San Fernando Road is about the last place in Glendale you would expect to see a 12-foot pink elephant lurking in the palms. Gray and industrial, the street is a preserve for light industry, not pachyderms.
That's why the Sea and Jungle Imports shop on San Fernando strikes visitors with the force of a Micronesian battle-ax. The place looks like a Disneyland South Seas hut and, for 24 years, rented exotic props to the movie industry.
For years, shoppers have rummaged there among thousands of oddities to find just the right grass shack or five-foot wooden Tiki, the representation of a god who, in Polynesian mythology, created the first man.
And don't forget the pink fiberglass elephant at the store's entrance.
Folding Its Tent
But, on June 30, after a generation of procuring creatures for the black lagoon, Sea and Jungle is calling it quits. The family that owns it is liquidating the stock; its manager is moving to a less tropical locale--Southwest Missouri.
"Everyone's over 60, and we want to retire," said Beverly Achtien, who owns the family business along with her mother, Virginia Langdon, sister, Sybil Fredericks, and two brothers, Jack and Bill Snyder.
The family members say that advancing age and increased competition from overseas contributed to their decision to close the Glendale landmark.
Buyers didn't exactly line up, and the owners' children were not interested in taking over the business, Fredericks said. A neighboring manufacturer bought the property.
Sea and Jungle's departure will make San Fernando Road a less colorful place. It will also leave set decorators in the lurch, say some movie industry personnel familiar with the company.
"They've always come up with unusual things you can't find anyplace else," said Lee Congiardo, a set designer for Landmark Enterprises who worked with Walt Disney Enterprises for 16 years. "I don't know what I'm going to do without them."
Technical Advice for Movies
Sea and Jungle also provided the movie industry with technical information, such as how to rig a sail on a tall ship's mizzenmast, he said. Just recently, Congiardo said, he found a small cannon that he needed at the Glendale store.
Sea and Jungle props decorated Rick's Cafe Americaine in "Casablanca," Achtien said. They carried natives over the waves in "Mutiny on the Bounty." And they adorned countless TV movie
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Time to Reminisce
On a recent day, the two sisters bustled about the half-empty store sorting through the remaining goodies and reminiscing.
Achtien recalled how her brother once bought a load of African voodoo dolls that the family despaired would ever sell in sensible Glendale.
"Frankly, I didn't like them. But they went so fast it made your head spin," she said. What about the store's mascot, the life-size pink elephant?
"I was thinking of taking him to Missouri, but my husband said, 'Forget that, he'd never fit through the underpasses,' " Achtien said with a sigh. "I wanted to put him on a flatbed truck and drive him right out."
Meanwhile, the elephant, designed by the man who animated the creatures in Disneyland's Jungle Cruise ride and which Achtien says can be re-animated, was sold this week for $600 to a decorating firm, which plans to use it as a prop for Republican Party gatherings. "I personally don't like the color of it. We're thinking of turning it back to gray," said David Post, of Stagecoach productions in Reno, Nev.
All other items in the store are listed at 70% off, although Achtien says she is "absolutely ready" to make deals with interested buyers.
One item not for sale is an evocative neon sign that lights up to show three monkeys scrambling up and down a palm tree. The family plans to donate the piece to the Museum of Neon Art in downtown Los Angeles.
Love Did It
Achtien's family stumbled into the exotic-prop business through love. When Virginia Langdon was 17 and enrolled at Hollywood High School, she eloped to Hawaii with her 16-year-old boyfriend because her parents opposed the marriage. They lived there five years, developing a lifelong passion for things tropical, their daughters recall.
The couple returned to Glendale and bought Sea and Jungle in 1962. There they ran a thriving business, making occasional forays to the South Pacific and Africa to replenish stock. Their children drifted naturally into the business, but it was Achtien who managed the shop in recent years.
Young people liked the place because it sold wacky items, she said. So did movie stars. Comedian Pee Wee Herman once bought a lamp shaped like a giant clump of yellow bananas. John Wayne favored nautical gear. Dorothy Lamour bought decorative wall hangings for her bar.
Is Achtien going to take a little bit of Polynesia with her to Missouri? She and her sister say they might open a boutique in a year or so in the small Missouri Ozarks town of Branson, where Achtien has relatives.
"I don't think it's the place for a Hawaiian shop, though," she said.