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Tiki Central Forums » » General Tiki » » the lost chapter: Hop Louie and the Stockton Islander (image heavy)
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the lost chapter: Hop Louie and the Stockton Islander (image heavy)
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Nov 11, 2003
Posts: 336
From: ripon: almond capital yet no orgeat
Posted: 2005-07-12 02:10 am   Permalink

When the town of Stockton, California is mentioned, one usually conjures up a mental image of a lonely dusty town with a port and many crime sprees. The news media perpetuates this thought since they always choose to interview the strung-out man with three teeth for “breaking news” pieces. With this imagery in place, would anyone believe that Stockton has strong ties to Hawaii and the Polynesian-Pop movement?

The first notable Hawaiian tie to Stockton was musician Don McDiarmid. This Stockton native authored the hapa-haole songs “Little Brown Gal” and “When Hilo Hattie Does the Hilo Hop” in 1935. However, it should be mentioned that Don lived the majority of his life in Hawaii playing with Harry Owens’ orchestra at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. He did not stick around in Stockton long enough to see the birth of Polynesian-Pop.

The individual who brought the wave of tiki to the Central Valley is a man named Hop Louie. His first venture into tiki was opening up the restaurant “Minnie’s” in Stockton in 1952. The restaurant was named after his wife, Minnie Woo. In 1954, another “Minnie’s” was opened to the south, in Modesto, California. Both restaurants were outfitted by Oceanic Arts and served tantalizing Cantonese food and featured Polynesian cocktails. In the late 1950’s, the Stockton branch of Minnie’s was sold to Gong Lee and his wife, Yuen Toy. The restaurant still exists, but is known as “Gong Lee’s” and no longer contains a trace of the hawaiiana décor. The Modesto branch of Minnie’s was sold in 1960 to K.N. Mah. Mr. Mah’s sons, Peter and Stuart, are keeping the tiki tradition alive today with Minnie’s in Modesto.

Hop Louie’s next business venture was one of a grandiose scale. He hired architect Warren Wong to design a building to resemble a shipwreck on an island of sand. In March 1963, builder Tony Meath starting working on the project, which had a price tag of a whopping 70,000 dollars. In May of ’63, the tall Islander sign by Ad-Art was raised. And in June, a mezzanine was constructed to house diners upstairs, overlooking the sunken dining room. Oceanic Arts was called upon to decorate the interior with thatching, matting, float lamps, tiles, and of course, tikis. The Otagiri Company was called upon to supply tiki mugs and bowls imprinted with the restaurant’s name. The Stockton Islander was officially open for business.

original menu hop louie from the opening

~ sugar packet

*hop louie chopsticks courtesy of kohalacharms

Over the next two years, Hop Louie continued to expand the Islander. By the end of 1965, the Islander was a tiki-mecca measuring 10,000 square-feet. Housed within the Islander was a nightclub called Latitude 20. The name “Latitude 20” provides a little foreshadowing into Hop Louie’s future endeavors. Apparently, the Latitude 20 was the hottest meeting and drinking spot in Stockton. Many musical acts performed at the Islander, which drew people old and young (think: prom dates!).

In 1966, the Islander was “sold” to Tommy G. Lee. Now, the reason why “sold” has quotations is due to the urban legend that Hop Louie lost the Islander in a crap game. Unfortunately, this rumor cannot be completely confirmed nor denied. One thing that is certain is that Hop Louie regularly gambled with a group of other Chinese immigrants in Stockton. As you may have guessed, some of the players in the group went on to buy Hop Louie’s restaurants (review “Minnie’s” paragraph for names). It can be confirmed that Hop Louie lost something BIG through gambling in Stockton. As to if that big loss was the Islander, well I guess it is up to the reader to decide.

~ Tommy Lee Islander Menu

As recently uncovered over the past month on tiki central, Hop Louie went on to open up many more Polynesian restaurants. Some of the restaurants he owned were Latitude 20 in Torrance, Tradewinds in Oxnard, Latitude 20 in Las Vegas, and Hop Louie's Jade Pagoda—which is the youngest landmark structure in Los Angeles’ Chinatown. Later on in life, Hop Louie landed a dream job as a Senior V.P. at Caesars Palace for Foreign Relations. Apparently, his job required him to travel to Asia to lure the big wigs over to gamble at his casino. In his own right, Hop Louie truly was a pioneer of tiki for California.

~the Hop Louie Pagoda in Chinatown, Los Angeles, Calif.

Tommy Lee truly lucked into the timing of owning the Islander. Tommy Lee’s Islander was a staple of Stockton’s late-night entertainment in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. It was considered Stockton’s version of the Tonga Room in the Fairmont Hotel, or Trader Vic’s in San Francisco. The only day it closed during the year was on Christmas day. Tommy was well-respected in the community due to his gregarious personality, work ethics, and generosity. He often employed many new immigrants and rented an apartment for his employees. Tommy was responsible for really promoting the Islander through advertisements and booking many lounge acts from the Reno/Tahoe circuit. Some of the more notable acts were the Hawaii ’69 Review, The Back Porch Majority, Randy Sparks, and Frankie Fannelli. When interviewing longtime Stockton residents about the Islander, most only recall that “it was really dark” and the large potent tropical drinks in take-home tiki mugs. Also, the steak and lobster dish appeared to be a crowd favorite. Pictures of the interior have yet to be discovered.

In 1980, Tommy Lee retired and sold the Islander to restaurateur Dick DeGrande. The name was changed to “DeGrande’s Surf & Turf Islander” and advertised that they featured fresh sea foods, as well as veal, chicken, crepes, and beef. It closed with a big party on New Year’s Eve in 1982. The building then sat vacant for over three years.

Even though the Islander was acknowledged as being near-landmark status, the Lincoln Center South Shopping Complex gave up on finding a suitable tenant for the humongous building. In 1986, Neil and Tracy Pollard purchased the building to replace their restaurant, the Chicken Kitchen. Two days before Christmas in 1984, the uninsured Chicken Kitchen, located within Pollardville Ghost Town, was destroyed by fire. However, to make things a little more complicated, the Pollards bought the building to move it to Pollardville, which is approximately 8 miles away. The building was cut into three pieces and hauled to the new site to be put back together.

the chicken kitchen

the outrigger beam is significantly shorter

where the bar was, shows overhang with lone piece of bamboo

sunken bar, now gone. slate still marks pathway

Needless to say, the Pollards made many changes inside and in back of the building. However, little hints of the old Stockton Islander still remain. Remarkably, the roof has been untouched and still contains the original shingles. The outrigger beams had at least 10 feet cut off on each side of the building. The sunken dining room still remains, even though it is slightly smaller since the Pollard’s added a wall. The mezzainene is walled up, and the sunken bar was taken out just a couple of years ago. Slate still carves a walkway along where the bar used to be, and a overhang above this area still contains a lone piece of bamboo. The most exciting discovery is a tall tiki, obviously produced by Oceanic Arts. Sorry collectors, do not get your hopes high, Neil Pollard reported that this tiki is to remain.

last remaining tiki

tiki from stair rail to the sunken dining area

float lamp from islander, many hung over the sunken dining room

If anyone does happen to have interior pictures or other artifacts from the Stockton Islander, please email me at
tikicleen@yahoo.com, and definitely add it to this thread!


[ This Message was edited by: tikicleen 2009-02-22 15:39 ]

[ This Message was edited by: tikicleen 2009-07-07 09:51 ]

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Oct 17, 2004
Posts: 483
Posted: 2005-07-12 05:02 am   Permalink

Excellant work tikicleen!
I enjoyed the story and pictures so much. Thank-you for sharing such an interesting history with us.This is the kind of thing I really love about TC!

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 23, 2003
Posts: 2158
From: www.crazedmugs.com
Posted: 2005-07-12 06:13 am   Permalink

Nicely done.
I think Big Bro should award you an honorary degree!

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 22, 2005
Posts: 248
Posted: 2005-07-12 06:43 am   Permalink

That was very informative and entertaining. That must have been fun researching. Good work!

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Tiki Royale
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Dec 06, 2002
Posts: 891
From: The Aloha Room in Beautiful Belmont, CA!
Posted: 2005-07-12 08:35 am   Permalink

Very nice work Tikicleen! It's amazing to see the (de)evolution of such a great place like The Islander.


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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 02, 2002
Posts: 290
From: Seattle, WA
Posted: 2005-07-12 08:47 am   Permalink

Wonderful post, tikicleen ! Thanks for sharing all that great info and research. I recently got an old dinner menu from Minnie's in Stockton, with Gong Lee mentioned as the owner. It may be from early on after he bought, (the prices on the menu seem to be late '50's era), still has a Polynesian style cover. I'll get a photo of it hopefully later today or tomorrow and post it.

[ This Message was edited by: puamana 2005-07-12 08:49 ]

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 22, 2002
Posts: 3691
From: San Francisco
Posted: 2005-07-12 10:00 am   Permalink

YAY! Cleen, you're getting a great big hug and a smooch from me the next time I see you, whether you want it or not. Thanks for sharing all your hard work with us, this is so absolutely fantastic!


Critiki - Critiki News - Ooga-Mooga

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 25, 2002
Posts: 1563
Posted: 2005-07-12 10:21 am   Permalink

Wow Tikicleen - this is exactly the kind of post we need more of here on TC - thank you so much for all of your work!

Fascinating - how on earth did you track the building down & figure out the history? I'm still hoping someone out there has more photos of the exterior of the original building - that one postcard just isn't enough...

Thanks again - great job.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 09, 2003
Posts: 3293
From: Victoria, BC
Posted: 2005-07-12 11:01 am   Permalink

Neat neat neat!
Thanks for posting all the cool info and pictures Tikicleen, very cool!


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Grand Member (first year)  

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 2989
From: Tradewinds Apartments, Alameda, CA
Posted: 2005-07-12 11:14 am   Permalink

This is why I love Tiki Central. Thank you! Keep up the good sleuthing.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 03, 2002
Posts: 3194
From: Las Vegas, NV
Posted: 2005-07-12 11:45 am   Permalink

You two get an Doctorate in "ZAZZ"!!!!!

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Dec 13, 2002
Posts: 378
From: New York City
Posted: 2005-07-12 11:57 am   Permalink

Yay! Thanks Tikicleen for posting this! I was very eager to read it when you mentioned about it. I've printed up a copy, and I'm going to show my dad. I'll see what other information I can gleen from him about Hop Louie.

To those who haven't read my thread titled "My dad is part of tiki history"
and someone else's thread "save a tiki from lat. 20"
while I knew that my great uncle Hop Louie (my dad's uncle) owned a Chinese restaurant, I through these threads I discovered that he actually founded several historic tiki restaurants in California.


[ This Message was edited by: paranoid123 2005-07-12 12:04 ]

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 04, 2003
Posts: 2385
From: Vista, CA
Posted: 2005-07-12 2:46 pm   Permalink

This is a super high quality post. Wow!

Reminds of TC in 2003 or so.


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Grand Member (6 years)  

Joined: Oct 15, 2002
Posts: 1560
From: Ventura County
Posted: 2005-07-12 7:19 pm   Permalink

Very cool Tikicleen!

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Nov 11, 2003
Posts: 336
From: ripon: almond capital yet no orgeat
Posted: 2005-07-14 1:00 pm   Permalink

i just wanted to thank everyone for their positive comments toward this post. it was a lot of work!
researching the islander was something i've been wanting to do for years, but never really had the block of time to do it. the hat and i put in a lot of hours researching this baby.

tang~ to answer your question, i highly recommend visiting the local library of where the place was located and finding the directories. old directories are so fascinating, and so different from today's yellow pages. they had advertisements, business listings, AND listings of where people lived & worked & business ownership! so we could always back-track to see who owned what and where someone was working. we also visited the microfilm section quite a bit in looking at old articles, old advertisements, and obituaries. another place full of information was the county building department. this is where we could review building permits and such. in the case of the islander, the permit office unfortunately purged all of their blue prints from this era. the final step was tracking down people who worked or went to the islander and interviewing them. we also were a little lucky in that the building still exists and neil pollard still runs the place. so he was able to provide a lot of information.

but trust me, when you commit to research something like this, you get sent out on A LOT of wild goose-chases! we had our share, which put us in some awkward situations at times.

puamana~ yes! definitely take a picture of that minnie's menu and post it on here. too bad there isnt a date....i never could get a firm answer as to when gong lee took it over.

if anyone else has stories, rumors, pictures, postcards, matchbooks, etc, that relates to the places mentioned, or were once owned by hop louie, please share with us by posting it on this thread.

mahalo again everyone! you guys are great!

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