. The bowling alley was covered with 2 or 3 feet of mud. I was told many years later by someone who was there the night of the flood, that there was a big rumble and they ran for their life.

    Jack Benny did a benefit at the Ontario Emblem Club for the area. I was a member of a rock band and we played there also. The old Daily Report ran a picture of us with him. I wish i still had a copy of it. But it got lost somewhere along the way.

    Your blog is a must everyday. Thanks for jogging may memory again.

    [The Jack Benny angle was a new one to me. Whoa! Thanks for the post. — DA]

  • JMac

    Hey John, was Charlie “B” and the Indigos the band for the night?

    Based on an old Kapu Kai ad, they were the most held-over group in show business!!

  • Jon Scott

    We did not play at the Kapu Kai, we played at the Emblem Club for the benefit. We were Jerry and The Uniques at the time. Jack Benny was there because of the Cucamonga connection. He was not that friendly to us. But we were a rock band, and maybe a little too loud.

  • JMac

    Gotta love band names back in the ’60s. Jon, I was referencing John’s very first comment, as David hadn’t posted yours to the blog when I replied. But I’d love to hear more about The Uniques.

    Original tunes, covers, or a mix?

  • John Clifford


    Don’t remember a whole lot about that prom. I do remember going back over the hill to Covina and stopping at The Huddle in Eastland Shopping Center (near where TGI Fridays is now) and seeing Teddy Buckner’s jazz all-stars. I would soon after work with Teddy when he was the band at the restaurant, French Market, that I worked at in Disneyland.

  • Derek Christensen

    Born at Kaiser Hospital in Fontana, I’ve lived in Rancho Cucamonga my entire life (since 1960). I remember when it was still mostly citrus and grape vineyards. Have several smudge-pots (orchard heaters) and other citriculture artifacts. Enjoy studying local history. My mother taught at Chaffey High School from 1956 ’til 2007 (50 years) and still substitute teaches at Chaffey.

  • Derek Christensen

    Yes, I remember the old Kapu Kai. My family used to dine there and my father bowled at the Kapu Kai lanes. It was the first place I bowled too. I was around 8 years old when it flooded. It eventually became “Roller City” roller skating rink when I was a student at Alta Loma High school in the mid-late 1970s.

    I found a postcard image posted on the internet, then TODAY I found a post on TikiCentral website from the family of the former owners of the Kapu Kai. They posted photos of the flood damage:

    Must be 30 1960’s-vintage photos with captions and information about Kapu Kai and the aftermath of the floods (there were actually TWO destructive floods, not just one.)

    I’m pretty sure (since his post was made in December 2007) that you could contact the owner’s son(s) and/or his ex-wife/widow, as she posted as well.

    There was an attempt to resurrect the Kapu Kai after the first flood. IIRC, there were floods in late 1968 and later in early 1969. Think there were local forest fires that contributed to the second flood.

    I went to Kapu Kai as a child (5-8 years old, a distant memory now) ate there, and it’s where I bowled the very first time (my father bowled there too). It was across the street from “California’s Oldest Winery” the Thomas Brothers Vintners (now home to a
    couple restaurants, a mini-mall, Souplantation, etc.)

    [The photos are very cool. Thanks, Derek. — DA]

  • JMac

    Without a doubt one of the great tragedies in our areas history.

    I don’t ever recall dining there in my youth (or bowling for that matter), as for the most part Cucamonga was a looooooong distance from Pomona. But having moved into the area in 1983, I took my daughter a few times to skate.

    Thanks for the link, the picture of the bowling alley under 5 feet of mud, with all those buried pins, tells the story vividly.

  • ray escoto

    Was Jerry of the Uniques, Jerry Solis ??? Did he play SAX or the drums ? I remember an awesome local SAX player (back in late 60’s) named David Reyes. Groups like the SOUL REVIEW & Ronnie & the POMONA Casuals were a couple of my favorites.


      Ray , Jerry was on vocals and guitar with the great David Reyes on sax , I lost track of Dave , if you see him he can contact me at SAGEMUSIC,COM or see me at STROKELAND RECORDS .
      Lou ( Jerry ) Soliz

  • Colin Sato

    Aloha, my father owned the Kapu-Kai and those are our photos I posted at Tiki Central. I’m very interested in hearing anecdotal stories of anyone else who remembers the Kai or the flood. I want to learn more about what happened that winter and what else, if anything, was damaged.


    [Good to hear from you, Colin. Anyone else want to add to this? — DA]

  • Jon Scott

    Ray, that’s the same Jerry. He played guitar, drums, and sax.

    He still plays with a great group out of San Jose called Sage.

    They have a good web page. Sage Band i think. I haven’t heard what David is doing lately. It was Jerry and i and i think Kenny Styles who went into the coffee shop at the Kapu Kai after the flood. We were just doing a little exploring. Those pictures are just what i remembered. I’m surprised my memory is working that good. Nothing else is.

  • richard e nunez

    well my folks took us kids to see the flood,the lil town cucamonga was almost washed away the waters came threw the back door and out the front door of some of these houses

    [Always nice to hear from reader e.e. cummings. — DA]

  • Salome


    My husband owned Kapu Kai. The flood devasted our lives and as a result, we lost everything and moved back to Hawaii where we started over literally “from scratch.”

    I didn’t travel out there much as we lived in La Crescenta so was a bit of a drive — one hour each way without the freeway connections.

    I recall the flood tore out the 4-inch-thick doors and all the bowling equipment and heavy over-stuffed seats were strewn about like a giant came in and tossed everything upside down. The waters were about chest high when he went that evening to rescue whatever they could find.

    Someone blogged that there were two floods…we survived the 1969 one…didn’t know about the other.

    Our family now lives on Oahu and everyone’s doing well!

    [Salome, nice to hear from you. Thanks for the first-person account. Aloha! — DA]

  • Craig E. Hellman

    Went there with my folks!!!

  • Joe

    I also remember that on “The Dating Game” they gave away an “enchanted evening” with dining and dancing at the Kapu Kai. Was so funny.

    Yes there were two floods. It had rained for 11 days straight. The gravel yards to the north had their reservoirs chuck full and they cut loose the water. Well, that water came rushing down on top of an already swollen creek. The creeks or washes in those days were not concrete lined. So the water came over the top of the dikes as it turned the corner right there on the corner of Carnelian and Hemlock, heading straight for the winery and the bowling alley.

    I was inside the winery when it happened. It sounded like a rushing stream going through the building. Everyone made a beeline for the doors. As I was getting out I saw Elena Filippi (Joe’s mother) being shoved out the front doors by about 3 feet of water and a wine barrel.

    We ended up out on Foothill just east of the winery. Then in back of the winery is where Mike the caretaker lived with his family, two daughters I think and his wife. They could not get out, luckily Mr. Grasso (Sheri’s father) brought up his 10 wheeler dump truck from where he lived on Vineyard Ave. He and Bill Nix and Joseph A. Filippi (Joe’s father) ran a rope across from the truck to a tree and sort of winched everyone to safety.

    What a morning for sure. With friends they dug out, and were open for business among the rubble and rocks. You can still see pictures of what was left right after the destruction up at the Filippi Winery on Baseline.

    [Thanks for the eyewitness account, Joe! — DA]

  • Tom 3 Subt

    The flood caused Cucamonga to be classified as a national disaster area, as I recall.

    There were 3 roads accessing Red Hill, which was just to the west of Ka Pu Kai and Thomas Brothers’ Winery. Two of those roads were taken out by the flood. Red Hill Country Club Dr. to Foothill Blvd. was the lone ingress and egress.

    I remember there was a benefit for residents held at Alta Loma High School which drew some local TV celebrities from the ’50s and ’60s — Sheriff John, Engineer Bill and Skipper Frank were said to be among them.

    My friend had a 4-wheel-drive Bronco which allowed him to drive up the mud road of Carnelian Avenue to get to the high school without having to go all the way around to Archibald from Foothill, then up and over.

    An old Pony Express post was among the structures lost in the flood. It was just up from the Ka Pu Kai on the west side just below the RR tracks.

    An old river rock house used to sit on the northeast corner of Baseline and the old Cucamonga wash that flooded. As the flood waters kept pouring down from the canyon, the edge of the flood channel ate away more and more of the loose ground toward the abandoned house until it teetered over the edge, then hung over halfway. We watched it from day to day until it finally fell in and rejoined the natural material from which it had been made. A couple of my goofy friends once stayed in the abandoned house for a night even as the western boundary of the property was being consumed.

    I don’t know why!

    We used to be able to cross through the old wash when we were kids and it was a regular part of our play and exploration. It was only about 9 feet deep and maybe 20
    to 25 feet wide. The sides were very loose riverbed rocks, gravel and sand.

    Today’s Red Hill Community Park was a flood control area with an earthen dam on the south end. Whenever it rained heavily a small pond or lake would form there.

    Sometimes people would bring out a rowboat and paddle around. The farthest it ever grew to be was from the area of today’s pond to the parking lot of RHC Park.

    It also snowed a bit that winter. Some friends and I were at ALHS waiting for the team bus to take us to the San Bernardino Valley College Christmas Wrestling Tournament when, to pass the time, we tried to roll up some snowballs to make a snowman; but the icy snow crystals were only about an inch deep.

    Lives were lost in the flood. People were stuck in their cars at Hellman and Foothill and elsewhere when the waters came rushing through. For days Hellman was a constant flowing river. I drove my parents’ Lincoln into it from San Bernardino Road and barely got across.

    The curbs on north-south streets were 2 feet high to direct both traffic and annual flood waters, but that year the water stayed at least a foot deep and flowed powerfully down the alluvial slope toward Foothill Blvd. and beyond.

    All existing bridges and flood control measures were overpowered, sometimes filled with boulders and parts of trees. It was the first time I saw how seriously the forces of nature could impact my own local neighborhood. Homes, stores, roads — everything was affected.

    There used to be a “high-water” mark on a glass window at Thomas Bros. winery. It was a piece of tape commemorating the flood event. It must have been about 3 feet up on the door/window.

    The east end of the winery blew out in the flood and 8- or 10-foot high wooden casks of wine rolled out of the building on a large wave of water.

    There were some antique cars stored at the winery, one of them an old fire engine. I assume they were badly damaged or lost.

    People shared their homes with some of those who had been pushed out of their houses by the rising, rushing waters and thick mud. It was a time of humbling and a time to become more connected as a community.

    An old steel cable with a metal rescue “car” had been positioned to cross the Cucamonga wash at the base of Red Hill in case of a flood. We used to try to get up in the car, but it was tied to the metal post on the west side. I heard that a kid once got it loose and tried to pull himself across the dry wash, hand-over-hand by the cable and pulley system, but it was too heavy and its own momentum rolled back on his hand and crushed his fingers.

    That was the only time I’d heard that the “safety” car was ever used. When the big flood came, the support posts on either side of the wash that held the steel cable were completely undermined and carried away. No one ever imagined a flood quite so large.

    [I never imagined a comment quite so large, but I thank you for it, Tom. — DA]

  • Matt West

    I remember going here as a kid when it was Roller City Roller rink and what great memories they were. I live in Cucamonga and the city has grown into a large sized city due to high land values and the large size of the city. The city is one of only 56 cities in the nation that is considered a boomtown, which is a town with sustained massive population growth. The city has remained one of the safest in the nation, and has become one of the nicest places to live in the nation.

    [I’m getting the slightest hint, just a whisper, that Matt may be proud to live there. And good for him. — DA]

  • Linda Frost

    I remember the flood that took it out.

    January and February of 1969 brought tremendous rains that destroyed property all over. If you can find photos of things like the house hanging over the edge of Cucamonga Creek at Baseline, it would be nice to post some. It also took out the Rains House just north of it — a story in itself.

    The Kapu Kai, with its fake South Pacific dcor, was a place where visiting relatives from Montana went for dinner just to have Polynesian food. The Pu Pu platter was popular.

    Another thing the relatives had to have was Mexican food. They didnt know what tacos were. My mother made great ones — quite a gastronomic accomplishment for a Montana girl who never saw a tortilla before moving to California.

    Postdiluvian, the Kapu Kai became a roller skating rink where my kids went skating. It was on the old concrete floor of the bowling alley, a very unforgiving surface.

    As a youngster, I went to the Palladium on Mission Blvd. in Pomona. It had a great wooden floor that left fewer bruises. You could skate all evening for 25 cents — 50 cents if you were 12 or older. They didnt allow Levi’s of any kind, as they were hood attire. Does anyone remember the place?

    Down the road to the west was one of the early McDonalds with its golden arches. I remember when the sign out front said, Over 500,000 Sold.

    [We’ve never really talked about the Roller Rinks of the Inland Valley. Thanks for the comment, Linda. — DA]

  • Derek Christensen

    The Floods of 1969 began with storms in late 1968 extending into January/February 1969. At one point, it seemed like two solid weeks of rain, all day, all night, nearly biblical. We also received a “Snow” event and it stayed on the ground for at least a full day.

    There were forest fires in the local mountains later in summer/fall of 1969 that led to more flooding (albeit not as severe) the next year. Both ’69 and ’70 rain events led to flooding, evacuations and temporary flood refugee centers.

    As for the telephone prefix, that was a far more recent change. We were “714” along with Orange County and portions of Riverside and San Diego Counties until the change to “909” in the early-mid 1990s.

    I still have old business cards from the early 1990s (that I saved) with “714” crossed out and “909” hand-written.

  • drhoads

    My mother was working as a waitress for the Kapu Kai when the flood hit. Her name was Joyce. I was just a small boy going to Carnelian Elementary School at the time. I still live in the same house and am raising my kids here in Alta Loma. It’s pouring rain outside at this moment and the TV just had flash flood warning for the area. That’s what caused me to look up the old flood and tell my kids what happened here when I was young.

  • Salome

    Merry Christmas everyone, or as we say in Hawaii, Mele Kalikimaka!! Just finished reading all the recent posts and I’d be interested in getting some facts. Since we didn’t live in the area (we lived in La Crescenta) I don’t know any of the streets so correct me if I err.

    I was told: the Cucamonga river was diverted to go “around the location where Kapu Kai was built” and the KK was actually built in the ravine. Then when the heavy rains arrived, the water overflowed the right/left? angle and flooded the ravine where some homes were washed away. I think only one person died from that flood. Also was told that the river bed had been dry for over 30 years which is why the City allowed homes & KK to be built.

    Question: 1) was the river diverted from its natural course? 2) had the river bed been dried up all those years until the flash flood of ’69?

    I know my husband & his lawyers were trying to sue the City of Cucamonga for diversion but either ran out of money or time or both. As a result, our home was foreclosed and we moved back to Honolulu. Ahhh, memories!

    [As a small point of clarification, there was no “City of Cucamonga” until 1977, so your husband would have been suing San Bernardino County or the flood control district. As for the rest: readers? — DA]

  • jerry soliz

    Jerry Soliz (Lou) is still singing and making music with Sage (

    Lou Soliz

  • Jerry Soliz

    Hello out there this is Jerry Soliz ( Lou ) of the Uniques. If my memories serve me correct we did play a benefit with Jack Benny, Sheriff John and others. I do remember Jack not being the nicest guy in the world but what a great night. I believe the original and best bass player John Scott won the “most freckle” contest, hands down, and I won a “spud gun.” Kenny Styles was on guitar and vocals, he went on to play with the L.A Boppers and many great acts. The great David Reyes was on sax at the time.

    I now live in San Jose and sing lead for a eight piece soul band “sage.” I have been writing and recording with the band and working with some great artists like Tower of Power, Cold Blood, (the late) Buddy Miles, Andy Veiner (the american idol band and Stevie wonder) BUT some of my greatest gigs were in Ontario, Cucamonga, Pomona. Great blog, great days. Email me at or


    Lou (Jerry ) Soliz

  • Ian Broadley

    One year after the ’69 flood, my friend Chris and I decided to make some extra money by “borrowing copper” from the air conditioning system. We both were trying to unbolt something by squeezing down inside. I dropped a wrench and heard a voice go “need some help boys?” It was a sherriff. He lectured us, filled out a field report and let us go (he didn’t check our car trunk, about 30 pounds of copper wire). Things were different back then.

    I do remember lots of muddy bowling shoes and thousands of mushrooms growing up from the lanes.

    By the way I played in a little rock and roll band. We were called “the Wooden Window” — pretty psychedelic, huh? We played the Cucamonga Wine and Grape Festival in 1967 (the first one I think). We made the front page of the local Upland paper.

  • Colin Sato

    Aloha, I wanted to check back in. We’re going to be in Cucamonga from April 22 through the 28th. I’m going to be conducting interviews with people that have stories to tell about the Kapu Kai (including several who have posted here). Hopefully, I can come up with an interesting (homebrew) documentary about the place. If you still live in the area and have stories or photos of the Kapu Kai, or the flood damage in general, please drop me an email at: colin (at)

  • Sheree (Grasso) Vath

    I am the Sheree Grasso mentioned above. We lived in a big two-story house on Vineyard Avenue just below the Thomas Brothers Winery. The two floods occurred in January & February 2009. I was a freshman at Alta Loma High.

    My dad, Sam Grasso, owned a big dump truck. He worked in conjunction with the Cucamonga Fire Department rescuing people all over Cucamonga. My father lived in the same house as a child and survived a similar flood in the 1930s. Because of that he knew to keep an eye on the wash and was ready to take care of his family and help out in the community along with the help of my mother.

    The flood devastated many of my friends homes along with the bowling alley and the winery. We had many items from locations north of us that ended up in the empty fields surrounding our house. I remember the Sheriff’s department keeping watch as looters starting coming to pick up bottles of wine and stuff.

    Reading all of these comments sure brings back a lot of memories.

  • Sheree

    Correction to my original comment….the floods occurred in January & February 1969.

  • Tom Maddux

    Hi there,

    My wife graduated from Upland High School in 1963. They held the all night graduation party at the Kapu Kai. There was bowling until 2:00AM. A little strange watching all those kids bowl in their best clothes.

    At 2:00AM the bar closed and so the lounge was opened to the kids. I was there since I was the boy friend at the time, and still am. 🙂 We danced until dawn, then went to Stinky’s for breakfast.

  • desertbob93535

    I grew up in Riverside, and we were frequent visitors to the Kapi-Kai for dinner, bowling and just plain fun. This was the height of the “Polynesian craze,” and, as a result, our 1961-built house in Canyon Crest had a Polynesian/Hawaiian motif in the back yard. One of the models of houses that O.P. Ladd built in ’61 was called the Islander, complete with a lanai and Polynesian décor! The ’69 floods were devastating, so I have no doubt that Kapu-Kai got wiped out. I know my car got wiped out in February on 8th St (now University Ave.) as a ’67 Buick rear-ended my 1950 Ford as I was turning into Mickey Dee’s. Well, I lost my rear bumper..the BUICK was totaled!