Bob Koke, a young photographer from Hollywood, and Louise Garret, his future wife, came to Bali in the Dutch East Indies in 1936, to spend a few weeks painting and taking photographs. Very soon after arriving they decided to open a small hotel on ‘the most beautiful beach in the world‘, Kuta Beach. Leasing the land from locals, Bob and Louise built the Kuta Beach Hotel, which was very basic, and somewhat cut off from the areas of Bali’s fledgling tourist industry.
Dutch expats living in Denpasar scoffed at the Kuta Beach Hotel, and its lack of facilities. The simple thatch-and-bamboo guest houses were laughingly labelled as ‘dirty native huts’, by Dutch travel agents, not worthy of westerners. Back then the tourist hotels were in Denpasar, with expats such as artist Walter Spies favoring Ubud, and others preferring Iseh in East Bali. Word spread though and the Koke’s had a a full house pretty quickly.
The Koke’s had never owned or run a hotel before, but the rustic charm, idyllic location and their own personalities got them through. A trip to Padangbai, or any quiet part of Bali will still have elements of the building style, bamboo,
grass roof etc.
Bob Koke was a surfer and brought a long board from Hawaii with him. He is credited with being the first surfer in Bali. His longboard is still in Bali and you can see it on display at the Discovery Hotel during the Kuta Karnival. Back then boards had no fin, the surfer having to stand more of less facing forward, trying to balance the thing.
Bob Koke was a good photographer, and some of his work is on display at the Neka Museum in Ubud. His black and white photographs, capturing village life as well as traditional dances of the time. The Photographic Archive Center in the Neka Museum, features the photographs, which are all black and white. Village scenes as well as festivals and cremations from the late 1930’s to the 1940’s. Bob Koke’s most important photos are those of the Kecak and Legong dances and those of the famous Kecak choreographer I Wayan Limbak. Louise Koke painted portraits of the Balinese and also wrote a manuscript detailing their time in Bali, in 1942.
The Koke’s left Bali in 1942 to escape the invading Japanese. Bob returned in later years to visit Bali, but Louise preferred to remember Bali as it was. Louise Koke’s book is called ‘Our Hotel in Bali‘.