Original Mr. Bali Hai Man RESTORED!
   8/30/01    KEVIN KIDNEY REPORTS: Jody and I JUST crawled back into LA a little while ago after 3 (I'll admit exhausting) days of sacrificing ourselves to the beloved Mr. Bali Hai - and I'm happy to announce that after five decades of suffering the ravages of termites, wood rot, cheap spackle, and (ungodly) shades of Sears Weatherbeater, our favorite deadpan-diety is back, brown, and beautiful!

We arrived at Shelter Island at 5:00 AM Saturday morning and worked non-stop til 1:30 AM that night just getting all that CRAP off of his head. Rather than a simple repainting, he required a complete restoration. We scraped and chipped away right down to the bare Julian pine, and were distressed to find that moisture had seeped into the back and a fungus had rotted away much of his base. About three pounds of moist, punky wood (think potting soil!) had to be removed and the caverns scrubbed with a wire brush to get all contaminated wood OUT of there. The remaining fibers were flooded with termite pesticide and wood preservative. The "caves" were then coated in sealant, filled in with rock-hard wood putty, fortified with a layer of concrete, primered, painted and sealed again with three coats of marine polyurethane. Luckily, the rot had not touched his facial features.

Using several photos of Mr.BH taken in the 1950s as our guide (God bless the restaurant's owners and their family scrapbook!), we were able to recreate his ORIGINAL look. It's amazing to hold a 50-year-old photo up to his head and see all the same woodgrain traveling through his face. Somewhere back (we guess in the 1970s) he had been frosted like a cake with about a 1/4 inch of spackle. All his characteristic grain was covered up and he began to resemble a fiberglass playground statue. We counted 6 layers of different colors that he has been over the years (We all remember him being green several years back, but did you know that he has been three DIFFERENT shades of green over time? And for awhile his pupils had been bright orange!)

Jimmy Durante and Mr. Bali Hai compare noses in 1955. From La Jolla Light Newspaper Thurs, Sept 8, 1955
Only one detail is momentarily lacking - the bone through his nose. We have gotten approval to recreate the bone, but the wood rot detour added to our labor and required an extra night's stay in San Diego. We will be returning in a couple of weeks to check on how he's holding up, and to add the bone!!)

The kind ladies from Historic San Diego kept us company much of the time and documented a lot of the work with photos and videotape. Many of the Shelter Island locals seem to have forgotten Mr. Bali Hai's name. We heard him referred to as "Big Kahuna guy" and "Mr. Raisin Head"...

The Baumann family who owns The Bali Hai are the greatest! The other evening Jody and I were treated to the original Mr. Bali Hai cocktail (which has not been on the menu for years). I was glad to see that the drink is a nice brown color (very fitting!).

The re-dedication ceremony for Mr. Bali Hai will (most likely) occur in early October. It all depends on when Historic San Diego will be able to get the most press out there. And everyone at the Bali Hai is excited about Tiki Farm's reissuing the Mr. Bali Hai mug!! (There was a prototype in the giftshop window which stirred up LOTS of interest while we were there). We'll keep you posted!

A great big Mahalo to Larry Baumann and his generous family for their trust and allowing us to make a mess in front of their beautiful restaurant for three whole days. Also thanks to Louise and Pamela of Historic San Diego for all their support in making this big step toward the preservation of Shelter Island's historic "tiki district."

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