Digging through old negatives the other day, I came across a batch of scratchy, poorly preserved color negatives of Kelbo’s Restaurant. In the early 1980’s I moved into a bungalow behind Kelbo’s in West Los Angeles. At that time, Kelbo’s was one of the last great post war tiki-style Polynesian restaurants left in Los Angeles or perhaps the world. I recall seeing another Kelbo’s on Fairfax, across from Farmer’s Market, but that joint was demolished a few days later, before I could snap a shot of it.
I had a sense that Kelbo’s wasn’t long for this world. There were never many folks inside drinking or eating whereas the S.F. Saloon, LA’s first fern bar just a block away, was always hopping.
Through the haze of time and booze, this is what I recall of the inside of Kelbo’s: thatched booths wrapped in bambo with a dramatic back lite plastic cocktail menu at the far end displaying Kelbo’s signature tiki-inspired rum drinks in wondrous colors of green, purple, fiery red & blue; tropical fish tanks on the backside of the bar; bartenders dressed like modern day Trader Joe’s employees; greasy sugary ribs that people loved; a round dance floor in the back with spinning disco ball and a circle on the ceiling resembling the edge of a half coconut.
Luckily I snapped some shots of the outside, otherwise I would have never recalled the odd murals were painted on the doors & stucco. A few years later, Kelbo’s was sold, stripped of its soul and turned into Fantasy Island, a strip club which is how the building continues to function today. I imagine the strippers dancing beneath that coconut shell, working on the same floor once inhabited by spry seniors cutting a rug. I’m certain the fish tanks & glowing menus are long buried deep in a landfill.
These murals were on the parking lot side of the building. They are painted in a film negative black & white look that some have found oddly racist looking.
A few of the doors, one a black & white negative of the other.
Who were the artists who created the murals? Not sure about the guys from Genius Inc but Carolyn Dulay is a graphic artist proud of her work at Kelbo’s.
Notice the integration of the restaurant’s electric panel into the tropical look.
The last stop on this tour is the junk shack in the back. Nothing of value inside folks so keep it moving!
This was my bowling alley. A few blocks east on Pico, at Westwood and Pico, The Picwood Bowl. I could walk there and I did. Endless entertainment because it was open 24 hours. Damn! Three levels of steps & chairs down to the main floor where the balls were tossed. A sunken cocktail lounge with trophies and forgotten odes to alcohol behind display glass. Always felt a bit weird sitting on a bar stool in that sunken bar – tall on the chair but short to the rest of the world up on level ground bowling.
But one day the lanes were stripped of their wood and the building flattened for one gigantic ugly hell of a shopping mall. Some post modern monstrosity. Designed by an architect raised on junk food & profit margins. Yes, the family who owned the lanes sold out. I hope the hell they made a lot of money because they made a lot of folks pretty damn unhappy when the sold out.
Across the street the Apple Pan still flips out burgers and pies, some of the best in Los Angeles.
Who amongst ye in Los Angeles can recall the Picfair movie theater, a small single screen on Pico at Fairfax? Built in 1940 and destroyed in 1992 following a torching during the riots. By then it had been closed since 1979 and had morphed into Albee’s Discount Appliance. The joint has a curious history including owned for a time by James Nicholson before he started American International Pics in the late 1950s. This picture is of the front of the marquee, uncovered by fires from the rebellion. We’re looking up, seeing were hundreds of bulbs once blinked in patterns.
I recall walking beneath the P, through the ghosts of a ticket booth & concession stand, down into the pit where chairs once sat audiences upright for the movies. I walked around the empty shell of the theater, sky above, simple stenciled designs on what was left of the plaster walls.
For more info, check out the great memories of the place left in the comment section of the Cinema Treasures site.