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San Diego TIKI Architecture

  • First Congregational United Church of Christ 945 G Street NW Washington, DC USA (map)

Latrobe Chapter Lecture by Visiting Scholar Diane Kane, PhD, AICP

San Diego is noted for the best collection of TIKI buildings on the mainland USA. Although interest in south seas-themed architecture pre-dates World War II, the trend flourished during the early 1950s to mid-1960s.  This was sparked by interest from WW II veterans who had served in the South Pacific.  Tropical themes noted in James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific (popularized for both stage and theater as “South Pacific”), and Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki, comprised a general cultural interest in the South Seas, that peaked in 1960 when Hawaii joined the Union.  

San Diego’s sunny weather, beaches and surfing culture provided the local setting, while flamboyant roofs, inspired by Polynesian tribal shelters, created the architecture.  The importation of exotic tropical plants, especially new varieties of palms, provided a faux tropical setting. Palapas, lava rock, water features, flaming torches, and TIKIs strengthened the theme. This lecture details how San Diego became a mainland paradise for the middle class, using recreational amenities, restaurants and hotels to lure tourists’ dollars. While San Diego Harbor and Mission Bay strongly featured TIKI themed establishments, so did local tract housing. Churches and coffee shops also featured more contemporary versions of big-roofed tribal huts, executed in steel and glass.  These became known as “Googie” modern. The movement fizzled in the mid-60s, fueled by a generational cultural shift: the British invasion, the Vietnam War, marijuana, and “Jimmy Buffetization.”

Diane Kane is retired from the City of San Diego, where as a Senior Planner to the Historical Resources Board, she handled large-scale historic surveys as part of the long range planning process.   Previously, she was the Heritage Resources Coordinator for Caltrans, District 7 in Los Angeles, where she conducted Sec. 106 and CEQA review of historic properties.  Dr. Kane has taught architectural history and planning at several southland universities, including UCSD, SDSU, the Newschool of Architecture, the Design Institute, UCLA and Cal Poly, Pomona.  As a former Vice-President of Programs for the California Preservation Foundation, she is a frequent contributor to CPF conferences, workshops and webinars.  She is also a Board Member of the La Jolla Historical Society, where she chairs the Preservation Committee. Dr. Kane has been a member of the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee since 2010 and is recently elected Trustee of the La Jolla Community Planning Association.

The lecture takes place at The First Congregational United Church of Christ, Second Floor, 945 G Street NW, Washington, DC.  Reservations are not required.  $10.00 for Latrobe Chapter members, student members (full time) free with ID, $15.00 for non-members.