‘Kapu-Kai: The Polynesian Paradise’

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Photo courtesy TikiRoom.com

We’ve posted before about the Kapu-Kai bowling alley, coffee shop and cocktail lounge in Cucamonga, built in 1962, according to Charles Phoenix’s “Cruising the Pomona Valley,” and occupying the northwest corner of Foothill Boulevard and Vineyard Avenue until 1969, when a devastating flood buried the business under water and mud. The building sat vacant for years, later became Holiday roller rink and was demolished in 1994. An Albertsons was erected on the site.

Colin Sato, a son of owner Warren Sato, has produced a 27-minute film on the Kapu-Kai and tiki culture, and it’s quite well done. This blog provided quiet assistance, as I put Sato in touch with Joe Filippi and Linda Frost, who’d both commented here on the Kapu-Kai; Sato flew here from Honolulu to interview them, conduct research at the Ontario library and talk to SoCal tiki fetishists.

Watch “Kapu-Kai: The Polynesian Paradise”¬†here. And way to go, Colin.

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Charles Phoenix in Claremont!

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Pop culture entertainer Charles Phoenix showed slides of midcentury bowling alleys, car washes, tiki apartments, ranch houses, dairies, donut shops, laundries and coffee shops Sunday in an event organized by Claremont Heritage. An L.A. resident who grew up in Ontario, he had slides from all around Southern California, with loads from the Inland Valley.

Local sites mentioned were Griswold’s, Betsy Ross, La Paloma, Tugboat Annie’s (“the best restaurant in Claremont,” he quipped), the Folk Music Center, the Chaffey High tiger, the Fair’s monorail and Fine Arts Building, the downtown Pomona mall, Scripps College’s Garrison Theater, the Bowlium (“science fiction style with a little Fred Flintstone thrown in”), Tate Cadillac, White Front, Valley Drive-In, Magic Lamp Inn (“I don’t know who built it, but they were pretty drunk when they did”), Santa’s Village, Northwoods Inn, and the Colby Kai and The Claremont apartments in Claremont.

Above, Phoenix discusses the unusual design of the old Hot Dog Show stand in Ontario. “I want to ask the owner, did you ever step back and see what your designer gave you? It looks like a rather large person wearing red and white tights is squatting over your stand! That makes those halo’d, floating hot dogs especially unappetizing.”

He did have a serious message, of sorts, about the surviving examples of the above and why we ought to save them: “Don’t you guys think people in the future might want to see it?” Indeed.

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‘Go See Cal’

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Photo from LA Observed

Cal Worthington died Sunday at age 92, reminding us of an era of car dealers with high profiles, broad personalities and wacky TV commercials to match. An obituary is here.

Reader Bob House reflects: “I bet lots of 909ers have memories of late-night car salespeople. In addition to Cal and his ‘dog,’ Spot, there was Ralph Williams and his dog, Storm, a guy who had ‘cars coming out of his ears’ — toy cars on a string pulled so as to appear to be coming out of his ears.”

House continued: “And, regrettably, Bob Yeakel, a dealer who in the early ’50s sponsored ‘Rocket to Stardom,’ an amateur talent competition, which featured live interviews with his car dealership’s customers. After one such interview with a black couple who were satisfied with their¬†purchase, Mr. Yeakel turned to the camera and said, ‘There goes a couple of happy (racial epithet).’”

And of course there was Worthington and his “dog, Spot,” who might be a gorilla in one ad or a frog in the next, but was never a canine. That doesn’t have much to do with cars, but it got attention. This LA Observed post includes two videos: a vintage commercial and a compilation of his wackiest stunts.

Worthington had dealerships all over SoCal, including Claremont..He bought the Auto Center out of bankruptcy in 1995 and sold it 14 months later to Roger Hogan. In the interim, he did tape some commercials from Claremont. (I know when I think of exotic animals and homespun car dealers, I think of the City of Trees and Ph.Ds.)

Care to share any memories of Cal or his fellow hucksters?

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Vintage hotel postcards

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Reader Erik Griswold found these images on flickr from the Boston Public Library’s collection. The Orange Hotel, above, was in downtown Ontario; the Melody Ranch, below, was a bit west on Holt. Beautiful, eh? I like the visible texture of the linen postcards too and how it affects the image. Instagram should offer a “linen” option.

Griswold also found similar images for the Peppertree Hotel on Valley Boulevard in Ontario and the Eldo Hotel at 987 E. Holt Ave. in Pomona.

The library’s complete California postcard collection can be found here. (Among the postcards are images showing orange groves, Pomona Valley Creamery and W.R. Shadoff Chevrolet in Pomona.) Thanks to Erik for finding these so we can admire them.

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Grove Theatre’s Pal Club

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For many of us, Saturday matinees were a staple of childhood. At Upland’s Grove Theatre, the ritual was formalized in the 1960s as the Pal Club. Kids got a membership card that would be stamped on the reverse on each visit.

Mike Guerin found his card a while back while cleaning his garage. What an artifact! He’s like the Indiana Jones of Upland. We blurred his address and birthdate as a favor. The photos are presented as thumbnails; click on them for a larger, readable view.

“I remember standing in line on 3rd Avenue queued up for quite a while for some of the more popular movies,” Guerin says. “The Beach Party films were all Pal Club movies and I remember enjoying them. [Manager] Gene Harvey would indeed come on stage and introduce each film.

“Attendance was of course contingent on my having completed my homework, which also included occasionally writing ‘I will not talk in class’ 100 times.”

According to the card (as best I can read it): “In accepting Pals Membership, I promise to conduct myself in an orderly manner and to observe the Grove Theatre Rules.” According to the reverse, to every fourth movie you would be admitted free, and on your birthday “you and Mom & Dad or a pal” would also get in free.

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On the trail of the Buffalo Inn

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Upland’s Buffalo Inn is a restaurant and watering hole at 1814 W. Foothill Blvd., located in a sort of compound of old buildings and thick trees around an expansive patio. It’s hard to get more than a sense of it from the exterior, as even enlarging the thumbnail photo below should make obvious. Their staple item (besides beer) is a burger made from buffalo meat and their housemade potato chips.

The signs say “Established 1929,” and based on the evident age of the structures, it’s quite possible there have been businesses on the property since the Depression, although they weren’t the Buffalo Inn, which opened circa 1976.

Previous businesses known to have been on the site, based on phone directory listings: the Green Frog (1974-75), Hazel’s Tavern (1971-73), Ellis Tavern (1967-69), Ray’s Place (1964), Roy and Kitty’s Cafe (1954) and El Montecito Cafe (1945-51). Notice the many gaps when there was no phone listing. Either the place felt no need to be in the phone book or the property was used only as a residence then.

Kelly Zackmann of Ontario’s Ovitt Library found the above for me but said she “pretty much lost the trail in 1945,” unable to find anything definitive before that date. Could be the restaurant’s owner or employees know more. No newspaper seems to have produced a written history of the site, at least nothing that’s on file at the Ontario or Upland libraries.

If you know anything about the site’s history, or just want to comment on the Buffalo Inn, please do so.

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All States Picnic, 1948

This surfaced recently on YouTube: photographs of Ontario’s All States Picnic from 1948 done for Life magazine by Allan Grant and turned into a video montage by Gary Cliser. The video lasts six minutes, and there’s some neat stuff. The pictures can be seen individually on this blog.

According to Wikipedia, “The All-States Picnic, an Independence Day celebration, began in 1939 to recognize the varied origins of the city’s residents. Picnic tables lined the median of Euclid Avenue from Hawthorne to E Street, with signs for each of the country’s 48 states. The picnic was suspended during World War II, but when it resumed in 1948, it attracted 120,000 people. A 1941 Ripley’s Believe It or Not! cartoon listed Ontario’s picnic table as the “world’s longest.” As native Californians came to outnumber the out-of-state-born, the celebration waned in popularity until it was discontinued in 1981. It was revived in 1991 as a celebration of civic pride.”

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Remembering Midway Building Materials

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Midway Building Materials got its name due to its location midway between Ontario and Pomona, although as the years passed the location on Holt Boulevard at Ramona Avenue was absorbed into Montclair. Ric Pearson opened Midway in 1952 and closed it in 1998. A Jack in the Box, SavOn and Albertsons and CVS are there now.

The business was probably known for its products among the contractor set, but most of us knew it solely from its neon sign, in which a bricklayer endlessly moved his trowel and the stack of bricks grew. The sign, created by Ontario Neon, was donated to L.A.’s Museum of Neon Art in 2002, thanks to the urging of the city of Montclair.

The sign is currently in storage, as the museum is planning a move to Glendale, but two years ago it was briefly back in the 909. The sign was part of a neon display at the L.A. County Fair’s Millard Sheets Center for the Arts in 2010, where I shot these two photos, the trowel in a different place and the stack of bricks different in each, and then promptly forgot about them.

I was surprised to learn recently that I’d never posted about the sign or the business. Let me rectify that now. Posterity demands it. And my admiration to the bricklayer, who’s been stooped over for 60 years — but still manages a smile.

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Bank of America, 1955

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This postcard image shows the northeast corner of Foothill Boulevard and Archibald Avenue in Cucamonga with the old Bank of America, with Vath’s drugstore and soda fountain next door. Jane Vath O’Connell sent me the postcard after reading this blog post about that intersection, which served as downtown Cucamonga in the old days.

B of A later moved across the street to the southeast corner.

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