Kapu-Kai Polynesian Paradise in Cucamonga
Kapu-Kai it is said, translates to “Forbidden Sea”. And ironically, the Tiki landmark was eventually destroyed by a raging torrent of water in the dessert. But that’s jumping too far into the story – so let’s go back to the beginning.
Postcard from the Kapu-Kai (image from Critiki)
The Kapu-Kai was created in 1962 by Warren Sato. It was originally promoted as the “Polynesian Paradise” in Cucamonga California and was located on Foothill Blvd., which is part of the old Rout 66. Many will remember the Kapu-Kai for it’s impressive Tiki bowling alley, but there was much more to this Polynesian Paradise. It also included The Tahitian Fire Room (a restaurant that featured American and Polynesian cuisine), The Outrigger cocktail lounge, and a Coffee Shop.
Kapu-Kai Bowling Alley
If you look at what Cucamonga was like at the time, it was pretty much a rural small town and the Kapu-Kai was really a big deal. It was impressive on the outside with beautiful waterfalls and 2 big A-Frames. The inside was outfitted in style by Oceanic Arts and included Tiki’s carved by Milan Guanko tapa cloth, tiki lamps and more.
In addition to the bowling alley, the Tahitian Fire Room had dining and dancing nightly and was the place to play in Cucamonga. Lots of local and national acts played the Fire Room, including The Sons of the Pioneers who’s ranks at one point included Korla Pandit (under the moniker Cactus Pandit). I always like to imagine Frank Zappa played there, as he was a Cucamonga local around this time.
The winter of 1968-69 saw the worst rains and flooding since 1938 and unfortunately the Kapu-Kai was in the path of the deluge. Water hit the building and destroyed much of the interior and roof. This closed the Kapu-Kai and the amazing business that the Sato family had created. No flood of that magnitude has occurred since. It subsequently remained abandoned for years.
In the Tiki community, interest in the legendary Kapu-Kai remained high and in 1992 a group of "Urban Archeologists" including Sven Kirsten and Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, John English and Bosko Hrnjak, went into the remains of the once-great Tiki landmark to save anything possible before it was lost forever. You should check out this great documentary by Colin Sato about the Kapu-Kai and it’s rediscovery. It is great how he unearthed his family roots with the help of the Tiki community.
Rediscovering the Kapu-Kai (image from Tikiroom.com)
To honor this spectacular Tiki landmark we’ve created a beautiful limited edition pin featuring a Tiki from the menu of the Kapu-Kai. This loving tribute pin is available while supplies last so get your while you can. Like the Kapu-Kai, once its gone, its gone.
As usual, if you like learning about places like the Kapu-Kai I suggest a deep dive into Tiki Central and Critiki.
Other images found on Pinterest.