It is perhaps indicative of the rapid change that overtook America during the tie-dye era that the popular image of the 1950s focused exclusively on teeny-bopper culture.
This was captured in two movies a couple of decades later—American Graffiti and Grease—and persisted in popular television shows like Happy Days. In the post-Watergate era of gas rationing and burgeoning sexual free-for-all, a certain segment of American society was left dreaming of this lost paradise of perpetual adolescence, where everything was doo-wop, school dances, malt shops and drive-in make-out sessions.
But while the 1950s saw the explosion of youth culture, fed by the sheer number of Baby Boomers, it was also a decade of very adult sophistication and subversion set against the anxious backdrop of the Cold War.
There was Grace Kelly and Cary Grant, Nabokov’s “Lolita” and Kerouac’s “Dharma Bums,” Beat poets in North Beach and Alan Watts giving Buddhist lectures in Marin, French New Wave films and Parisian couture, and the battle between the Cool Jazz of the West Coast and the Hard Bop of the East.
Amid all of this were two seemingly opposed currents: an optimistic space-age vision of the future seen in everything from The Jetsons to architecture ranging from Googie (or space-age coffee shops), to IBM’s famous 1962 headquarters, where engineers could only wear white shirts in order to properly blend in with their high-concept surroundings.
At odds with this retro-futurism was the opposite impulse, that of escaping the machine age by going native. The 1949 musical, South Pacific, based on James Michener’s short stories concerning soldiers and nurses stationed on an island during World War II, set the bamboo stage for the tiki craze.
Here, with the help of a Les Baxter record, fruity rum drink and a pink flamingo, any suburban Californian could turn their backyard barbeque into a primitive luau situated in some primordial paradise free from modern neuroses.
And so it’s perfectly apropos that Santa Rosa’s Flamingo Resort, erected in 1957, will host Resort-O-Rama, Northern California ’s first-ever tiki and Mid-Century Modern festival. Produced by Baby Doe and Otto von Stroheim, who bring 27 years of experience hosting retro events, Resort-O-Rama lands in town March 2-5 and will offer a celebration of all things retro through seminars, entertainment and a Sunday vintage marketplace open to the public. Tickets can be full package or single event, and the full schedule of festivities can be found at resortorama.com.
“The tiki thing encompasses an island lifestyle, and escapism from Modernism back to Primitivism, while Mid-Century Modern was bringing design into your daily life,” says Otto von Stroheim. “So they’re very different in retrospect, though now they overlap pretty heavily. People can enjoy elements of the past and look at them through rose-colored glasses, taking the best of what was there and trying to recreate it in their own lives.”