Thursday, March 30, 2006

In search of the wild Metreon

I don't believe I've ever mentioned that, in addition to my semi-famous original comic pinup art collection — samples from which I foist upon you generous and tolerant readers every Friday — I also collect coffee mugs. Knowing as you do my slavish addiction to Mother Caffeine, this might not come as a surprise.

About 70 mugs or so hang on racks mounted on my office wall. A few dozen more take up cabinet space in our kitchen. Most are mementos of places I've been. Consequently, a lot of them comemmorate various tourist destinations and attractions. A few came from friends and family members who traveled somewhere and brought me back a mug. A handful I just spotted in a store somewhere and liked.

I keep a few favorite mugs in regular rotation for everyday use, not just for coffee, but for whatever beverage I happen to be drinking at a given moment. (I'm a teetotaler, so coffee's the strongest brew that ever touches them.) My favorites tend to be capacious, sturdy, and hold some special significance for me.

Today I'm drinking out of my Where the Wild Things Are mug. It's decorated with a familiar scene from Maurice Sendak's classic children's fantasy, with the story's boy hero Max leading a parade of monsters through the jungle of his imagination by the light of the full moon. The book's title is printed on the mug's handle. Reading Sendak's story over and over again was one of the delights of my early childhood.

Until recently, downtown San Francisco was home to a combination shopping mall/entertainment complex known as Metreon. Developed by Sony, Metreon was touted as the wave of the future when it first opened in 1999. Originally, Metreon's seven public levels housed a flashy collection of high-tech stores, including a Sony Style electronics showroom, a humongous Discovery Channel Store, and Microsoft's first (and, I believe, only) dedicated retail outlet. Cheek by jowl with the software and hardware stood an eclectic assortment of entertainment venues: a Loews Theatre multiplex; a multimedia presentation based on the educational books series The Way Things Work; a souped-up video game arcade called Airtight Garage, decorated in comic book graphics designed by the French artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud; and an entire floor devoted to a themed playground, restaurant, and gift shop based on Where the Wild Things Are. The latter was the source of my mug.

Metreon's Where the Wild Things Are attraction was a real kick. Wonderfully evocative and engaging in its interactivity, the playground offered kids (and the adults who loved them) an opportunity to step into a fantasy world and have a field day. New surprises lurked around every corner, all perfectly tied into the theme and graphic concept of the book. Even the little cafe, called In the Night Kitchen after another Sendak story, was creatively designed and fun to visit, even if the food was pricey and average in quality.

A failure almost from day one, due in large part to Sony's disinterest in marketing the concept properly, Metreon struggled along for more than six years before Sony finally gave up on the project last month. Westfield Group, a shopping center development company currently renovating the nearby San Francisco Centre, bought Metreon and plans to turn it into another multistory urban mall. Just what America needs.

It's too bad, really — Metreon was a brilliant notion that just needed to have been thought out a little better. The girls and I enjoyed several fun visits there. I'm sad that it didn't succeed.

The Where the Wild Things Are attraction, which operated only sporadically for the past couple of years, closed permanently last year.

My mug still drinks pretty well, though.

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1 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Anonymous Anonymous offered these pearls of wisdom...

I should have checked and read your blog before I took my girls to the Metreon yesterday for a fun day at Where the wild things are! But to my total disappointment, it was no longer there!

The place now gears toward the geeky computer game audience. There was not any thing at the Metreon (including the bookstore) for toddlers! As you stated, it's sad!

2:28 PM  

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