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City Lights: A life's legacy outside of politics

November 14, 2012|By Michael Miller
  • A portrait of Art Snyder during his celebration of life at Don the Beachcomber.
A portrait of Art Snyder during his celebration of life… (Michael Miller,…)

Saturday afternoon, I sat in a cramped, paper-laden office inside Don the Beachcomber — the kind of setting that evokes thoughts of long hours and minute detail — and listened to a man on a computer screen talk about leaving reality behind:

"That's what the idea was — that you can enter into a place where you can leave everything else in the whole world outside. This all is fantasy. The drinks that were — that he created in Hollywood never existed in the South Seas. If they're in the South Seas now, which they are, all over, being served to tourists, it's because they were sent — they were carried into the South Seas from America, where Tiki took over the whole country."

The speaker on the YouTube video was Art Snyder, late owner of Don the Beachcomber, talking with reporter Greer Wylder about the restaurant's founder, Donn Beach. As the video played, the dimly lit rooms outside filled with Snyder's family and friends; the former Los Angeles councilman had died a few days earlier, and Saturday's event, originally planned as an 80th birthday party, had been recast as a celebration of life.

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As a politician, a lobbyist and a polarizing figure in general, Snyder has already made the obituary rounds the last few days. This column won't be about his successes or failures in office. Even though he lived in Huntington Beach at the end of his life, I encountered him just once as a reporter. But Don the Beachcomber ... well, that fantasy world, as he put it, is hard to miss for anyone who follows local culture.

So what kind of world did Snyder oversee inside that old building on Pacific Coast Highway, right on the edge of Sunset Beach? I asked Emerson Duque, the company's director of operations, to give me a tour Saturday before the celebration of life began.

A bit of history first. Snyder, who years earlier had bought the rights to Don the Beachcomber's name and recipes, took the former site of Sam's Seafood and Kona in 2009 and turned it into a location for the chain that started more than 70 years ago in Hollywood. While Don the Beachcomber used to have more than a dozen outlets nationwide, it now operates just one in Hawaii and one in Huntington Beach.

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