November 8, 2006

Tiki Research Adventure: Disney Studios & Pago Pago

Filed under: Disney,History,Los Angeles,Research,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 12:47 am
Disney artist's rendering of the Walt Disney Studios in 1947, from the collection of Matterhorn1959
Artist’s rendering of the Walt Disney Studios in 1947,
from the collection of Matterhorn1959

I love being able to watch as bits of tiki history are uncovered — and it’s especially fun when a bunch of tikiphiles work together to unearth the past. This week is one that especially appeals to me — a rumored hangout of Disney artists in the ’40s and ’50s, called the “Pago Pago Club.” I am a freakin’ massive Disney nut. You all know how much I love tiki — I love Disney more. Old Disney, especially. So, this one’s right up my alley.

It all started with a postcard belonging to Matterhorn1959 (if you love vintage Disney, too, check out his blog Stuff from the Park — it’s hardcore vintage Disney porn, and it’s updated daily). The above postcard has a watercolor and ink sketch of the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, and was mailed in 1947. The written note at the bottom describes life at the studio, and makes mention of a nearby “Pago Pago Club.” After being posted on the Stuff from the Park blog, an anonymous commenter said:

I used to work at the studio… The pago pago was the local “studio” bar across the street from the studio East of the corner of Buena Vista St. and Alameda. (even warner bros. had their watering hole as well) Its now an unmarked Disney building that holds the travel office. (If you drove the alley to the pago, one would see all the studio work bikes parked in the alley).

This piqued Matterhorn1959′s interest, as he’s a tikiphile, himself. He posted a call for more information on Tiki Central a few days ago. I personally knew of a few unrelated Pago Pagos having existed over the years, including spots in Long Beach, Portland and Tucson, but not in the San Fernando Valley. With such scant, and quite possibly unreliable, information to work from, it seemed entirely possible that this place might not have actually existed, or perhaps was not called Pago Pago, or perhaps was at another location entirely.

A few of us tried to pin down which block it may have been on, based on what had been learned so far — a spot across the street from the Disney Studios, near the intersection of Alameda & Buena Vista, with an alley nearby. Still wasn’t much to go on; the buildings in that area have pretty much all been rebuilt. Sven Kirsten chimed in, saying he’d heard a rumor of there being an underground passage to the bar, something he didn’t take seriously. Freddiefreelance had a distant memory of possibly seeing a sign for Pago Pago at that spot, “caddy corner to St. Josephs” (the medical center that is also at the intersection of Alameda & Buena Vista) when he used to ride his bike through the area to work in the ’80s. Matterhorn1959 found an older post on Tiki Central that quoted an interview with Paul Page, where he said he’d played off & on at a bar in the San Fernando Valley called the Pago Pago Club for ten years. Still, nothing solid, but a few more smidges of info indicating that this place once existed. So tantalizingly close!

In comes Naomi Alper to the rescue. Naomi owns the 8-Ball store in Burbank, and has some serious researching chops (she’s also Sven’s girlfriend). Naomi tracked down an address from a 1952 Burbank City Directory for a Pago Pago Club — 2413 W. Alameda Ave. Bingo! That address maps to this location, directly across from the Walt Disney Studios, diagonal from St. Joseph’s, and a stone’s throw from the intersection of Alameda & Buena Vista:

Likely location of Pago Pago Club
Likely location of Pago Pago Club

Naomi also learned a bit about that sign that Freddiefreelance remembered:

One of the librarians who assisted me in the search recalled hearing that a Disney animator liberated the Pago Pago sign when the bar closed. This story was corroborated by this blurb that I found in the LA Times archives from an article dated 1/23/1994:

“A sign in the back yard reading “Pago Pago” offers a clue to the party’s origins. “It used to hang outside this bar across from the Disney studios, in Burbank, where the old-time animators met and drank,” says Dave Spafford, a Disney vet himself before forming Spaff Animation with [Debbie Spafford] in 1989. Among their credits: “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and Woody Woodpecker’s Oscar presentation for Best Animated Short Film of 1990.”

To get more than that excerpt, you have to pay for the full article; I haven’t decided if I want to pony up the $3.95; it may not say anything more about the Pago Pago than that blurb does. If you’re curious, you can find it here.

I’ve now added Pago Pago Club to Critiki. The next step is to see if any emphemera or other documentation of this place is out there — naturally, something with some images would be highly desired! Chisel Slinger thinks he may have a matchbook from there in his collection.

Even without having any real way of knowing if there was anything truly tiki about this place beyond the tropical-sounding name, I love the idea of it. I get to daydream about hanging out with Disney artists in the heyday of Disney animation, at a tiki bar across the street. That suits me just fine. Many thanks to all the wonderful Tiki Centralites who have pitched in on this one!

6 Responses to “Tiki Research Adventure: Disney Studios & Pago Pago”

  1. GatorRob Says:

    Slightly off-topic, but with you being such a big Disney fan, I thought I’d share this blog with you in case you haven’t seen it: imagineerebirth.blogspot.com/. It is TERRIFIC. In their own words, it is “A forum for Pixar and Disney professionals passionate about the Disney Theme Parks to catalog past Imagineering missteps and offer tenable practical solutions in hopes that a new wave of creative management at Imagineering can restore some of the wonder and magic that’s been missing from the parks for decades.”

    Apologies if you’re already aware of it.

  2. Tikimama Says:

    Here is the full text (librarians (even future ones) don’t PAY!):

    (Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times 1994all Rights reserved)

    Dave and Debbie Spafford’s neighbors have gotten used to the noise and the laughter and even the occasional limo. They know that every Friday night, a corner of their quiet neighborhood becomes the center of the world-well, the animation world.

    For the past five years, the Spaffords’ Friday night house party (or “animation roadhouse” in Debbie’s words), has drawn animators from all over the city, with W.O.M. spreading as far as Europe and Australia. Recent guests have included “Nightmare Before Christmas” director Henry Selick, Ralph (“Fritz the Cat,” “Cool World”) Bakshi and John Kricfalusi, creator of “Ren & Stimpy.”

    A sign in the back yard reading “Pago Pago” offers a clue to the party’s origins. “It used to hang outside this bar across from the Disney studios, in Burbank, where the old-time animators met and drank,” says Dave Spafford, a Disney vet himself before forming Spaff Animation with Debbie in 1989. Among their credits: “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and Woody Woodpecker’s Oscar presentation for Best Animated Short Film of 1990.

    The idea for the parties came out of the Spaffords’ experience in England, when they were working on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” (Dave drew the piano duel between Donald Duck and Daffy Duck.) There, animators socialized at a local pub after work, connecting with the film-and each other.

    Back home though, animation get-togethers didn’t seem to work. “We tried sitting over margaritas at this Mexican restaurant, but it wasn’t the same,” Dave says. So the Spaffords decided to do it at home-with its Alice-meets-Haight-Ashbury decor, a cartoon fantasy of weird fiberglass horses, spinning mirror disco balls, four pinball machines, a pool table and a ’30s-era jukebox.

    “This is no football bar,” says Dave. “After a few beers, we put out grease pencils and draw on the table, so our whole bar ends up being one big cartoon! We’re all freaks. Who else wants to do cartoons?” Byline: Judy Raphael

  3. Humuhumu Says:

    Thanks a ton, TikiMama! As suspected, it doesn’t shed any more light on the Pago Pago story, but it’s a nice little read nonetheless.

    GatorRob, I am familiar with the Reimagineering blog, and actually know a couple of the folks who write for it, but it’s not my bag. Some talented and accurate voices there, but it’s just too bitter & cranky for me to want to actually read it on a regular basis. Too much “waaah!,” too little “and here’s what we’re going to do about it.” Since I found the blog such a turn-off, I haven’t kept up with it, perhaps its tone has improved.

  4. Sheila Corrigan Says:

    Hi I grew up not far from Disney Studios (age 63). I am writing a sort of Autobiography and one of my earliest memories is being taken to the PagoPago by my Mom and her sister when her sister got off the night nursing shift.
    I was thrilled to find your site to know approx. when the PagoPago disappeared (Disney expansion). I absolutely loved it. It was dark and in my three year old mind totally exotic with comfortable leather booths. It was open all day, I know that.
    I went again when I was 28 (that was in 1972). It seemed the same. It was even for a bar kept pretty dark. I can’t say for sure how polynesian- not overly so anyway, but then it was also very small- 3-4 booths at the most and a big red juke box.

    Sheila COrrigan

  5. Richard Soules Says:

    I grew up a few blocks away on Lamer just off Alameda .My family moved there in 1943. Lived there from 1974 ( 4 years old ) until 1996. On the corner of Alameda And Buena Vista was a Jack in the Box. The PAGO PAGO was

  6. Richard Soules Says:

    right next door to the west including a few other businesses. Disney purchased the property in the Late 80s. The Buildings were all torn down and Disney built ( from what I had heard ) a daycare facility for its employees. Research when they built that and it will tell you when the PAG PAGO had closed. I also heard stories that the club was not just a hangout for Disney Employees but a hangout for Mobsters as well. I believe Bugsy Siegel Had property over where the Now equestrian center sits and that was a hangout spot. I hope this helps. (For the record i used to go to that Jack in the box all the time.

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