Keeper of the flame

Polynesiacs keep tiki history alive. Ron and Mickee’s Rincon Room is a perfect example.

When Ron designed and built the Rincon Room, named after the close-by and quite famous surf break mentioned in The Beach Boys’ Surfing USA, he turned to local tiki history for inspiration. Oxnard’s 1964 Trade Winds restaurant was classic tiki. The local newspaper deemed it a “museum of artifacts from around the world.” The centerpiece was a grand Tahitian-inspired A-frame soaring 50 feet high. Rope-handled bridges provided passage over waterways to paradise. The lagoon was large enough to hold a full-size Chinese junk.

Oh, yes. The Tradewinds will feature rikisha service from the nearby Wagon Wheel Motel. Cinch up your spurs and grab your satchel, Maw. Here comes our rikisha.*

Visitors were transported from the close-by Wagon Wheel Motel via “rikishas” (rickshaws). Guests were entertained by a Polynesian floor show with fire dancers. Choices of exotic dining rooms were available, filled with locally carved tikis and east Indies artifacts for arm-chair travelers. Bands like Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, The Beach Boys, and The Deltones played on stage. You might have even run into Bobbie Gentry there before she sang her famous ode. It was quite the destination. Like many immersive themed getaways of its day, the restaurant was bought and sold several times. It transformed into a Don the Beachcombers, then Cocoanut Joe’s, and finally the Hawaiian Cowboy – with an ’80s mechanical bull and barbeque pit – before its eventual demise twenty years later. Today, all that’s left is a highway.

To demonstrate context for the Rincon Room’s similarities, Ron shared his copies of the Trade Winds blueprints. He rescued the original drawings when local archive offices were about to toss out the documents in lieu of digital copies. Take a look, and you’ll quickly see how his design draws elements from its inspirational ancestor. The dramatic A-frame structure, corrugated metal roof, extensive waterways, and roped bridges are all there. Flames dance from the gas torches throughout the gardens. Ron built the entire structure. Mickee painted the corrugated metal roof panels and planted every plumeria and palm throughout the garden. After more than a decade, their carefully cultivated escape is a lush, tropical paradise filled with rich stories. Historically significant tikis are abundant. Ron even has the large tiki that stood on the island in the middle of the lagoon at the Trade Winds. Artifacts from classic and revival tiki artists have created a living museum for modern tiki fans. New exotica bands have played here. It’s got it all. Like the Trade Winds, the RinCon is clearly a destination.

Beyond building a paragon for home tiki bars, Ron is a beloved presenter, carver, lampmaker, movie archivist, and mentor. Ron has shared his expertise as a home bar builder numerous times at tiki-con workshops across the country. You will find him listed as a presenter at Tiki Oasis in a few weeks. He’s carved tikis and made lamps to give to others. He wrote South Seas Drive-In movie reviews in Tiki Magazine for years, helping to re-introduce out-of-print films such as Hell’s Half Acre or Forbidden Island as well as refamiliarize tiki fans with forgotten films like Donovan’s Reef, many of which were filmed at lost tiki temples. As I traveled throughout Southern California, many mentioned Ron as a mentor and friend. He has helped countless others cultivate a deep passion for all things tiki.

Ron keeps the lamps burning both figuratively and literally. Yes, he’s the keeper of the flame for the Trade Winds, tiki artifacts, and poly-pop history. Literally, he also has the most remarkable set of vintage gas tiki torches that I’ve encountered in my travels to home tiki spaces. The Rincon Room is transformed when the sun dips below the Pacific, and Ron lights the torches. As I took in the warmth and glow from the flames, I felt the need to grow still and quiet in reverence.

In ancient times, a keeper of the flame was a person who kept a fire burning to honor their ancestors. For us, Ron’s a keeper.

*Newspaper Article Clipping, circa 1963, from Ojatimo in Critiki

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