In 1967, Adrian Wilson and Associates was selected to design, with Del Webb Construction to construct, a new convention center for the burgeoning Southern California suburb, Anaheim. At the time, much of the development in Anaheim was centered on the intersection of Katella Avenue and Harbor Boulevard. This key intersection was the gateway to Disneyland. As such, much of the development was oriented towards tourist amenities, primarily motels and restaurants. While still a far cry from the major vacation capital it is today, Anaheim in the mid-century was rapidly growing towards a future as a tourist destination.
The convention center building capitalized on the success of Disneyland, while also helping to draw the crowds that flocked to the area. The original wing of the convention center, as designed by Adrian Wilson, was a short, two-story glass building, with a sheet metal mansard roof in a mid-century modern style. Stylistically, the building was similar to the nearby Disneyland Hotel, designed by William Pereira and Charles Luckman. The convention center was located mid-block along Katella Avenue, though set back from the street, just south of Disneyland’s massive parking lot. Perfectly functional, the complex looked much like an industrial or business park of that era. A convention center, being largely a vacant hall, needs to feature a flexible interior space, and very largely features many adornments, or noteworthy design features. The original wing of the convention center was exactly that.
In addition to the convention center, an arena was built fronting Katella Avenue. The arena building tied in not only to the convention center to serve as an expansion of any convention programming, but the arena could also function as a stand-alone event center. The prominent location of the arena quickly made it the public face for the convention facilities.
The arena captured visitors’ attention and imaginations with its unique Googie-style exterior. A curving and undulating concrete roof shell is supported by an arch that spans the length of the building. The side walls bow outward to meet the roof. Undoubtedly drawing inspiration from the domed structures found in the Rocket to the Moon (later Rocket to Mars) attraction across the street in Tomorrowland, the arena looks as if a spaceship planted itself amongst the palm trees. The circumference of arena at ground-level is encased in windows, allowing a natural progression from the plaza outside, and into the concourse inside the arena. Inside, open staircases, with low rise, and airy handrails seemingly levitate toward the upper seating areas. The stairs are easily reminiscent of a staircase stretching up into the bridge of a docked UFO. Also in the main, ground-level concourse, columns are angled inward, and intersected by beams, visually creating an A shape, lest anyone forget they are currently in Anaheim.
In total, the footprint of the arena is approximately 40,000 square feet. The arena provides approximately 7,500 seats across three levels. Scoreboards are tucked underneath the domed roof on either end of the interior. Outside, a row of 14 box-office windows, and numerous glass doors into the concourse provide functionality to the arena.
While never hosting a permanent tenant, the arena has played home to numerous basketball, volleyball, and indoor soccer teams. In 1984, the arena was the host to the wrestling events of the LA Olympics. In its earlier years, the arena hosted numerous concerts. While concert use has waned with the opening of larger concert venues in the vicinity, the arena has still found regular visitation by convention guests.
Unlike many of its contemporaries in Southern California (e.g., Long Beach Arena, LA Sports Arena, San Diego Sports Arena), the interior of the Anaheim Arena still maintains many of its mid-century modern fixtures. This includes carpeted stairs and concourses, original seats, 1” x 1” square tile accents, square hand rails and supports, and many others. This not only speaks to the timelessness of the design, but also the durability of the construction. Even after millions of visitors have utilized its facilities, the arena still stands in as good of a form as ever.
The Anaheim Arena, now in its sixth decade, still stands as one of the most unique buildings in Orange County. It remains as one of the few examples of Googie architecture, after many of its compatriots have been torn down. Even after such a long time, the arena, most importantly, still sparks curiosity. (2022)
Long touted as an underrated, yet not forgotten example of the mid-century googie style, the arena still stands as one of the truly unique buildings in the county. Perhaps looking more at home across the street in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, the domed roof is oft compared to spaceships. It is a strikingly sleek profile that is unlike any arena built before or since. Having historically played host to large concerts, political rallies, and even the Olympics, the arena is currently an extension to the Anaheim Convention Center. (2020)