The Beat’s offhand mention of Anaheim GardenWalk got me curious and I went looking around for more info on the mall’s current status. The last few times I’ve been there, it’s been practically a ghost town: behind the anchor restaurants out front, there were a handful of stores, then nothing, nothing, more nothing, and finally a movie theater way at the back and a Johnny Rockets that probably only stuck it out because it was so close to the theater. (The mall opened in 2008 — very bad timing — and never recovered.)

Apparently they’re trying to reinvent it as a restaurant/entertainment hub, with House of Blues moving over from Downtown Disney and more luxury hotels. (What is it with the luxury hotels?) Edit: I think I’ve been to the old location a half-dozen times, and it did suffer from sightline issues and crowding. They’re taking over part of the movie theater at Garden Walk to build the new venue, which will be bigger, add some seating areas in addition to the standing room, and have some of the side spaces as well. I think the HoB has a better shot than the rest of the mall, honestly.

So I’m not convinced, but if it works out, it could benefit WonderCon next year. It’s not a super-long walk (except in hot weather), and if they have a shuttle for parking like last year, it would make it even easier to get to.

From a comment at The Beat’s article on the Guardians of the Galaxy ride opening at Disney’s California Adventure.

As of last weekend, I’ve been to more WonderCons in Anaheim than San Francisco, and more with a kid in tow than without. And I’m finally at the point where I’m no longer comparing the current incarnation of the con to the previous one, and just taking it on its own terms.

(Jump to the Photo Gallery if you don’t want to read my ramblings on the con.)

Honey Lemon and Photobombers.WonderCon is still a lot like old-school San Diego Comic-Con, with the mix of various media presence but without the cattle-drive crowds. It’s the kind of con where you can find the high-profile events or guests and actually visit more than one in the same day!

The era of gigantic booth displays (other than the tower of T-shirts) seems to be over, or maybe exhibitors are saving them for the bigger cons. I was surprised that DC didn’t have a booth, since they’ve been heavily involved in WonderCon every year I’ve gone, though they provided the program cover/T-shirt as usual, hosted panels, and of course were well-represented by artists and writers.

Even without giant booths, the main floor filled most of the convention center. Artist’s Alley was probably about the same size as at SDCC, but easier to navigate. It’s a bit of a blur, actually, but I remember:

  • Looking at a lot of art
  • Comics sellers (though I only took the time to look at the discount books that were actually organized)
  • Pirate-themed devices
  • Antique keys, tools, drafting instruments and the like. (In some cases the artifacts weren’t actually that old. There was a Swiss Army Knife that looked pretty much exactly like the one I was carrying in my backpack, for instance.)
  • Tentacle Kitty!
  • Talking to several artists including: Phil Foglio, from whom I bought a Girl Genius-inspired card game; Amy Mebberson, who got a kick out of Spider-Elsa; the writer of an indie comic about airship combat with amazing artwork called Skies of Fire.
  • What is it with me and airship comics?

Continue reading

This year at WonderCon (April 18-20) was the year that I missed a lot of things. It’s not at the SDCC level where you have to assume you won’t get to what you want unless you’re really lucky, or deliberately go for the less popular events. Even if you’re at the very end of a long line, or arriving five minutes before, you might still make it into the room. Mostly, I got there late two days out of three, and spent most of Saturday finding things for a three-year-old to do (more about that later).

WonderCon is settling in at Anaheim. The crowds are coming even on Friday, and parking…well, it’s not perfect, but it’s better than the first year, when they sent people out to Anaheim Stadium for overflow, and a lot simpler than San Diego’s collection of dozens of tiny parking lots scattered around downtown. After the first day following signs from lot to lot to lot, I just went straight to the Garden Walk structure for the next two days. It’s a bit of a hike, but not much worse than parking at the far end of the Toy Story lot, and the time you save waiting to get into the lot will probably make up for the extra 5-10 minutes on foot. (But if you leave the con before sunset, make sure you walk out to Katella along the convention center, where there’s shade, and not along Harbor, where there’s a wide street to let the sun reach you and a wall to reflect the heat right at you.) Continue reading

Lights strung across an empty walkway past empty windows.

During Wondercon I discovered that Anaheim Garden Walk is even emptier than I remembered it. This used to be the third-floor food court. There’s nothing there anymore.

The outdoor mall had the misfortune to open just before the recession hit, too close to Disneyland to attract locals and too far to attract tourists. It never completely filled in, and as old stores leave, new ones don’t seem to be taking their places. I’ve only been there a few times, mainly when I happen to be in the area for something else (like a convention) and it’s been odd and kind of sad to watch it slowly empty out.

It’s not completely abandoned like, say, the Hawthorne Mall. From the street, you’d never know there was a problem. The front is packed with chain restaurants like California Pizza Kitchen, P.F. Chang’s and Bubba Gump Shrimp, all of which seem to be doing well, or at least they were busy during Wondercon. Behind them, the main floor of the mall only has a handful of stores. There are a few clothing stores and a tourist welcome center. Almost every storefront is walled off.

Here’s a shot from 2010. Note that there’s only one open restaurant in the photo. It’s not there anymore.

Anaheim Garden Walk in 2010. The one restaurant open in this photo isn't there anymore.

The top floor is just eerie, especially at night. When I grabbed lunch during Wizard World’s 2010 Anaheim Comic Con, they had several mid-range restaurants and a half-full food court. That’s all gone. There’s one bar and grill, which seemed to be doing well enough during the convention, but you really have to know it’s there. And then there’s a Johnny Rockets waaaaay at the back, which I imagine is only hanging on by being next to the movie theater. Otherwise, no one would go back there.

What makes it especially eerie is that the place is so well-maintained. It’s clean, well-lit, even decoratively lit. The walls are the same temporary walls put up when any other mall has an empty storefront or two, they’re just everywhere. It reminds me a little of the southernmost part of Irvine Spectrum when that section first opened, before many stores moved in…except that was part of a larger mall that was actually occupied.

It looks a LOT like the outdoor parts of the Del Amo mall…but if you stand up on the walkway outside the theater and look down, instead of a bustling courtyard with people milling around the fountain and walking in and out of stores, you’ll see an empty courtyard with flat walls.

Garden Walk Empty Courtyard

On the plus side, they did build a parking structure big enough for a full mall, which means that it’s available for event parking. Of course, even the parking structure is unfinished. I took this photo four years ago, and the top floor still looks like this — chain link, sandbags, exposed rebar and all.

Unfinished Parking

WonderCon has officially announced that they’re returning to Anaheim in 2014 for a third year, from April 18-20. It’s turned out to be a good venue for the convention, especially if they can work the remaining kinks out of parking next year, and it means it’s easy for us to attend, since it’s close enough for us to commute. (That really takes some of the pressure off of trying to get tickets for San Diego, too.)

Still, I hope they find a way to move back to the Bay Area soon. I attended three years at the Moscone Center when it meant traveling (it probably helps that we have family and friends in the area to visit on the way up and back), and while the show still feels very much like part of the same family, it does feel like a slightly different show. I was in San Francisco on a business trip last week, and when I realized I was in the neighborhood, I just had to stop by Yerba Buena park and the Moscone Center for old time’s sake. Continue reading