The kitschy contents of the Tonga Room are steeped in so much history that state law requires them to be salvaged and reused or stored after the 1960s-era Tiki bar closes, officials ruled.
The Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar is on the terrace level of Nob Hill’s century-old Fairmont Hotel complex, which is planned to be overhauled and remarketed as a partial condo complex.
The torch-lit, Pacific island-themed restaurant contains a lagoon with a boat that’s used by bands. At times it fills with the recorded sounds of birds and Hawaiian music and an occasional artificial rainstorm.
Black lava rock, bamboo, sculptures and artifacts salvaged from a ship also decorate the restaurant.
However, the strikingly retro venue, which opened in the late 1960s while Tiki bars were wildly popular, also meets the state’s definition of a “historical resource,” city planning officials ruled in an environmental impact report that deals with the hotel’s planned overhaul.
During the overhaul, a hotel tower at Sacramento and Powell streets will be demolished and replaced with a similar condo tower and a mid-rise addition. Some hotel rooms will be consolidated and expanded in the main building. Construction dates are uncertain, but expected to take three years.
It’s unusual for anything younger than 50 years old to be considered eligible for the California Historical Resources Commission’s Register. A legal provision exists, however, to list the 43-year-old Tonga Room if enough time is deemed to have passed to allow its historical importance to be understood.
“The Tonga Room is one of the last major, formally-designed Tiki-themed bars in California,” planning staff wrote in the report. “Its association with the broad influence of Polynesian Pop culture in the United States is a stronger tie than its association with the Fairmont Hotel.”
Trad’r Sam’s in the Richmond district is another Tiki bar built during the same period.
Owners of the Fairmont Hotel were provided with options to help them comply with California law when they demolish the historic venue.
The restaurant could be relocated, under one option.
Such bars are no longer economically feasible, according to the report, and that option is unlikely to be pursued.
Also, developers could catalog the contents of the restaurant and store highlights in a climate-controlled facility.
Finally, the decorative elements could be reused elsewhere, perhaps in a new restaurant or bar inside the overhauled building.
Project spokeswoman Susan Sagy welcomed the report in a statement, but declined to discuss Tonga Room plans.
591 Hotel rooms today
305-351 Hotel rooms after overhaul
0 Housing units today
160 Housing units after overhaul
185 Parking spaces today
350 Parking spaces after overhaul
Source: BMWL Public Affairs