Back in August we were down visiting Disneyland and I finally got to visit a place that has been on my list of places to visit for many years. When I first started to research and document the history of the Polynesian Resort I heard about a place called Oceanic Arts. This place is sort of the center of the universe for me. I know it sounds like an odd description, but in a way it is very true.
Growing up in California, I have been visiting Disney parks since I was very young. While I cannot say I am as big a Disney fan as many of my readers are I know a lot about Disney just from my many visits and all the people I have met who work for Disney. I have been lucky to have seen behind the scenes and listened to many great stories about how things work at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
My main interest that inspired me to create my Polynesian Resort web page was more an interest in Polynesian culture than Disney itself. My summers spent in the Hawaiian Islands and hanging out with local kids made me love the different cultures that make up the people of Hawaii.
I also enjoyed what was left of Polynesian themed bars and restaurants growing up. In the 70’s and 80’s there were still some great themed restaurants around. I use to love going to a dimly lit place in San Mateo California called the Lanai (http://www.tikiroom.com/tikicentral/bb/viewtopic.php?topic=38104&forum=2). When I was inside listening to the Hawaiian music and looking at the waterfall wall while my dad drank a Sidewinder Fang I loved the whole environment. I like the more authentic experience instead of the fake tiki bar kitschy sort of thing but more recently my tiki bar friends have introduced me to that side of it also and how it plays its part in tiki history.
I see “Tiki” as two different things. One side of it is the truly cultural side of Tiki that represents gods to many of the island cultures. Then there is the “tiki” that most Americans know as the plastic, colorful, fun version associated with backyard parties. Unfortunately some that do not understand the history and cannot identify what is authentic think of some of the bars or even the Polynesian as kitschy or tacky and dated. Those that understand the history of how tiki evolved in this country would know that many of the old tiki bars and supper clubs as well as the Polynesian are quite authentic in many ways.
My love for the Polynesian Resort, old Tiki bars and Polynesian culture all came together in one location. That location was in Whittier California at Oceanic Arts. I was surrounded by the history of all those things. It is something like this that makes me wish I was the best writer in the world because I want to write an article that will do this place justice. I want my words to bring you all there with me to experience what I experienced. Unfortunately even if I was the best writer on the planet it would not give you the experience I had when I walked in there. I could have spent days there and not seen everything. Those guys are just lucky I do not live closer or I would be in there every day.
I contacted Oceanic Arts through their new web page (http://www.oceanicarts.net/) before we drove down to Disneyland. I expected to be contacted back by some random person who maybe runs their website but instead I got a very friendly message back from Bob. (photo of Bob and LeRoy from http://www.seanteegarden.com/los-angelesland/ check out his other great photos)
Robert Van Oosting (Bob) is the business half of the duo that made up Oceanic Arts. LeRoy Schmaltz is the artistic side. Bob had told me to contact him once we got to Disneyland and figure out a time to meet up on the following Monday. To me this would be like calling Disneyland in the 1950’s and having Walt answer the phone and tell you to come on by and he will show you around.
I could not wait to see what this place was like and see if I could find any pieces of the Polynesian Resort. I knew there were some hidden there but I had no idea what else I might find.
From the outside it is quite unassuming but the sign on the side let me know I was in the right place. I was so excited I missed the giant Moai outside. When you walk in you are surrounded by….well tikis and the only other way I can describe it is Tropical Delight. I was surrounded by hand carved tikis, outriggers hanging from the ceiling and more tiki mugs than I could even count. Need a way to fill those tiki mugs? They had books with many of the original tiki drink recipes. Not the crap you get from most resorts now. Luckily the Polynesian still has some bar tenders with some skill to make a good drink if you don’t order off the Disney Menu. Let’s hope that talent makes it into Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at the Polynesian Village.
Speaking of Trader Sam’s, Oceanic Arts did much of the stuff for the Trader Sam’s here and will be doing some for the Trader Sam’s at the Polynesian. If you have been to the Trader Sam’s in California you will have seen their work on the doors going in and the tikis outside the Tangaroa Terrace. Also the lamps that are inside the bar you can buy from their shop. Back to the doors at Trader Sam’s. Polynesian fans will recognize the little tiki guy on the door. I call him the little tiki guy because no one knows if he has a name. I thought for sure that would get answered once I spoke to Bob but he said that while they carved him on all the signs at the Polynesian, they did not come up with the design of him. It was a Disney design and a name was never shared with them if he had one.
After I walked around the shop and made my way past the many original and vintage mugs for sale, Bob took me in the back to the break room and in the corner just past a vintage poster of Mai Kai (tiki bar in Florida) there was a small mock-up of the Polynesian signs. It was a small version of a longhouse sign and the pole it was on is a small version of the big sign out front that they also made for the resort. These longhouse signs were replaced not too long ago with signs that are not hand carved and to me not half as nice as the originals. Many of these new signs you will see for sale and people pay a lot for them. I am guessing they think they were used at the resort but they were never really used at the Polynesian Resort. I told Bob that I get first dibs on purchasing some of that Polynesian stuff if he ever retires and closes the place. He knows I will take good care of it and not just post it on Ebay.
One of the largest projects they had for the Polynesian was that sign that up until last week, greeted you out front. This piece had to ship in pieces and be assembled at the resort but even in pieces it was very large. They had photos of it in pieces before it was sent out to Florida. It originally said “Polynesian Village” and later the faces of the sign were changed to say “Polynesian Resort” This sign was removed for the new water feature sign but I am told it will be reused somewhere on property.
Most of the artwork and carvings you see around the Polynesian and even in the club level lounge are all the original stuff that Oceanic Arts made. All the original signs around the resort and in the lobby were done by them and one of the signs that changed names last minute still hangs from the ceiling at Oceanic Arts. Other things I found from the resort were things like an ashtray and some forms used to create the carvings.
They do offer up items to be rented for parties and even movies but this is in no way your typical party decoration store or even your garage sale type tiki mug shop. This place has some amazing and unique items. I am talking some things are one of a kind pieces. When I say that I mean there is one in the world and they have it. Many of the items in their curios are good enough to be in museums. They are from many of the islands that make up Polynesia. Bob and LeRoy did not come up with this collection or carving techniques by hanging out in California, they traveled all over the Pacific. From their travels they had formed relationships and gained knowledge from many sources. This has allowed them to create a business that has lasted since 1956. They have not only created carvings for many places all over the world but they are the world’s largest supplier of tropical décor. While I was in there a crew from Warner Brothers was in there getting loads of stuff for a movie they were making. Along with supplying items and carvings for Trader Vic’s and Don-the-Beachcomber’s and even the Tonga Room in San Francisco, they eventually got some work to do for Walt Disney. The masks and shields along the gates to Adventureland were some of the first things created by Oceanic Arts. They would eventually supply décor for all four Magic Kingdom Adventurelands. Since the Polynesian Resort was trying to represent more of an Adventureland feel than a Hawaiian theme, Disney came to them to do over 100 signs as well as many other decorative items, many of which are still there now. They even supplied many items for all over Disney World including stuff for Epcot’s Norway, France and Canada (5’ Diameter x 35” tall totem). The Maori Canoe you have seen for many years near the Tambu Lounge was carved out of Mahogany and as the story goes the tongue had the OA marking on it so Disney chopped it off before installing it. It has inlaid Pahua Shell and took 3 carvers 3 weeks to make.
Bob and LeRoy took out photo books they had of creating the items for the Polynesian and I even found some remaining templates around the shop of items you can find at the resort. The 3 statues that hang on the wall near the east stairway of the Great Ceremonial House had templates that were made and they were still hiding out at the shop. They were not too far from the old sign that was created to hang above that stairway originally until the names of the restaurant was changed from the Bayview Terrace Restaurant . The other side said Sea Level which is what the first floor is still called.
Many of the other carvings still exist at the resort and hopefully make their return after the renovations. Some of the original tikis and carvings can be found in the club level lounges and walls, under the stairs in the Great Ceremonial House and on the walls all around the lobby. The tiki’s found around the resort grounds are not actual carvings but resin molds of the original tikis that are found at the Tiki Room and are not from Oceanic Arts.
Oceanic Arts seems to be doing very well after all these years and has developed quite a reputation from the Tiki community. Visiting there and meeting Bob and LeRoy as well as his staff will always be a great memory for me. I look forward to entering their tiki playground again soon. The shop is about 20 minutes from DIsneyland so don't hesitate to pay them a visit.
Request for photos
Over the years, so many of you have sent me photos for my site or just for me to enjoy. With my busy schedule and the amount of emails I get, they sometimes get lost or accidentally deleted. Having two little kids, a full time job, coaching soccer and many hobbies leaves little time for me to work on the web site. I could not do it without your help. I go through the pages and update the info or photos as often as I can. With all the changes it has become a daily thing.
You will see some of my pages have albums at the bottom. Some of the albums that are the photos from my old site need to be updated. The album you will see on other pages like at the bottom of my DVC page, is linked to my Flickr account. Since most of the time I am on my mobile device and not at my computer, updates are easier to do with apps than logging into my web site. That is why my Facebook page gets updates more often than my web page.
I want to start adding more albums to my web pages, especially for the longhouses. The photos I have of the longhouses need to be updated and I often get photos for people that I can add into an album right away from my phone. I have been getting construction photos and I add them into my DVC construction album ( bottom of this page http://www.tikimanpages.com/poly/the-resort/dvc/item/191-disney-vacation-club ) or my Polynesian Construction album for all other work (bottom of this page http://www.tikimanpages.com/poly/history/gone-but-not-forgotten ).
I think I will start albums for places like ‘Ohana, Kona and Captain Cook’s also and for the shops on property but I am very interested in photos of the longhouses for an album that will go on each longhouse page to replace the older photos there now.
So my request is this. If you are at the resort, take photos of your view, your room, looking at your room from outside and any photos of the longhouse you stay in (inside and out) that you think will help people see what the longhouse is like. I am also very interested in updating my Disabilities page with photos inside the ADA compliant rooms that have the special bathrooms or roll in showers. I could really use new photos of that since the remodel. If you send the photos of the longhouse, just tell me the room number with the photos. I also have a general Polynesian photo album that is just a nice collection of photos around the resort so if you send something you want in there I will add it.
Thanks for all your help.