The Original Sony Metreon in San Francisco Was a Mall of the Future
It was like a spaceship had landed in SoMA full of the latest cutting-edge technology
This article is part of SF Throwbacks, a feature series that tells the stories behind historic photos of San Francisco in order to learn more about our city’s past.
The Sony Metreon opened in San Francisco the week of my sixth birthday. It was 1999, at the height of the dot-com bubble, and Sony’s new attraction in downtown SF felt like an entirely new kind of destination. Even though people were tempted to call it one, it was decidedly “not a mall,” as one Metreon staffer told SF Gate. It was an “urban entertainment destination.”
If you moved to the Bay Area in the last 10 or 15 years, you may only know the Metreon for its movie theater, food court, and Target. Tragically, it is a pretty basic mall these days.
But back before the turn of the century, I felt like Zenon going there. Yes, it was essentially still a movie theater and shops and restaurants, but it wasn’t just set up to sell you stuff. Everything was interactive. Everything was hands-on. As a six-year-old, I was in heaven. From Hyperbowl and Dance Dance Revolution in the Airtight Garage arcade to the Where the Wild Things Are playground to the PS2 bar at the Playstation Store and even the interactive projectors that bounced around little icons on the ground as you walked through the entrance, everything at the Metreon begged for you to reach out and touch it.
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Below is an extended demo of Hyperbowl (starting at about the 1:50 mark), in which you spun a bowling ball like a trackball mouse to move its virtual counterpart through the streets of San Francisco. The intro features a peek at the steampunk-y Airtight Garage-themed arcade: