Friday, January 28, 2011

Sew What?! Going Yo-Yo!

I am on the verge of being a fully-fledged hoarder.  As someone who sews and is constantly working on a project, I find myself drawn to remnants – and better still, yardage - of vintage and vintage-reproduction fabric.  Anytime I see a piece of material that looks a little “old timey,” I squirrel it away for some future design project.  Some might call that a collection…but it gets worse.  Having borderline, pre-hoarding tendencies, I have a very difficult (read impossible) time letting go of even the little scraps that are left behind from cutting out a pattern.  You might ask, “What are you going to use them for?”  Serious hoarders will give you some vague response about the Halloween costumes they intend to make for their cats.  They will mumble about the various fabric techniques one can implement for bundling that mountain of National Geographic back issues that is taking over the living room.  They will eagerly explain their ambition to train the cockroaches but insist that they need the fabric for the leashes.  With only a toe dipped into the abyss of “hoarderdom,” I have found a project that can turn the bits and pieces of my mania into something both functional and endlessly time consuming – yo-yos!!

Fabric yo-yos

According to the Alaska State Museum website,, fabric yo-yos are thought to be a creation of Filipino fabric artists who developed the technique at least 100 years ago when inspired by the primitive (and not yet trademarked) yo-yo toy.  Since then, yo-yos have become a staple of American textile design, reaching their peak of popularity during the 1920’ – 1940’s.  These were the early days of wacky tacky when women found yo-yos easy to make in mass quantities and even easier to take with them as an alternative to knitting and crochet.  Moreover, during The Depression and in wartime, thrifty women found it wasteful to discard anything that might be useful.  They, I will remind you, were not slandered by the term “hoarder,” rather they were bestowed with the honors of  “frugal” and “patriot!”

 A vintage yo-yo clown toy dating from the 1930's-1940's

Initially, I failed to think much beyond the exercise of turning the scrap fabric into yo-yos.  After making so many, however, I realized that instead of flat scraps of fabric, I was now the proud owner of hundreds of these crazy rosettes that were begging to be turned into something bigger, something better.  Not having done much research on the subject, and pretty certain of my genius, I set out to create the world’s first yo-yo quilt!  Little did I know that yo-yo quilts are probably the most ubiquitous of all yo-yo projects.  Nevertheless, the yo-yo quilt project has begun!  Too deep into it to give up now, I recently calculated that based on the size of the finished yo-yos, I will need approximately 2595 to reach my goal – WINNING A BLUE RIBBON AT THE COUNTY FAIR! (not really)  I have been making these things for a while now and I am currently at 523.  I have decided that instead of a completely random assembly of the yo-yos, I would make 3x3 squares in a checkerboard pattern with a border of black in between - similar to a granny afghan.  

If you squint you can see Big Sandy, Jeff & Ashley.

Most of the yo-yos are made of cotton prints that I've used to make dresses.

Never having been the brightest bulb, Mary tries to tap into the brilliance of electric light.

A30's style ensemble made with a crazy fabric I found in the dollar section at the local fabric store.

Am I more like your grandma than you may have previously thought?  Probably.  Have I entered into the early stages of dementia?  More than likely.  Will you come running to me when you are in desperate need of a wacky tacky blanket that provides little-to-no warmth?  You betcha!  I’ll see you in 2019 when the quilt is done.


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

wacky tacky in Tiki Time

The legendary Kona Lanes - Costa Mesa, CA

No discussion of wacky tacky would be complete without acknowledging the profound impact of tiki culture.  The influence of the tropics by way of music, style, food and fantasy began as soon as explorers started charting the globe and discovering the beauty and richness of the island lifestyle.  The general prosperity of the 20th Century combined with major advancements in both technology and travel allowed regular folks to start exploring places about which they had only ever heard or dreamed.  Given its predilection for Hollywood spectacle and its proximity to the South Pacific, the "tikification" of Southern California was inevitable.  From the earliest part of the last century until the present day, America's fascination with and glorious bastardization of Polynesian culture has never waned.

Fortunate enough to have been born and raised in a veritable hot bed of Polynesian Pop, Mr. Tiny grew up around the now demolished, but still world-famous, Kona Lanes and other South Seas inspired landmarks like the Ala Moana apartments.

Ala Moana Apartments - Costa Mesa, CA

In the quest to bring wacky tacky to the world, we decided to explore but a few of the many tiki-inspired watering holes around Southern California.  This is in no wise a complete examination or definitive list of the all that is tiki in our area; it is simply a jaunt to a few fun places that had us longing to watch the sun slowly sink into the Pacific while palm trees sway and tropical breezes carry the lilting melody of ukuleles.  Interestingly enough, of the three places we document here, the closest to the ocean is Don the Beachcomber, yet even there we had no view of the ocean.  Perhaps, that is the fundamental thing that made tiki culture so popular - a desire to embrace the tropics wherever one happens to be!

Damon's Steakhouse (est. 1937)
317 N. Brand Blvd.
Glendale, CA

Our first stop was Damon's Steakhouse.  Set on bustling Brand Blvd., Damon's first opened its doors on Central Ave in 1937.  The 1980 move to its current location allowed for both expansion and a renewed zeal in a beautiful island-inspired atmosphere.  Gorgeous murals line the walls of the foyer and dining rooms and the most amazing tiki lamps hang from the ceiling.  Damon's is a real treasure because of its longevity, its gracious service and its facade which stands out on a street lined with dreary, uninspired, downtown storefronts.  

Damon's current location opened in 1980. 

Beautiful examples of the hand-painted murals that line the walls

A thatched roof extends over vinyl booths 
lined with woven seagrass walls

 Damon's wins hands down where lighting is concerned

Detail of a carved tiki mask and the Ladies' room!!

Reasons to go to Damon's - the light fixtures & it's proximity to Porto's Bakery (enough said)

Critiki rating: 7.4
wacky tacky rating: 9.5 - what it lacks in delicious food (none of us ate steak), it makes up for in 
lighting, decor and island-style hospitality

Don the Beachcomber (est. 2009 - originally est. 1933)
16278 S. Pacific Coast Hwy
Huntington Beach, CA

Donn Beach, of Don the Beachcomber fame, was actually Ernest Gantt, equal parts rover and Renaissance man.  He came to California from Louisiana in 1931 and worked in Hollywood before combining his love of the drink with his love of the islands.  In 1933 he took his collection of South Seas souvenirs and established his first, and probably the first, tiki bar - Don the Beachcomber.  While deployed in WWII, Beach's wife opened a chain of 16 Don the Beachcomber bars that spanned the continent.  After many years, the bars closed and the trademark on the name lapsed.  New owners are giving new life to the brand by recreating Beach's entire collection of signature tiki cocktails and serving island-inspired menu selections.  The current location is in the old Sam's Seafood restaurant with its very recognizable swordfish sign.

The facade of Don's is tiki heaven

We're glad they kept the landmark fish sign!

Mary gets in touch with the tiki spirirt

The Dagger Bar - where all 84 of Don Beach's signature tiki cocktails are 
still made to his specifications (aaah, if only I were a drinking man) 

A small part of the tiki mug collection at Don's 

Reasons to go to Don the Beachcomber - charming ownership & 
regularly-featured Polynesian entertainment

Critiki rating: 8.9
wacky tacky rating: 9 - good grub, super-friendly & attentive staff, incredible facade, 
                                    a lot to see and many rooms to explore

Tonga Hut (est. 1958)
12808 Victory Blvd
North Hollywood, CA

Touting itself as the oldest, continuously-operating tiki bar in Los Angeles, the Tonga Hut opened in 1958 and has weathered many changes in decor and ownership but under current management maintains its tiki heritage and is a great place to have a birthday party.

Lovely wahines on black velvet

 While well-designed, the light fixtures were so few that my
 obsession with them was left with a little something to be desired.

"The Drooling Bastard"
Interior stone water feature

Another amazing, tiered water feature behind the bar

 A trio of tikis at the Tonga Hut

A smattering of tiki-inspired collectibles

Hand-carved outrigger wall art

                             Ashley, Cary, Christina & Rob                 The SideWynders 

Reasons to go to the Tonga Hut - great friends & great music.

Critiki rating: 7.4
wacky tacky rating: 8 - mellow vibe, great water features, friendly staff

Let us know what you think of these titans of tiki and share some of your favorites as well!

Also, check out Critiki for a very thorough listing of worldwide pockets of Polynesian culture.


Mr. Tiny

Friday, January 21, 2011

MONSTER PARK: The Laguna de San Gabriel Playground

On the advice of our friend Janet Klein, who just happens to be one of the best performers on the Southern California music scene (maybe in the whole world!), we motored north to San Gabriel to find the “Monster Park.”  The Laguna de San Gabriel Playground, a small part of the larger Vincent Lugo Park, is the brainchild of Benjamin Dominguez who completed construction of the park in 1965.  This kind of wacky tacky is becoming harder and harder to find as parks are being retrofitted with “safe,” modern, plastic playground equipment.  In fact, this playground was set for demolition when local activists banded together to save it from the wrecking ball.  Constructed mostly of cement, sea creatures of all kinds – whales, dolphins, snails, sea serpents – create a crazy, and yes, somewhat dangerous place to knock out your front teeth.  But what is the fun of being a kid if you can’t climb up a snail’s butt and slide out his mouth? 

What can I say?

 Inside the jaws of a killer.

You may insert your beached whale joke here. 

She only had to push seven kids out of the way to get her turn 

 Sadly, the little red dolphin died later that day from acute spinal trauma and two collapsed lungs.

 We also found Fosselman’s Ice Cream, est. 1919.

This would have been really exciting if some of us weren’t lactose intolerant.


Mr. Tiny