Friday, January 15, 2010

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Tiki Roadtrip Part II: Polynesian Prop

After an overnight stay in San Diego (replete with a bracing Meyer lemon Tom Collins), I headed north to Los Angeles on the second leg of my tiki roadtrip. Few stars shine so brightly in the tiki firmament as the City of Angles and I was headed to two of its oldest tiki dens.

Here's a look at the first.

More than 50 years ago, Bob Van Oosting and Leroy Schmaltz hung out a shingle for Oceanic Arts, their import and decorating firm in Whittier, California. Van Oosting handled the business end while Schmaltz worked production. Their specialty was—and remains—Polynesian-style décor.

The popularity of their Polynesian-inspired carvings and other architectural artifacts of tiki culture has waxed and waned over the years, but their quality was such that restaurants and hotels around the world—even in Tahiti and Hawaii—came to them for custom carvings. Oceanic Arts installation crews have traveled around the globe helping to transform restaurants and bars into slices of tropical paradise.

The nondescript, industrial warehouse itself gives no clue about the stash within: it’s stacked to the rafters with carvings and baubles to outfit anything from a whimsical desk ornament to a full-on tiki wonderland of tropical exotica. Lamps made of seashells, puffer fish, and huge glass globes cast light on rows of museum-type shelving. Among the shelves: war clubs, shields, elaborate canoe paddles, wood trim carved with Polynesian flowers, masks, door panels, and spears. Elsewhere, bamboo-covered bars, fishtraps, tikis no taller than your knee and tikis that dwarf even my 6’ frame. An entire side room is stocked with nautical paraphernalia for giving your beachcomber pad that castaway look.

Van Oosting, sporting a tropical shirt and a precisely trimmed little white moustache, was at the helm the day I dropped by. Still a charmer after all these years, he answered my questions, let me wander around to explore, pointed out rarities in his doublewide cabinet of vintage tiki mugs, and broke out books of photos from clients who have tikified their homes and businesses. Clearly, tiki folk adore Oceanic Arts and the men who run it.

If it’s tiki décor, Oceanic Arts can get you what you want—finished or unfinished, assembled or piecemeal. Shoot, you can even rent panels, torches, a bar, and as many carved tikis as you need if all you want is a weekend backyard luau without permanently converting your home into a madman’s notion of what a tropical paradise ought to be.

I walked away a thing. A small thing, really, and not a note of incipient tikimania, you understand. A red glass globe, entwined in knots and netting. Extremely useful. Very practical...just the thing to start a tropical paradise right here in my own home.

Oceanic Arts
12414 Whittier Boulevard
Whittier, CA 90602-1017
(562) 698-6960

The website is rudimentary and not the tool to use is you've got online shopping in mind. Bob says if anyone has questions about items and pricing, they should call. And, as he reminds me as we walk away "Think tiki!"


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