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Redondo to Revive Giant Tiki

After more than 30 years on its back, the tiki that once graced the pier will stand tall once more.

Wanted: Loving, public home for an aging but still powerful tiki, 13 to 14 feet tall.

Once upon a time in the 1980s, this redwood tiki and a smaller sibling stood outside the Polynesian Restaurant on the .

"Oh my gosh, it still exists?" said South Bay food historian Richard Foss when he heard about the statue. "Splendid!"

His reaction is typical of most South Bay folks, who remember the statue from the days before the pier fire in 1988.

"The Polynesian became the Edge Restaurant. It had a number of names," said City Councilman Pat Aust, who also recalled the tiki statue outside the building on the pier.

"We did not own the tikis," Michael Brilliantes said. His family ran the Polynesian when it opened in 1969. "We leased from the landowners ...The tikis were part of the parcel; I believe they belonged to the city."

And The Polynesian was not the first restaurant in Redondo Beach to host the tiki, even though it's the place most people remember.

Entrepreneur Helen Yue acquired this particular tiki for her Redondo Beach restaurant. Yue's Lahani Haloha sat on the International Boardwalk and had a full bar and dancing. It signaled an expansion for Yue and her husband—they’d owned Yue's Cantonese Restaurant  in Gardena since 1957.

"[Lahani Haloha was] that goofy looking octagonal building," said Foss. "Right at the base of the short breakwater."

So far, no one is sure when the tiki was moved from the Boardwalk to The Polynesian. The fact that a second, smaller tiki statue exists—probably carved by the same artist, since the two have the same features—confuses the issue.

What is certain? The tiki was made in the '60s by Barney West, a legendary carver who worked in his outdoor studio Tiki Junction in Sausalito. Redwood—thankfully resistant to termites—was his favorite medium.

The tiki survived the fire of 1988 without a scorch mark. Either before or after that event, the huge statue was moved to a maintenance facility called the boneyard in , where it lay forgotten for more than 30 years.

That's where Augustin Garnier found it. Garnier, a life-long resident of Redondo Beach, is not only a jogger, but a birdwatcher of sorts.  

"I was doing the exercise circuit around Dominguez Park," he recalled. "I saw a Cooper's hawk fly into the trees really fast."

Thinking the bird had spotted something, Garnier followed the hawk to the maintenance area behind a chain-link fence.

"I look down, and amongst all of the overgrowth, there's this huge tiki god that I recognized from The Polynesian," he said.

Amazed, Garnier ran home and got a tape measure and camera. The tiki, he figured, was at least 13 feet tall and probably weighed 5,000 pounds.

That was more than two years ago. Garnier told some friends. They all agreed that the tiki shouldn't stay in the maintenance yard; it needed a home. They even started a Facebook page for the statue: Team Tiki.

When Mayor Mike Gin was running for Congress and made a campaign appearance at Dominguez Park, Garnier walked him over to see the tiki.

"From there, the city took over the whole thing," Garnier said.

After an errant firework started a blaze in a Dominguez Park palm tree on July 4th, the city moved the tiki to a safer shelter.

The Redondo Beach Public Arts Commission will soon decide on a new location. Garnier hopes it will be .

The city called Leroy Schmaltz, co-owner of Oceanic Arts in Whittier, to identify the tiki.

"I knew where it came from originally," Schmaltz said. The tiki stood outside a restaurant near San Raphael. "That restaurant kinda went defunct."

Helen Yue bought the tiki around 1979 or 1980 for her new restaurant.

"She was very worried about it," Schmaltz remembered. "She had all kinds of concerns about omens and things that may ruin her business because of having it."

While Schmaltz assured her that that placing the tiki by her restaurant was safe, he had to admit that "things did go bad. They had all kinds of heavy rains and flooding in the harbor."

Yue retired in 1983. It was a rough decade for the pier, capped by the big fire in 1988.

But, Schmaltz said, you "can't blame it on the tiki."

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