Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Bali Hai

The Bali Hai Restaurant located on Shelter Island in San Diego has been a favorite local hangout since it opened in 1955 by San Diego restaurateur Tom Ham. The name came from the popular song in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "South Pacific." This 1950s image shows the landmark shortly after it opened.

How it looks today:

Zooming in on the vintage image you can see the Tiki icon on the roof called The Goof, which according to the Bali Hai website is "a playful and mysterious remnant that has stood guard over the restaurant for over five decades.

"In 1935, the movie “The Bounty” was filmed on Catalina Island starring none other than Clark Gable himself. An entire Tahitian village was built on Catalina for the film, and in order to support the cast and crew, a bar was located just below Gable’s sleeping quarters and became known as Christian’s Hut, named after the character Gable played, Fletcher Christian. When the shooting finished the bar was moved to Newport Beach, and was a major power spot for locals and celebrities alike. It spawned other franchises, but none of them survived, including Newport Beach (burned down in 1963), except for San Diego, which was renamed some years later. Early matchbook covers revealed that the “Goof” head, was prominent on the earlier franchises in Balboa and Corona del Mar, and was subsequently transposed to the San Diego restaurant. However, the actual meaning of the head, i.e. “the Goof”, still remains a mystery. On two of the early matchbook covers from the Balboa and Corona del Mar franchises, the cover reads next to the big fat guy, “Watch out for the Big Opu at….” In Hawaiian, Opu means stomach. Perhaps, the original character idea was that he was fat from eating such good food at the restaurant and his goofy face just evolved, or devolved, whichever you like, over the years into what’s on top of the Bali Hai restaurant today."

Here's how "The Goof" looks today:

At the front entrance is Mr. Bali Hai, a large Tiki wood sculpture, modeled after early Headhunters of the South Pacific.

More background from the website:

About the Bone through his Nose! The original Mr. Bali Hai Tiki had a bone through his nose, but due to wood rot and weathering and time the bone fell off (or was removed). There is talk of replacing the bone and bringing Mr. Bali Hai to his full original look! We will keep you posted!!

Mr. Bali Hai today:

Ham’s daughter Susie Baumann and her husband Larry, and sons Grant, Andy and Tommy run the restaurant today, carrying on the family tradition.

Find more San Diego vintage & current photos at my main website.


K. Martinez said...

Looks great! Did you go inside?

Daveland said...

I've been inside once, but it was for a memorial service. Didn't have the camera on me that time!

K. Martinez said...

Thanks for the quick reply. I love the natural wood colored exterior and the round shape of the building. The Goof is perfect in all his crusty glory. Thanks, Dave.

Major Pepperidge said...

Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily restored Mr. Bali Hai years ago and posted a neat, detailed account of how they did it. You can still see it on Kevin's blog!

Lizzy Tex Borden said...

I did a Google map search to do a "street" walk around to see exactly where Bali Hai is. It was interesting to see that from a lot views, Mr. Bali Hai's image has been blurred.

giddy girlie said...

Echoing what Major Pepperidge said, Kevin and Jody worked on restoration and actually did carve a new nose-bone for the head, too, but it hasn't been installed yet. Maybe someday! :)