Now, it is not every day you hear a story like this. Indeed, it is not even every night, unless one leads a very unusual nocturnal life indeed and from me, that’s saying something.
I’m not sure what. But something.
She’s something alright. And she was probably even more of a something fifty-some-odd years ago, when she was whisked from the South Pacific in company of a Canadian Seaman (and we’ve all heard all about Canadian seamen, haven’t we?) and transplanted abruptly to a dingy back room on East Hastings, neither the first nor the last tropical beauty to end her days on the chilly, rain-washed streets of Vancouver’s Skid Row.
Photo by Mikhail Gershovich with D’Arcy Norman’s camera
Doesn’t she look pretty? Doesn’t she look happy? Doesn’t she look like she has no idea what she’s gotten herself into?
So, what did she?
I will tell you the story as the banquet manager of the Waldorf Hotel told it to me, one rainy afternoon when Raj and I were scoping out the place for the Urban Mixer. Predictably, I loved it, while he wasn’t so enchanted. But that is neither here nor there. It’s off over in that corner somewhere, with the dust bunnies.
The banquet manager, whose card is somewhere on this desk, no doubt glued down well with coffee rings and probably with half of a newspaper stuck to it with White Rabbit Candy, told us that during the Second World War one of the family who owned the Waldorf had been stationed in the South Pacific, and he went back to Tahiti after the war was over, what with Vancouver having somewhat of an oversupply of underemployed veterans, and Tahiti being, well, Tahiti. And while he was there, he noticed many things. He noticed the beauty and the sexiness of the women. He noticed the way art was woven into every warp and weft of daily life in the islands. He noticed the way the people gloried in nature’s beauty, including their own.
He noticed that everything was very cheap.
And in true Vancouver robber baron style, he made a deal for a whack of paintings by, if memory serves, four different artists (you can see the difference in styles if you study all of the pictures together) and various tiki-themed accessories, woven palm frond wallpaper being in somewhat short supply in Vancouver then as now. I think it cost him a sawbuck, but I could be wrong about that.
Cut to Vancouver, a few months later. There’s his family with a modest hotel on a busy street, and a big space on the mezzanine floor that’s doing nothing. Junior gets the idea to put his loot to good use by opening a tiki bar, Vancouver’s first and finest. And so they did. And downstairs got the overflow, so they built a Flintstones-worthy band stage and fake koi pond with dancing lights and a dining hall worthy of Gilligan’s Island, if Gilligan’s Island catered weddings for 300.
And the Tiki Maiden was given pride of place in the main lounge and all was made ready for the grand opening.
Now, this was Vancouver. This was, I believe, 1956. And this was an entirely naked Tahitian maiden who was, quite obviously, barely legal even in Tahiti.
City Hall, quick then as now to look for palms crossed with silver opportunities, only now they call them Consulting Fees and they route them through their spouse, sent an inspector of indeterminate type around. Presumably there was no full-time tiki bar inspector. I mean, it was Vancouver. In 1956.
And in Vancouver, in 1956, the inspector nodded and approved of a million little things. He liked the twinkling stars in the ceiling. He liked the woven palm frond wallpaper. He liked the tiki drums used as bar stools. He liked the tiki masks with the glowing Christmas lights for eyes. And as for the glorious tiki maiden…
He saw. He staggered. He clutched his heart, or maybe I just put that in there for dramatic effect, but maybe he did it anyway.
There she was, smiling broadly and displaying her charms equally so. You could, in fact, literally see she was a broad, and you could see just exactly how broad she was, in the ladyflower region.
As I described it when telling the story at the Northern Voice opening party, “She had a total Britney Spears situation going on down South.”
And This. Would. Not. Do.
But the young sailor genuinely liked the Tiki girl. It’s Art, he said, and he was right, although perhaps his defense of her depended more on her all-too-apparent charms than on the artist’s magic touch. And he refused to have her removed, though the City Hall inspector raged and ranted and threatened to withhold the almighty permits, leaving the family with a large, extremely well-appointed and rather expensive rec room.
To this day, no-one remembers what forgotten genius came up with the solution, but solution there was, and it was acted upon immediately. An artist (temperate rather than tropical, it is true, but possessed by the spirit of tiki as you may see from the results) was summoned and turned loose. Some hours later, the tiki maiden was ready for her closeup and lo, you couldn’t see a thing.
Other than the large, flowered lei which had been hastily slathered over the previously unadorned ladyflower.
Postscript: One notes, even possessed by the spirit of Jack Daniels as one was, that as one was telling the story the bartender was shaking his head violently, so violently and so prolongedly that one worried about the possibility of brain stem injury; to which, one can only reply that if one cannot trust a banquet manager who mists up when describing the tender portrait of the old fisherman which they’ve hung down near the dining hall, well, who can you? Eh?
IIRC, the photo was taken by Mikhail Gershovich, while he was playing with my camera.
Good yarn. I enjoyed it Thursday and again today!
Ah, thanks D’Arcy. Do you have a link?
Thanks, Nancy. I don’t know if it is factual, but it is on a deep level very true. Who knows what happened to that prudish old inspector, but here she is to this day!
@raincoaster: I don’t believe Mikhail has a blog, or a website other than his Institute site at baruch.cuny.edu
I dug around and found the cac.ophony site, which is a blog, if a collaborative one. I’d rather give the hits to a blog (in the spirit of solidarity) than an institute website, unless I hear different from him.
Sorry, couldn’t help it, but . . . .
lei lady lei
I knew someone would, and it would probably be you.
Go story. ;-)
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What horsesh*t. Those are all Leeteg paintings, Bob Mills bought them a couple of weeks before Leeteg died, he was never in the military, his eldest son was married to a Hawaiian lady in the 60s but she never came to Canada. There was an issue with the liquor board and one painting but I think it was Hina Rapa.
Didn’t read as far as the Postscript, didja?
Did so! I am just agreeing with the bartender. The undersmile part is more or less true.
Well, blanket “horseshit” statements tend to imply either that the entire thing is horseshit or that one is full of it, one’s self. Since you agree that the main actual story I told is essentially true, that leaves only one implication here. Thanks for clarifying!
chicka chicka bam bam:))
forgot to add, love the new theme raincoaster:)
Thanks. It is getting mixed reviews.
Did you know the painting also went to court for a judge’s review? Anyhow, my point was that I’m not sure the kernel of truth in the tale you relay justifies the complete inaccuracy of the initial paragraphs. Even though this is presented as a tale, people may also assume there’s a kernel of truth there as well. That’s only human nature. So this is just to confirm that most of the above story is fiction. Entertaining, yes, but only the painting bit contains a small resemblance to anything that actually happened.
The truth is, that is the story I was told, and it’s an entertaining story, and that’s exactly how I framed it; as a story I was told in a bar, so take it for what it’s worth. If you go through life expecting literal truth from every tale you read on a blog or hear in a bar, you must spend a great deal of time bitterly disappointed.
If you want to be treated with more respect than you have been, please lead with words other than “horseshit” in future.
I’m generally quite happy, thank you, and usually get enough respect elsewhere that I don’t mind too much taking a little heat here on your blog. However I’m not sure if it’s okay to publish ‘entertaining stories” about real families if those families are still around. In particular if someone just made up the story for fun. Listen, laugh, enjoy, yes. Publish, no. Both sons of the original owner are still around. In any case, the real background of the hotel will come out in the next few weeks. I sincerely hope you find the truth just as, or more, hopefully than the tale you heard. Regards,
I’m not sure I CAN “find the truth just as, or more, hopefully than the tale” I heard.
Yes, of course it’s okay to publish entertaining stories about real families: it’s called gossip, and it helps make the world go around. You should search this blog for the Irish Heather; you’d see that I reported the story I heard in the Heather, the story Sean Heather told me about it, and a third version of the same story that someone else told me later. All are entertaining.
Does this LOOK like the Vancouver Archives?
Sorry! I left out “entertaining”. No wonder you couldn’t unravel that. Okay, I’ll relay your tale to the son of the original owner and let you know what he says. This could be fun …
Charlotte, I like your spirit. Not everybody would stick to their guns and then apologize for a grammatical error I made cheap fun of.
If the son of the original owner wants to tell me HIS story, I’ll be happy to print it (or post it, whatever). He can either put it in a comment here and I’ll copy/paste it into a new post or email raincoaster at gmail.
I know the Waldorf is revamping and I saw Kris’s flickr shots on Scout magazine yesterday. As I’m actually quite fond of the place, I’m happy to do what I can to get you some more attention.
Why thank you! And I must say I admire your eyeball. No more attention for me, please – once they get this off the ground it’s low profile for me again for the next 50 years. We’ll see what dad has to say – hopefully he’s politer than I are.
Well, the vigorous use of profanity is never spurned around these parts, as long as it adds to the story.
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