Walter Elias Disney often took his daughters Diane and Sharon to the theme parks of the day, and he thought about how great it would be if there was a place that families could have fun together.
He also had a passion for model trains. He even had a train built to scale in his back yard. His love for trains also brought on a hobby of making miniature scenes. Walt wanted to showcase his models and call it Disneylandia.
These two ideas merged to form his concept for Disneyland.
“ It started with my taking my two kids around to the zoos and parks. While they were on the merry-go-round riding 40 times or something, I'd be sitting there trying to figure out what you could do that would be more imaginative. Then when I built the new studio in Burbank, I got the idea for a three-dimensional thing that people could actually come and visit. I felt that there should be something built where the parents and the children could have fun together,” Walt said later about his idea for Disneyland
Walt hired the Stanford Research Institute to find the best possible location for his park-not too hot, cold, dry, or wet, and near a planned freeway. They found an orange and walnut grove in a small town called Anaheim. Walt bought 160 acres at a cost of around $4800 per acre.
How was he going to pay for all of this? Walt once looked back on the early days of Disneyland and said, “I could never convince the financiers that Disneyland was feasible, because dreams offer too little collateral.” His brother went to New York with a plan drawn just by Herb Ryman in just one weekend to persuade ABC Television to invest in Walt’s dream.
Walt agreed to produce a one-hour weekly television show called Disneyland and give ABC 1/3 ownership of the park in return for ABC to invest. Thirty million Americans watched the first show in 1954. By the end of one year, everyone in America would want to see Disneyland.
Walt wanted to save as many oranges trees as he could, so he had green tags put on the trees to keep and red tags on the ones to bulldoze. But the bulldozer operator was colorblind and got rid of all of the good trees!
A tall berm was built around the site to shroud the outside world from guests.
Walt knew that circular designs make people feel less threatened (like Mickey’s ears) and that angular designs are threatening. He said the park should be built in a proportion that was friendly looking. He also wanted the park to be laid out like spokes of a wheel around a central hub.
He wanted one entrance, then a long avenue of approach leading to a fairy-tale castle. Walt called the castle a “wienie” because it would draw the public towards it the way a wiener tempts a dog. Sleeping Beauty Castle was modeled after Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria.
Walt was worried about how long it was taking to dig out the Rivers of America. This was where the Mark Twain Riverboat and the Columbia Sailing Ship would sail. He called it Joe’s Ditch, after Admiral Joe Fowler.
When they filled the ditch with water, it soaked right through the soil. The engineers were frantic. Finally they lined the riverbed with clay and that solved the problem.
The Jungle Cruise worked just fine. At first Walt wanted real animals, but that would be problematic because they would be asleep most of the time and difficult to take care of. Instead, animals were built at Walt’s studio and trucked to Anaheim, but the jungle trees used up most of the budget for plants. Walt had to pretend some weeds were exotic plants!
Building all the dark rides meant studio animators were painting hundreds of props. Dark rides are rides that tell a story in a sequential format, with props painted with a special paint that shows up in the dark.
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was supposed to be a roller coaster but Walt toned it down so parents wouldn’t be frightened.
The Dumbo motor wasn’t strong enough to make all of those elephants fly in the beginning, but they improved it.
When the Casey Junior Circus Train was tested, it nearly fell back down the hill, so they had to put lead in the engine.
Walt couldn’t decide whether Storybookland should have the guests be eaten by Monstro the whale, or the crocodile in Peter Pan . The whale won.
Building a copy of a Bavarian castle meant using forced perspective, where the bricks at the bottom are bigger than the bricks at the top.
Once during construction, Walt found cats in Sleeping Beauty Castle. There were fleas surrounding him and the workers. Although he was upset, he made sure that every cat found a new home.
Not every idea was a good one. Walt told his people to build a model of a big Rock Candy Mountain, with marshmallow and chocolate over a wire base and all kinds of candy stuck on top. Since there was no air conditioner, it melted and smelled disgusting, and on top of that, birds flew in to peck at the candy.
The general public was admitted to Disneyland the day after Black Sunday. It was no easier than the private opening. There were too many people on the Mark Twain Riverboat, since nobody had established its capacity limits, so water poured over the deck when too many people were on one side. In Fantasyland there was a gas leak that sent flames coming through the asphalt. The cast members that took care of the tickets had to take buckets full of money back to the office. The money was counted and then sent to the bank. It was frantic all over the park, so as you can see, Disneyland had to take small steps to become successful.
Once an employee from the studios noticed Walt was staring into space right between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. She inquired what he was staring at, and he said, “My mountain.” He was referring to the mountain he wanted to build after seeing huge mountains on a 1958 trip to Switzerland. The Matterhorn mountain was scaled down to 1/100 of the original. In the end, Walt’s mountain was 147 feet. It was Disneyland’s first roller coaster.
There is actually a half-court in the Matterhorn. Anaheim City Council would only let something of its height be built if it was for recreation, so Disney built a small basketball court. Mountain climbers would play a few rounds when they were off their shift.
Strictly for the Birds: The Birth of Audio-Animatronics
Walt Disney brought mechanical birds home from overseas and told his staff to make 225 birds and flowers that could come to life and sing. He thought he could have a restaurant with shows. It would serve exotic foods in a tiki environment. Eventually he just wanted a show.
The test run was horrible. Everyone sang the wrong song and the lights kept flashing at the wrong times.
Eventually the problem was solved, and cast members were given a preview. They thought they would hate it, but they actually adored it after they saw it. The Enchanted Tiki Room opened June 23, 1963.
Walt used his new technology to build an audio-animatronic Abraham Lincoln. At the opening, there was a malfunction in Lincoln’s leg that made him stand up again as if he was taking a bow. The crowd went wild! Lincoln was brought home to the Disneyland Opera House.
There was also the Carousel of Progress at the World Fair. It featured an audio-animatronic family that experienced all of the new advances in technology, and it was so successful it also went back to Anaheim.
Walt made audio-animatronic dinosaurs for the fair, and they came back to Disneyland in the Primeval World Diorama that can be seen to this day when you ride on the Disneyland Railroad.
Another attraction that went to the World Fair was It’s a Small World. It’s a Small World was created because Pepsi-Cola (who supported UNICEF) wanted a children’s attraction at the fair. Admiral Joe “Can Do” Fowler actually said that they couldn’t do it in time, since it opened less then a year away. Walt was furious when he heard Fowler decline the opportunity, and immediately told people to get on the project. Walt had often talked about having an attraction in which animated dolls represent the world, singing in harmony and peace. He hired Mary Blair to design the ride, and Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman to write the lyrics for the song. They came up with It’s a Small World, and it has become famous ever since. After the world fair it was sent back to Disneyland.
On December 15, 1966, Walter Elias Disney died from lung cancer. He never got to see Walt Disney World be completed, or many of his other plans come to life. When Walt died, Disneyland halted to a stop. The flags went from half mast to full mast, then back to half mast. The park went on, because that’s what Walt would have wanted.
Walt’s last project was also the first new land since 1955. New Orleans Square would resemble New Orleans a century ago. Everyday would be like Mardi Gras with colorful beads and southern food. Walt was there for the opening of New Orleans Square, but he never saw what would become its most famous ride.
Walt had planned Pirates of the Caribbean before he died. He originally wanted it to be a walk-through wax museum, but he realized it would be more effective to used the boat technology used on It’s a Small World.
Marc Davis was appointed to work on the project. He at first thought that the ride would be too scary because of all the bad things he read about pirates. He had to turn the bloodthirsty pirates into lovable characters.
Blaine Gibson, who was a sculptor, turned Marc Davis’ drawings into the figures you see in the ride. He made a cast of 119 for the ride. There were 64 humans, and 55 animals. These figures were then turned into audio-animatronics.
The song you hear today on Pirates of the Caribbean was written by Xavier Atencio. There couldn’t be a beginning or an end to the song because it would be heard throughout the ride, and he had to make a violent meaning sound jolly and fun.
Pirates of the Caribbean opened March 18, 1967, and is now a hit, with its own movie series.
In 1970, a bunch of student activists planned to attack Disneyland. They planned to hold the invasion on the August 6. As soon as there were signs of them in Orange County, there was controversy over whether to close the park. Dick Nunis decided that even if they did close the park on the 6 th , they might come the next day or the day after, and that people were coming to the park for vacations so it wasn’t fair. They decided to keep the park open, and around 75 “yippies” were turned away, for various reasons. Some had drugs, and some were missing clothing. Around 300 of them were admitted to the park.
They invaded Tom Sawyer’s Island, and tried to put their flag on the Matterhorn. They swore at other guests, but fortunately were kicked out of the park by a riot team.
Opening of the Happy Haunting Ground: The Haunted Mansion
The Haunted Mansion was originally planned to be a walk-through, but Disney needed to move people quickly and not let them touch the exhibits, so they used an Omnimover system and called the cars “doom buggies.” Roger E. Broggie and Bert Brundage came up with the Omnimover system. It uses a sort of conveyer belt for boarding, and the vehicles move on a track. The vehicles remain at the same speed throughout the ride.
There was a huge debate between imagineers who wanted it to be terrifying and those who thought it should be light-hearted. The big question was, “What would Walt have wanted?” Light-hearted won, so now you see playful ghosts appearing throughout the attraction instead of scary ones.
Madame Leota in the crystal ball was a real Disney artist who was asked to play the disembodied head during a test run. She did so well they used her face and her real name.
Splash Mountain was opened in Bear Country, which is now called Critter Country. It is based on the movie Song of the South .
Splash Mountain is a flume ride that takes you on Brer Rabbit’s journey to find his Laughing Place and drops you 52 ½ feet. It opened July 17, 1987, costing $88,000,000 to build, which is over five times the cost of building the whole park in 1955.
It is sometimes called “Flash Mountain” because some female guests “flash” the camera that takes your picture on the final drop. If you get caught, you get kicked out.
Much of the ride is actually outside of the park, but you can’t tell. As Disneyland has grown, more attractions are housed in buildings that go outside the berm.
Throughout the park there are “hidden Mickeys” that resemble Mickey’s head. They are purposely hidden by imagineers and can be found all over Disneyland Resort.
There is a private club called Club 33 in New Orleans Square. Its door can be found next to the entrance to the Blue Bayou, but it costs $7,500 for just the initiation fee. There is an annual fee, and you have to pay tons for every meal.
Above the Main Street Fire Department there is an apartment that used to be where Walt would stay when he visited. There is an ever-glowing candle in the window as a memorial.