This was the first year I had the pleasure of attending Palm Springs Modernism Week, a series of events celebrating the architecture and culture of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. There were dozens of home tours, lectures, films and cocktail parties from February 16-26. Curiouslaydee and I were there for the closing weekend and some fun in the sun at The Riviera, but first we headed down Palm Canyon Drive to the Ace Hotel on Friday night.
The Vintage Roadside duo of Jeff Kunkle and Kelly Burg traveled down from Portland to share several years of research and interviews in a special sold-out presentation entitled “Mid-Century Mermaids: A History.”
They gave an overview of aquatic shows, from the 1939 New York World’s Fair and Billy Rose’s Aquacade (where Esther Williams was discovered) to mid-century mermaid attractions (like Weeki Wachee Springs, pictured) and porthole lounges (hotel bars with windows into the resort’s pool) to newer ventures like Sacramento’s Dive Bar and the aquarium at the Silverton Casino Hotel in Las Vegas.
The pictures were fascinating and there were many interesting stories to go with them. A Shell gas station sign was apparently used to make a mold for these giant shells at Aquarama, a now defunct tourist spot in Missouri. (There was also mention of a topless Star Wars themed show at the Reef in San Diego!)
Up front they had two tables displaying mermaid memorabilia, like this blue costume from Sip ‘n Dip in Montana (possible setting for a future reality show), a guitar from Weeki Wachee Springs (still in operation!), vintage bathing suits and a gold tail from Aquarama.
Following the presentation, the crowd surrounded the pool adjacent to the conference room for a special underwater and pyrotechnic performance by Marina the Fire-Eating Mermaid.
Marina and her MeduSirena Pod of fellow fish-tailed entertainers have a standing swimshow engagement every Friday night at the Wreck Bar in Fort Lauderdale, and she also performs at special events like Tiki Oasis where she’s even held classes on underwater movement for aspiring mermaids.
Marina was stunning, of course, but what really blew me away at this event was discovering how many mermaid attractions there were/are across the country. My favorite example was the porthole lounge, but Marina told me there are only three remaining in the U.S. They may be more nautical in style, not really “tiki” per se, but they seem to have that same sense of South Seas escapism that we love about tiki bars.