Friday, September 21, 2007

Welcome To Wonderland

Welcome To Wonderland
Vallejo Park To Host Grand Re-Opening
By J.M. BROWN/Times-Herald staff writer
Vallejo Times Herald

Eddie Nuno, 11, of Vallejo spins his sister, Susanna, 2, in one of the teacups surrounding the refurbished Teapot at Vallejo's Children's Wonderland park. GVRD had a preview opening for the park Thursday evening in advance of Saturday's grand re-opening festivities. (Mike Jory/Times-Herald)

Although the renovated Children's Wonderland hosts a larger-than-life Brontosaurus, climbable train station and huge new swing set, its biggest feature is completely invisible - imagination.

Every play station in the newly restored park is a portal to a different fantasy land.

The iconic teapot and new twirling cups are the centerpiece of the park's original Alice and Wonderland theme, while the nearby artifact-filled Dinoland sandbox with interactive pebbled brook set a Flinstone-esque scene.

Perhaps more than anything, however, the $2.5 million restoration makes a statement for GVRD that - despite numerous setbacks - good blueprints, dedicated fund-raising and smart execution eventually do bring a plan to life.

"This gives us our street cred," the grinning GVRD director, Shane McAffee, said as he proudly strolled the grounds during a special preview party Thursday. The park will be unveiled to the public during a "Grand Re-Opening" Saturday and Sunday.

Longtime Vallejoans remember the park's golden days of the 1960s, when kids played in the classic tea pot, castle and magical Cinderella carriage built by high school students.

But the 4-acre park fell into disrepair decades later, until the Greater Vallejo Recreation District created a plan to bring it back to life.

A. Chester Humphreys, former board member, recalls many meetings when "We wondered whether it was going to open." Now, he said as he played with 3-year-old grandson Anthony, "Here it is."

The years-long project got underway in earnest nine months ago, when local artists and technicians installed the teacups, Vallejo Station and Children's Wonderland Hotel climbing stations, and Dinoland adventure area.

They also restored the park's original features, like the teapot, castle, fire truck and carriage. GVRD also planted trees and laid down rubber playground flooring - made of recycled tires - to increase safety around climbing equipment.

There are also several new picnic tables for public use, and stone walkways that lead in a circle around a new grassy center.

Longtime residents Don Demmon, nephew of former mayor George Demmon, and wife Barbara, said they were impressed with the park's revived look.

"It was so trashed before, it was a crime," Don Demmon said.

Because kids tend to get bored at parks with inanimate equipment, artist Tom Arie Donch, who created and built the new Dinoland area featuring the Brontosaurus, said, "With sand and water, kids will be here for hours."

But the tea pot, after all these years, is still the park's focal point. Kids climbed in and out of its belly, peeking out its little windows and gliding down its new slide.

Ray Regan, who painted colorful flowers and other designs inside the tea pot, said the structure only holds its magic if children have something to do or look at on the inside. He sought to give children the feeling that, "When you're inside, you're outside," he said.

Vallejo dad Jose Avalos, who brought 9-year-old daughter Marissa to test out the park Thursday, may have a hard time tearing her away during future visits.

"It's good for kids, good for the community," Avalos said.

Humphreys agreed, saying, "Vallejo needed someplace like this."

Sophia Padilla, 5, of Vallejo sits behind the wheel in the Children's Wonderland firetruck with her cousin, Amber Estrada. (Mike Jory/Times-Herald)

E-mail J.M. Brown at or call 553-6834.

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