Not Your Average Joe

Barry Glenn

Q:What’s the story behind the tiki statue that sits along South Conway Road?

A:The rock figure with the stony expression guards the gated entrance to Mai Kai Condominiums just south of Curry Ford Road and resembles moai, the famed statues carved by Polynesian natives on Easter Island more than 600 years ago. But the Mai Kai sentry, which assumed its spot shortly after the condos were built in 1969, has something the Pacific monoliths do not: a name.

Say hello to “Old Joe.”

Joe doesn’t appear to be loaded with any sacred island symbolism. Instead, his message to the world has  been, “Yes, this is where you turn in.” Or “I am the landmark cited in the directions to your friend’s house.” Or “You really should have looked both ways before pulling out onto the highway.”

“The motif for Mai Kai was Polynesian, and the statue was supposed to be a Polynesian king,” says longtime Mai Kai resident Ted Arthur. The condos, which started  as apartments surrounded by orange groves, were designed by Frederick Owles, a noted local architect. Owles, who died in 2010, designed many Orlando-area landmarks, including 80 churches and six of the original buildings at UCF. He also was responsible for the layout of Mauna Loa apartments (now called Palm Harbor) just down the road from Mai Kai. That complex’s big landmark—a “volcano” at the entrance that spewed fire and smoke—was obliterated several years ago by an errant motorist.

Uh, Toto, are you sure we’re not in Tahiti anymore?

Unlike the volcano, Old Joe has endured. He started out as a hunk of coquina, which an unidentified artisan carved over several weeks, says former Mai Kai resident Mike Saltzman. Over the years Joe has worn everything from an oversized Santa hat to giant goggles (when the Orlando Magic and goggle-wearing star Horace Grant contended for the NBA title two decades ago).

Joe did have a close call in 1995. During the widening of South Conway Road, a highway engineer noticed he was in the state right of way and blocked the view of motorists pulling out of Mai Kai.  Joe was ordered to go, but Saltzman came to the rescue, persuading the condo association to spend $2,000 to dig a trench and scoot Joe  back about 15 feet, where he remains today.

Answer Man welcomes your questions about the Orlando area.
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