So-Cal Tiki Getaway – Part 2: Sven Kirsten, & The Power Of Fate

One of the things I most was looking forward to about my California trip this time around was the visit to the Tiki Ti. I’ve been there numerous times, but what made this one so special was that I would be meeting Sven Kirsten for the first time. Tikiphiles know him as the greatest force in the preservation of Polynesian Pop, and its finest historian. The very idea of finally getting to meet him and express my thanks made me pretty damn giddy. I even brought my copy of Tiki Modern to California so he could sign it for me. John-O had originally contacted Sven to see if he would allow us to come visit his home, so we could see all his tiki artifacts, but due to having been in Munich for a few months, his house was not up for visitors yet. So, he agreed to meet us at the Tiki Ti, instead.

My lovely friend Summer and I spent the morning shopping together in Long Beach before heading down to L.A, and we made a stop at Soap Plant Wacko, and La Luz De Jesus Gallery. When we reached the Tiki Ti a short time later, John-O was already there and waiting for us. Sven walked in, and sat down with us to chat over some drinks. We discussed a variety of topics, mostly about tiki’s authenticity and origins, as well as a bit about Sven’s background and current work.

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Sven, Summer, and I (photo by John Okanishi)

I was going through some of the pages in my book with Sven, and I pointed at a photo of some beautiful Witco guitars, which I coveted very much. To my surprise, he mentioned that he might have one to sell, and he agreed to let me know after he returned home. We had a wonderful time talking to Sven, as well as meeting some other new friends that night – it was a night that exceeded my expectations in a big way. But even I was not prepared for what happened next…

Originally, my plan for the next day (Thursday) was to hit Disneyland. It had been my plan for about a month, and it was all I could talk about. All of a sudden, I began to have second thoughts, and a nagging voice inside me told me to hold off. By the end of the night, I chose to listen to my gut and instead, explore historic L.A. a bit more. I woke up Thursday morning, and was going to hop on the Metro from Long Beach to downtown L.A. to meet John-O, who would be my tour guide. Before breakfast, I got a message from Sven, who confirmed he indeed had not one, but TWO Witco guitars he was willing to sell, at a very good price. He informed me that if I wanted them, I could go to his house and get them that day, or early the next day before he left. I have to admit, I had a “somebody pinch me” moment. I sent a message back to Sven to let him know I’d happily take those off his hands, and I would arrange pickup of the pieces and let him know.

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Witco Guitars

After getting off the Metro in downtown, I met up with John-O, told him about the Witco guitars, and he agreed we should go pick them up later that afternoon. In fact, it worked out quite well, as Sven didn’t live all that far away, and we would still be close to the areas we would be exploring. We spent an amazing afternoon checking out places like the downtown L.A. library, the Biltmore Hotel, and the Bradbury building. It was incredible, and gawked at and took tons of pictures of the places we visited. Before moving on to the second half of our day, we headed to Sven’s house.

Sven lived in what I considered to be a very picturesque area, with a beautiful view of the hills. Not surprisingly, we were greeted by a dizzying array of tikis, including the most impressive of all, “Olu”. The three of us sat and chatted a bit, and Sven graciously showed us some of his treasures, including some very saucy and cool pre-Castro cuban bar swizzles. It was so much fun chatting again, and I was so excited to have made only my second Witco purchase from the man who literally wrote the book on it! To say I was fortunate is a gross understatement. Even though we didn’t get to see all of his house, what I did see was pretty amazing.

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John-O and I spoke a little bit about fate that afternoon, and there is a part of me that believes that the way all this transpired had a lot to do with it. I remember wondering how I could have been so excited about going to Disneyland, and then getting what almost felt like “cold feet” at the eleventh hour. I don’t regret my decision one bit, as we went on to have the most fun evening continuing the historic (and maybe slightly boozy) downtown L.A. experience. Every time I look at those Witco guitars, I will remember why trusting your gut is a good idea, and how fate can really help make an experience unforgettable.

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One thought on “So-Cal Tiki Getaway – Part 2: Sven Kirsten, & The Power Of Fate

  1. Jay Mize

    What an amazing experience, including some an unexpected and truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

    Everything I’ve read about Sven paint him as just about the best person we could all have as our tiki patron saint, so to speak, and your words certainly seem to confirm all of those stories.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

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