Disney California Adventure extreme makeover to transform entrance

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

An intense, 16-month construction project designed to transform the Disney California Adventure entryway from a nondescript strip mall into a circa-1920s Los Angeles streetscape will begin in earnest Jan. 4.

As part of an ongoing, $1.1 billion makeover, the sweeping and extensive reimagineering will wall off 4 acres of the main entrance between the C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A letters, Sunshine Plaza, Grizzly Peak and Hollywood Studios Backlot. The remade entryway, dubbed Buena Vista Street, will be designed to evoke the era when a young Walt Disney first arrived in Los Angeles.

After the winter holiday season ends, construction walls will go up around the iconic C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A letters Jan. 4 so that crews can turn the plaza area into Streamline Moderne turnstiles modeled after the former Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles.

The most disruptive phase of the project will start in August, when retheming work will begin on the shops just inside the entrance. On Aug. 1, Engine-Ear Toys, Bu-r-r Bank Ice Cream and Baker’s Field Bakery will close on the right side of the entrance. Then on Aug. 29, the Greetings from California gift shop on the left side of the entrance will close. If all goes according to plan, the new Pan-Pacific-style turnstiles will also open Aug. 29.

But construction will force Disney to route visitors through a 500-foot-long backstage pathway running behind Soarin’ Over California. The temporary entrance/exit route is expected to remain in place through spring 2012. Another pathway carved through the Sunshine Plaza construction zone will allow visitors to travel between Condor Flats and Hollywood Studios Backlot.

The undertaking is so massive and unprecedented that DCA Vice President Mary Niven has taken to a Web video in an effort to convince visitors the Anaheim theme park will remain open for business once the front gate turns into a construction zone.

“While we’re adding all these new attractions, our guests’ favorite attractions are still open,” said Niven, who faces the daunting challenge of building and operating a theme park at the same time.

Indeed, all major attractions and shows will remain open during construction.

By spring 2011, virtually all the areas of Paradise Pier currently behind construction walls will reopen to the public – including the Voyage of the Little Mermaid dark ride, the Goofy’s Sky School wild mouse coaster, the Paradise Garden Grill and Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta restaurants, the Corndog Castle take-out stand and the SeaSide Souvenir shop.

The 12-acre Cars Land addition is expected to make its debut with three new rides in spring 2012.

The ongoing expansion, which some have derisively dubbed “Disney’s Construction Adventure,” has proven to be a continuing nightmare for DCA planners. They were forced to ship the Main Street Electrical Parade to the Magic Kingdom when earlier construction shrank the parade route and cancel the California Food & Wine Festival for 2011 and 2012 when logistical hurdles became evident.

In addition, the Pixar Play Parade will go on hiatus after Jan. 3, with the parade characters continuing to appear in pop-up “dance parties” throughout the park. “The Incredibles” mini float will begin appearing at various locations throughout the park on Jan. 7, with “Toy Story” and “Monsters, Inc.” pop-up parties making their debuts over the ensuing weeks. The full Pixar parade is expected to return in November.

The Playhouse Disney theater will also close after Jan. 23 for conversion into the Disney Junior theater in spring. The rethemed theater will feature a new show segment based on the upcoming Disney Channel cartoon “Jake and the Never Land Pirates.”

Additionally, the Blue Sky Cellar preview center will add a more elaborate display on the Little Mermaid ride beginning on Jan. 27.