Kona Kai Apartments | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo courtesy Architectural Resources Group

Kona Kai Apartments

Rosemead Boulevard, from Pasadena to Pico Rivera and beyond, contains an unusually intact assortment of Polynesian Modern properties, though the number is starting to dwindle. Although the best known may be the now-closed Bahooka Family Restaurant, there is a wide assortment of Polynesian-themed apartment complexes with exuberant architectural styles ranging from the dramatic A-frames of the Huntington at Pasadena to the Polynesian Ranch of the Kahlua.

The Kona Kai in San Gabriel continues the proud midcentury Tiki tradition. The building itself is a large and fairly unremarkable two-story courtyard apartment, distinguishable from a plain stucco box or dingbat only by its front façade. But what a front façade! Its roof is gabled, with extravagantly notched ridge beams and fascia jutting far beyond the edges of the eaves.

The stucco wall surface is decorated with vertical carved wooden tikis and horizontal elements of uncarved blocks of wood. And the entrance is crowned with a dramatic A-frame planted over natural stone cladding, an operating stone fountain, and a view (through glass doors) of an interior arched footbridge crossing a pond next to a mosaic mural of the islands of Hawaii. The upper part of the A-frame has a wooden screen of alternating nesting abstract shapes which may have once held the faces of tiki gods.

Palm trees, banana plants, and ferns complement the entry into what can only be presumed to be a tropical wonderland. An identical property, the Kona Pali, still stands proud in Granada Hills—together, the two apartment complexes carry the tiki torch for a wonderfully whimsical Modern style.