Sun Wheel to Fun Wheel

December 31, 2022

Concept image of Surf City at Disney’s California Adventure.

When the Disney California Adventure theme park celebrated its grand re-opening on June 15, 2012, it showcased several important changes.  Among its most important was transforming what had become the park’s de facto icon.  The wheel at DCA was inspired by Deno’s Wonder Wheel at Coney Island in New York state and was a centerpiece of what was to be a zone in DCA to be named ‘Surf City’.  And ‘Surf City’ might have been the name of the zone but for the fact that two cities in California had protected that name and neither Huntington Beach in Southern California, nor Santa Cruz in Northern California would allow DCA to use the name.

Image of Paradise Pier with the ‘Sun Wheel’.

Named the ‘Sun Wheel’ the ride occupied a dominant location on what was finally named Paradise Pier and continued to do so for the first years in the life of DCA.

After the lagoon was drained scaffolding was erected around the ‘Sun Wheel’.

Then it was decided to change and transform the ‘Sun Wheel’ to the ‘Fun Wheel’ by in addition to the new name making the ride more guest friendly by exchanging the stern sun face for the friendly smiling face of the symbol of the Disney Company, Mickey Mouse.

Image of the scaffolding as installation of Mickey Mouse is beginning.

After the design was completed and a sign vendor contracted to proceed scaffolding was erected on Paradise Pier and the work started.  The work occurred in a fully operating theme park allowing guests to witness each step of the sign vendor’s progress.  First the face of the sun was removed followed by the frame onto which the Mickey face would be applied.

Note the people in the image for scale as Mickey’s face is installed.

The digital graphic was hung in a sheet and attached to the frame and the work quickly moved along.  As it happens Mickey’s face points away from the Earth’s sun resulting in the printed colors not suffering as much as they would if the face was pointed in the opposite direction.

Mickey’s face is very nearly done.

In short order the work was completed, and the final result reflected the design of the concept model.  The model was displayed at DCA in the preview center and then moved to Disney’s Hollywood Studios as part of a museum exhibit.  

Mickey’s face installed with the scaffolding about to be removed.

The wheel would receive a third name when Paradise Pier gave way to Pixar Pier and during the development of Pixar Pier there was discussion of replacing Mickey’s face with that of something more Pixar.  That did not occur so today guests see a wheel with two identities’, Mickey Mouse on one side and Pixar on the other side.  

Image of the Paradise Pier model concept model.

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