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Tue11122019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

DJ Baz, aka Barry Martin, is not a typical DJ—his musical tastes are vintage and unique.

Those traits make him a perfect fit as one of the two performers at the Modernism Week Tiki-a-Go-Go party at the Royal Hawaiian Estates on Saturday, Feb. 18.

During a recent interview, Martin explained this year’s theme for the party.

“This year’s spin is ‘go-go.’ You take the Sunset Strip with places like the Whisky a Go Go and the Troubadour and you bring it to Palm Springs,” Martin said. “It’s a combination of tiki music and go-go, so that’s why it’s called ‘Tiki a Go-Go.’ A band called the Hula Girls, from Orange County, will be performing a special set of music with a lot more go-go thematic twists. They also have two beautiful dancers on podiums. It’s going to be a lot of fun. This event always sells out, and it’s (the Royal Hawaiian Estates’) big fundraiser for the year. The residents at Royal Hawaiian love it. They’re typically very quiet.”

Martin considers himself a big fan of tiki culture.

“A lot of people associate tiki with Hawaii, which isn’t really true,” he said. “Tiki represents anywhere where they carve idols that would represent different things. Hawaii just stands out because it’s part of the United States, and we always think of tropical imagery of being only Hawaiian when it’s Samoa, Fiji and a lot of the other islands out there.”

According to Martin, The Hula Girls will not disappoint.

“I’ve seen the Hula Girls many times,” Martin said. “A lot of people hear them play and call it ‘rockabilly.’ A lot of what they do does, in fact, have a rockabilly edge to it, but they call it ‘hulabilly,’ so they’re taking Hawaiian themes … and were really big in surf guitar.”

Martin does a variety of events; he said he saw an opportunity.

“I saw a big, gaping hole,” Martin said. “Every time I would go to an event such as a fundraiser, a gala, or anything else like that, (DJs were just playing) house or nu-disco. That’s fine, but you hear it everywhere all the time. It’s just so pervasive. Where’s the music that represents Palm Springs? … I thought there was room for me.”

Martin’s knowledge and taste as a crate-digger lead to music that is fun and different.

“I love a lot of the Hawaiian music, and I always mix it in, but there’s so much of that music from that culture,” he said. “I play what I call ‘world-beat exotica.’ I mix in a lot of vintage Latin music with cumbia and reggae. I just blend it all together. It’s not just Hawaiian music. Twist-and-shake music was really big in the ‘60s. The twist-and-shake music was adopted by go-go dancers on the Sunset Strip.”

Celebrating the vintage side of Palm Springs is a lot of fun for Martin.

“That’s what Modernism Week is all about,” he said. “Modernism Week is putting all of this on a pedestal, because it almost all but disappeared. Palm Springs is still the mecca in the world of that kind of architecture. There are structures and buildings all over town that are still in mint, if not pristine, condition. Places like the Royal Hawaiian embrace that and live it almost as a lifestyle.”

Martin said he loves themes.

“I do weddings, so you have to play everything like ‘Brown Eyed Girl,’ but I prefer doing a very specialized playlist,” he said. “Whether it’s ‘Barcelona Nights’ or ‘Cuban Nights,’ give me any theme—such as ‘Monsters,’ for example—and I can take off with it and really dig. I can come up with not-obvious selections. If your average club DJ took a gig like that or was pressed to do something like that, they might just come up with some pretty obvious choices. That may not be as entertaining. I can turn that around and really make an impression with the music. They might hear something they haven’t heard in years, or something they haven’t heard at all. That’s what I love to do—take genres of music that people have never heard or haven’t heard loud enough, and turn them on to it.”

Finding vintage material can be a challenge—although modern technology has been a big help.

“There are tons of resources,” Martin said. “For digging, Spotify is great to me, and you can pick your poison. YouTube is also a good resource for vintage stuff that might not be available for certain stuff, because royalties can’t be figured out. I figure if there’s no way to find where you can purchase it, it’s kind of free game, and a DJ doesn’t usually need a license to burn music. As long as the venue has the license to play music, I’m covered. … I play music that was only on 35s in India. I have some of my favorite places, such as The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. You really do find some gems in a shop like that. Vinyl is outselling CDs now, too, and I play a lot of vinyl.”

As for the Tiki-a-Go-Go party, Martin said the crowd will provide a lot of the fun.

“They come with the purpose of partying and having a good time—and they do,” Martin said. “No one just stands around posing. That’s why I wanted that ‘hulabilly’ feel for the music, and I’ll play music leading up to the band going on, when they’re on their break, and music to close out the night. My palette can be much broader, and it can be a lot of shake and twist, go-go and Hawaiian stuff. We’ll keep the night going.”

Tiki-A-Go-Go takes place at 6 to 9 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 18, at 283 E. Twin Palms Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $125. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.royalhawaiianscoop.com. For more information on Modernism Week, which takes place Feb. 16-26, visit www.modernismweek.com.

Published in Previews

Modernism and tiki design go hand in hand—and since Palm Springs is a haven for midcentury modern architecture, it’s no surprise that tiki/tropical design found a home here, too.

Welcome to the Royal Hawaiian Estates. As part of Modernism Week, the complex will be throwing its big annual bash, Tiki-A-Go-Go, on Saturday, Feb. 18. Expect a fun night of music from DJ Baz, as well as a performance by The Hula Girls—and, of course, tours of the legendary grounds that were once a playground to many famous residents.

Bill Lewallen, a representative of the complex’s homeowners, talked about the history of the Royal Hawaiian Estates, located in south Palm Springs near the intersection of South Palm Canyon and Twin Palms drives.

“In the late ’50s, World War II was glamorized by the movie industry and the magazines,” Lewallen said. “It was all about the islands and the South Pacific. The GIs would come back and have all these stories of tiki torches, the dancers and this and that. Places like Trader Vic’s capitalized on that, and tiki became very popular.

“The developer, Phil Short, he was Jewish, and he wanted to build a place in south Palm Springs that had a Hawaiian/Polynesian influence. … It was sort of his middle finger to the Tamarisk crowd: Back in the day, through discrimination, they wouldn’t let Jews or anyone they considered not white join their country clubs. They didn’t care how much money you had. Phil Short said, ‘Screw you!’ and built this place.”

It’s believed that the Royal Hawaiian Estates—with 40 units in 12 buildings on five acres—constituted the first Hawaiian-themed structures in Palm Springs; everything else being built at the time had a more conservative modern appearance.

“Phil Short had a real thing about Hawaii,” Lewallen said. “He was a New Yorker, with (architects) Don Wexler and Rick Harrison. Don Wexler and Rick Harrison didn’t know much about Polynesia, so they researched it. Don Wexler did the interior, and Rick Harrison was responsible for the outside of it. Rick Harrison was the one who designed all the Polynesian elements. Phil Short advertised in the cruise-ship magazines that went from New York City to Florida and then South America, and to Los Angeles and Hawaii. He advertised heavily in those magazines.”

The Royal Hawaiian Estates, which opened as a 55-and-older complex, wound up being the last collaboration between Wexler and Harrison. “Don wanted to stay closer to commercial design, and Rick wanted to branch out more into residential. So they left amicably, according to Don, but this was the last project they did in partnership,” Lewallen said.

Lewallen said the complex was absolutely hopping in the 1960s.

“It was a party! One of the first residents was a guy named George Jessel, who was the toastmaster of Hollywood,” Lewallen said. “He was also a Vegas entertainer. He was a notorious partier. This is 40 units on 5 acres. In 1961, George Jessel had a unit on the west side of the complex, and he would bus in all these showgirls from Vegas, and they would wear these skin-tight latex bathing suits, high heels, huge hair and a full face of makeup at the pool. They would carry martinis and serve drinks by the pool. Hawaiian music was piped in throughout here 24 hours a day. When George was festive, he’d have huge blocks of ice shipped in, and they would have these ice glaciers in the pool during the summer. The models would float on the ice glaciers. It was wild. It was one big family and one big party.”

Life in the Royal Hawaiian Estates today is a lot different than it was back in the 1960s. It’s no longer a complex for those just 55 and up, and condominiums currently for sale are listed in the $300,000 range.

“It’s quiet. ... But nobody is really here,” Lewallen said. “Even right now, people come during the weekends. People come for a couple of months during the winter. My neighbor next door hasn’t been here in 17 years, and his unit just sits there. To walk into the unit next door, it’s like to walk back in time: It’s the original floor, original counters, cabinets and appliances. Everything is intact. My cleaning lady goes over there and cleans it just to keep the dust out. It’s a Danish couple. … We do have a lady who lives here who’s currently in hospice, and she’s been here since Day 1. When she passes, my neighbors will be the oldest residents. We’ve been through 10 deaths since I’ve been here of the older residents.”

In the ’90s, the property fell into disrepair due to a lack of occupants and funds. Fortunately, times today are better for the Royal Hawaiian Estates. The “tiki apexes” on the buildings were restored in 2013. The “flying sevens” on the patios were restored, too, as were the Polynesian architectural elements known as “fascia of the gables.” So how do they do all this restoration? Not usually through the traditional method of HOA “special assessments”; instead, they use fundraising and grants from the Palm Springs Historic Site Preservation Board.

“That’s one reason why we have fundraisers. The cocktail parties we have once a year are the biggest fundraisers,” Lewallen said. “We use the funds generated from the party to put back into the restoration effort. They try not to comingle the operation funds with the restoration funds. The beams that you see everywhere, they were milled at a special size back in the ’60s, and they don’t make wood that size anymore. The wood has to be cut less than inch shorter. Everything has to be factory-built and cured. Each one of these beams, like the flying sevens, to redo are $15,000 just for one. My unit has three. We had one special assessment of $5,000 because they just can’t keep up with the restoration.”

Tiki culture is enjoying a resurgence, a sorts, and a lot of it has been incorporated into Palm Springs’ Modernism Week. Lewallen said he’s received a lot of feedback regarding old images he’s put online.

“I got an email from Google a couple of weeks ago, and it was a robot thanking me,” Lewallen said. “It commented on how the graphics I’ve put up from the late ’50s and early ’60s on Google Maps have increased the traffic—and it was way out there. … Tiki is coming back. Don the Beachcomber used to be where Ernest Coffee is … on the north side. The guy who owns the coffee shop said that when they were knocking out walls and putting up reinforcements, they took a full wall down—and (the area) behind that was full of artifacts and wallpaper that was intact. There’s also the Tonga Hut, and the Purple Room went back to tiki when it opened.”

While the Tiki-A-Go-Go party costs $125, the Royal Hawaiian Estates complex is worth experiencing—and preserving. Lewallen said attendees can expect to have a lot of fun.

“The beautiful thing about our parties is because we have five acres, you can spread out, and you don’t feel cramped,” he said. “There’s so much space. There’s parking; there are places to walk around and smoke a cigarette, and some people open their homes for viewing.”

Tiki-A-Go-Go takes place at 6 to 9 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 18, at 283 E. Twin Palms Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $125. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.royalhawaiianscoop.com. For more information on Modernism Week, which takes place Feb. 16-26, visit www.modernismweek.com.

Published in Visual Arts

If you’re like me, the recent political and societal climate has got you down.

Well, thank goodness our lovely valley is doing its part to offer plenty of mood-improving distractions.

Every February, art takes center stage in Palm Springs, thanks to the Art Palm Springs fair (which is rapidly growing) and Modernism Week (which already really huge). Not-so-coincidentally, we here at the Independent have a tradition of bringing you a selection of stories every February previewing these awesome events.

In the February print edition (hitting streets this week), and next week at CVIndependent.com, Brian Blueskye will bring you a fantastic article on the Royal Hawaiian Estates. This little Polynesian-themed south Palm Springs complex has a fascinating history—and even more fascinating architecture. It’s also the site of one of Modernism Week’s biggest parties.

Also in the new print edition and online next week, Nicole Borgenicht has two companion pieces that show the local side of Art Palm Springs: She talks to owners of two local galleries about what they have in store for the fair, and two local artists whose work will be on display at the fair.

Modernism Week and Art Palm Springs are just the tip of the figurative iceberg as far as Coachella Valley arts events go. This weekend brings the Southwest Arts Festival to Indio, while March brings the La Quinta Arts Festival. Of course, April is dominated by two weekends of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival—you know it simply as Coachella—and one weekend of the country-tinged Stagecoach Festival.

Now … about that aforementioned political and societal climate: Starting tomorrow at CVIndependent.com, the Independent will publish a new regular column by veteran alt-media scribe Baynard Woods. “Democracy in Crisis” will focus its watchful eye on the actions of the Trump administration. And, man, is there a lot to watch.

In the meantime, I hope the Independent continues to inform you, enlighten you and entertain you.

Be sure to grab the aforementioned February 2017 print edition of the Coachella Valley Independent, coming to a location near you (if it’s not already there). As always, thanks for reading, and if you have any questions or feedback, please drop me a line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Editor's Note