Filed Under Tourism

The Kon Tiki Hotel

A Little Bit of Waikiki in the Heart of Phoenix

The Polynesian craze of the 1960s brought popularity to this mid-century motel.

The Kon Tiki Hotel was constructed in 1961 by the R.L Branaman Construction Company for $528,000. The hotel was designed by James Salter, who worked at the influential mid-century architecture firm Haver & Associates. Charles Alexander and Wayne Romney owned the development.

The design featured a Polynesian theme, with flared angular roof treatments covered in Bermuda tile. With a total of 111 guest rooms, the hotel was designed to cater to family groups seeking quiet and relaxation.

Billed as "A little bit of Waikiki in the heart of Phoenix," the Kon Tiki was constructed during the Polynesian craze of the era that resulted from several factors: men and women returning from the Pacific Theater following WWII, Hawaii's adoption as the 50th state in 1959, and James Michener's books were published about the Pacific.

Van Buren was an ideal location for a hotel--and, in fact, became home to numerous modernist hotels that grew to accommodate travelers following the 1930s. Van Buren once stood as one of three main arteries traversing the heart of Phoenix as part of the Federal Highway system developed in the 1920s and 30s. U.S. Highways 60, 70, 80, & 89 traversed the Valley, crossing the Salt River from Tempe at the Mill Avenue Bridge, eventually crossing Phoenix along Van Buren. Highway 80 turned South at 17th Avenue, while the other three highways turned North and West at Grand Avenue.

The development of the Interstate Highway System began construction in the middle of the 1950s. In Phoenix, the I-10 built just a few blocks North of Van Buren, supplanted the older federal highway system. After construction was completed in Central Phoenix in 1990, tourism traffic along Van Buren Street declined. Not surprisingly, hotels like the Kon Tiki faced economic hardship. In 1993 the hotel closed, and in 1997 the buildings were demolished. Presently, a parking lot occupies the space on which the Kon Tiki once stood.


Kon Tiki Postcard
Kon Tiki Postcard The Kon Tiki Hotel had a modernist design with a distinctive South Pacific character that was propular in the period. It also deployed a colorful neon sign at its entrance. Creator: Petley Studios, 4501 E. Van Buren, Phoenix Date: 1960
The Kon Tiki Opens
The Kon Tiki Opens The Arizona Republic reported on the hotels opening, noting that the "South Pacific emphasis which appears in quite a few of the modern motels in Phoenix, appears to have reached its apex in the Kon Tiki Hotel." Source: Arizona Republic, May 6, 1962, 24-G. Creator: The Arizona Republic Date: 1962
Advertising the Kon Tiki
Advertising the Kon Tiki Colorful advertising for the Kon Tiki plays up its South Pacific themes, including the phrase "A little bit of Waikiki in the heart of Phoenix." Source: Arizona Republic Date: 1970



Suzanne Collett, “The Kon Tiki Hotel,” Salt River Stories, accessed May 23, 2024,