Story and Photos by David A. Laws.
If you feel nostalgic for those psychedelic light show/rock concerts of the 1960s, Selfieville a new attraction in downtown Monterey offers a chance to relive your youth. But this time in a family-friendly setting without those funny-smelling cigarettes! If you’re not old enough to know what I am talking about, imagine a journey through a fantasy world created with a phalanx of high-tech 3D projectors that transform a theater’s static walls into a magical experience.
Seated in the historic Golden State Theatre on Alvarado Street, I am admiring the restored, 1920s Moorish-style details. Suddenly castellated battlements over the proscenium arch burst with pulsing color. Turrets glow. Pillars twist and swirl to the beat of the music. Using computer-controlled 3D projection technology, the exotic décor of the grand old cinema is raised to a new level of extravagance with breathtaking color and animation. 3D projection mapping, the art of projecting video onto uneven surfaces, can transform any building into a screen to create mesmerizing illusions. In this case, an illusion within an illusion as curtains parted to reveal the screen of an old-time movie house.
An “experiential museum” The brainchild of Golden State co-owner Lori Lochtefeld, the 3D light show is just one of three adventure levels in Selfieville, an “experiential museum” intended to stimulate the imagination by taking visitors on “a journey of discovery through a pathway of imagination.” In newly constructed galleries on the upper floors, levels two and three comprise brightly decorated theme rooms filled with bold graphics and sculptures studio-lit for that perfect vacation snapshot. “I grew up working hard to achieve my dreams and I want to inspire others to do the same. The Selfieville experience will open up everyone’s imagination so that they know if they can dream it, they can make it a reality,” explained Lori. “I am also pledging 25% of the profits from Selfieville to foster care and adoption agencies because I want all children to feel special and have the opportunities to succeed in life.”
Inspired by the popular Museum of Ice Cream in San Francisco, the recently opened Monterey attraction is designed to generate revenue when the building is not busy with shows, comedies, and special performances. Lochtefeld chose the Selfieville name because it is the same in every language. She hopes that it will appeal to international tourists as well as locals seeking a unique family experience.
Immersive, high-tech light show: Counting down from ten, flickering numbers on the screen resolved into a succession of clips from vintage comedies to popular romances of the 1930s and 40s. This opening tribute to movies from Hollywood’s golden era is the only direction Lori gave to master projection designer, Bart Kresa. The rest of the 20-minute presentation morphed from one fantasy theme into another. Swirling and flashing abstract light shows were interspersed with a dozen or more colorful vignettes featuring hot-air balloons, flying alligators, jugglers, undersea vistas, mustachioed strongmen, and luminous moonscapes. Fierce, dragon-like snakes and other magical creatures escaped from the screen to slither across the glowing ceiling. Think Harry Potter on steroids. Concern that this might scare young children evaporated when the snake sequence proved particularly popular with that demographic.
Kresa’s studio has designed 3D projection experiences for architectural, concert, and theme park light shows from Hollywood and across the USA, to India and Japan. Lori became familiar with his work when she and her husband owned the Fox Theater in Redwood City, California. Kresa’s Magic Lantern extravaganza projected on the façade of the historic San Mateo County Courthouse attracts regular crowds to the formerly deserted downtown square in summer.
Interactive theme rooms for fantasy selfies: After the show, Lori led me up to the Selfieville level. I entered the first of four rooms decorated with dazzling colors and popular images placed for use as photo backgrounds. Carmel artist Lisa Haas painted the Gingerbread Room with murals of edible figures and candies. Images on the walls of the Butterfly Room allow visitors to take photos of their companions adorned with giant wings for their Instagram and Facebook pages.
And it doesn’t take much imagination to guess the décor of the Teddy Bear and Astronaut Rooms. All are linked by a corridor lined with pumpkin-sized emoji graphics. Attendants are happy to take group shots. We entered the third level through a greenery draped arch. A simulated flagstone pathway lined with giant tropical plants and spotted toadstools disappeared into a jungle of super-sized exotic blooms.
By contrast, the next room took me into outer space where I was encouraged to swing on the crescent of a snoozing moon. Successive interactive, fantasy-filled rooms held oversize unicorns, an undersea world honoring the Monterey Bay Aquarium, cartoon figures, and sculptures designed to stimulate the imagination. Lori’s favorite, a fantasy candy store with chocolate chip cookie stools, huge lollipops, and a bath-sized sundae dish, delivered the icing on the cake of ultimate selfie experiences.
Later that day, I passed a legal cannabis dispensary. How times have changed! Those aromatic cigarettes are sold in controlled, pristine outlets nowadays. No light shows are allowed.
IF YOU GO: The owners sold the venue in July 2021 and the Selfieville-exhibit is now closed to the public
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