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  • Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine

Tiki Dreams Comes to Yountville


by Kathleen Reynolds


Warning: Before reading this article, you may want to slip on your favorite Aloha shirt and pour a tropical drink topped with a slice of pineapple and a paper umbrella.


The entrance to the Napa Valley Museum falls under the shadow of a looming tiki head that welcomes you, albeit with the traditional scowl, to the current exhibition, Tiki Dreams.


Once inside the museum, you’re treated to a step back in time that reaches into the present. Menus from Club Kona and the Bali Hai restaurants, souvenirs such as matchbooks, tiki mugs and napkins, along with several tall carved tikis, many never displayed before, all evoke the vibe. Tiki images like these inspired a global art and design movement.


The word Tiki is a Maori word for the carved image of a god or ancestor. It’s often associated with kitschy mugs, wooden carvings and thatched backyard bars.


Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, who would change his name to Donn Beach, opened what would become Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Hollywood in 1933. It was known for its funky décor of shells, fishing nets and other ephemera that Beach felt reflected the island life.


When Victor Bergeron visited Don the Beachcomber in 1936, he decided he, too, would adopt a similar décor in his Oakland restaurant. He renamed his place Trader Vic’s.


World War II brought U.S. servicemen to Hawaii and the South Pacific and they returned from their tours of duty with souvenirs. By mid-century, the popularity of the South Seas designs permeated the American lifestyle.

San Francisco’s famed hotel, the Fairmont, adopted the style for their Tonga Room. Disneyland started its Enchanted Tiki Room attraction in Adventureland and the original design of the Disneyland Hotel had a tropical theme. By the late 1960s, the craze was petering out.

The NY Times writes, “The craft cocktail revolution of the 2000s paved the way for the modern tiki renaissance.”

This renaissance eventually led to the current Napa Valley exhibition, Tiki Dreams.


In the main gallery of the museum, there’s a life-sized 15’ by 15’ tiki hut bar designed and constructed by Oakland artist Woody Miller. “Woody” has spent ten years carving, creating handcrafted ceramic tiki mugs and designing elaborate tiki bars for his clients. The tiki bar in the museum is unique in that it has no roof due to fire sprinklers for the building.

“I was interested in Hawaiian culture and discovered the tiki community is a whole subculture,” says Woody. “There’s a lot of interest in Tiki and there’re events all over, including big ones in Florida and New York. Then I heard about something in California called Tiki Oasis that has events every year. That’s when I started to learn more and take classes.”


Tiki Oasis is the brainchild of Otto and Baby Doe von Stroheim, who are the curators of the current Napa Valley Museum exhibit. The original Tiki Oasis was “an invitation to a Modern Primitive weekend,” showcasing Tiki architecture amidst Modernism elements of Palm Springs. Today, Tiki Oasis events are truly a gathering of the Tiki Tribes.

“I was raised in Torrance in Southern California, and as a child I’d be driven by Beachbum Burt’s bar and restaurant daily,” says Otto. “In the mid-1980s, I casually started collecting tiki mugs.”

Baby Doe is a California native. “We both like vintage and thrift shops and began collecting clothing, mugs and vinyl,” she says. “It was an alternative interest.”


They met through Otto’s self-published zine, “Tiki News,” which he wrote from 1995 to 2001. Baby Doe had a nascent blog and subscribed to the zine.

“I started buying mugs and then people saw I had a collection and brought me more mugs,” said Otto. “I optimistically had the first event, “Exoticon ‘95” in November 1995 to promote the zine. Then Baby Doe and I put on the first Tiki Oasis in 2001 to stop the Tropics Hotel from removing their tiki décor. We wanted to prove to the owners that people liked the mid-century ambiance. It was in August, was 120 degrees, and we only had 50 or 60 people attend. We thought it was a flop, but the hotel manager was thrilled that they’d sold so many rooms in August.”

The event moved to the slowest day of the year for the hotel, Mother’s Day, and has been a success ever since. In 2006, they moved Tiki Oasis to the Town and Country Resort in San Diego, where it is a five-night extravaganza of music, cocktails, seminars, DJ’s, a marketplace, fashion and after-hours parties.


“It’s a unique community of all ages who are interested in fine art, designers, and immersive experiences,” says Baby Doe. “We had our first Arizona Tiki Oasis in April in Scottsdale in 2019 and now that event has grown to be over 2500 attendees.”


The ethos of Tiki Oasis was applied to the Tiki Dreams exhibition.

“We’re all about mid-century preservation,” she says. “We want this culture to survive.”

Otto adds, “For example, the Tonga Room in the Fairmont Hotel is going strong and it’s an example of how a classic place can update to be relevant and still hold onto its history.”

“We can’t tell the tiki story without learning about the past,” says Otto. “We wanted to tell the story and got other collectors together. With the help of several historical societies like those in El Cerrito, Tiburon and Sausalito, as well as the San Francisco and Sacramento Library Special Collections, we collected a lot of artifacts to show the Northern California impact.”

He points to a display of Tiki Bob, the most imitated figure in tiki depictions.

“Donald Harvey is responsible for restoring Tiki Bob to its original 1955 state. There’s still a Tiki Bob carving which stands at Post and Taylor in San Francisco, in front of what is now a café and crêpary. It had been covered with many layers of paint until being restored.”


The final gallery features revolving displays of modern tiki paintings, carvings and mugs.

The von Stroheims are also organizing a Mid-Century Modern Conference, Resort-o-Rama at nearby Santa Rosa’s Flamingo Resort for 2024. There’ll be the usual mix of seminars, music and fashion.


“It’s got the mid-century modern style,” says Baby Doe of the Flamingo Resort. “It even has a tiki history; they had a Bamboo Room with a tiki in it in the 1950s.”


Until then, get your fill of tiki and tropical décor at the Napa Valley Museum in Yountville. Enjoy revisiting the past, including a photo of Swanson’s Polynesian Style TV dinner, a booklet on What to Wear and Buy in Hawaii, Trader Vic’s Cocktail Recipes, album covers with titles like “Sophisticated Savage” and the catchy “Hawaii on the Rocks with George Auld and his Hala-gans” plus a talking mechanical parrot and continuously running videos. Otto and Baby Doe have monthly gatherings throughout the run of the show, which ends December 31, 2023.

“We have a lot of tiki culture and events in Southern California,” says Otto. “There are many Northern California collectors that must travel far for events. This is our gift to Northern California.”


While you’re at the museum, be sure to visit the lower level which features a nostalgic look back to “The Great California Roadtrip 1962.”


Napa Valley Museum Yountville 55 Presidents Circle | 707-944-0500 | Wed. - Sun. 10am-4pm | napavalleymuseum.org










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