How could I imagine doing a series on Disney history without including D is for Disneyland. Of course, since we are a family, and I have blogged through the alphabet more than once, I already have a post named D is for Disneyland that talks about a recent visit there. What to do, what to do?
Well, we are talking about history so let’s go with Walt’s Dream for Disneyland. That works. So where did this dream begin? I’m sure most of us have heard the story of Walt taking his girls to Griffith Park on Saturdays and ending up spending his time sitting on a bench by the carousel as they played and enjoyed the rides.
A Dream is Born
But is this truly where the dream began?
From the time he was a young boy, Walt Disney was a dreamer. Visiting his Hometown Museum in Marceline, MO, we learned about his “dreaming tree”, the special place he would spend time sketching and inventing. The perfect setting for a creative child’s mind that would become an amazing talent as an adult.
“Disneyland is often called a magic kingdom because it combines fantasy and history, adventure and learning, together with every variety of recreation and fun designed to appeal to everyone.”Walt Disney
While I am sure Walt’s vision for Disneyland was added to and refined on those Saturdays so long ago there is also evidence that his dream of an amusement park began to take shape even before his daughter Diane was born. In a newspaper clipping from the Long Beach Independent Press on 15 July 1955 talks about sketches for Disneyland dated 1932 being found when offices were being cleaned out at the Disney Studios.
In “Walt’s Disneyland: It’s Still There if You Know Where to Look”, author Jim Denney writes about these sketches and news clipping, pointing out they are dated a full year before his daughter Diane was even born.
He also takes us back to Walt’s childhood in Marceline where he once set up a circus tent on the farm and charged his friends 10 cents a person to view the pets and farm animals he had penned up inside (his mother Flora found out and made him return every penny). Perhaps a first foray for the young man into the world of parks and amusements.
It was from this time that his love of railroads also began. His uncle, a locomotive engineer, used to stop by from time to time and share stories of adventures on the rails. (As the wife of an engineer I can promise you young boys and girls are fascinated by trains and want to hear all about them.)
Mr. Denney also speaks about Electric City, an amusement park in Kansas City, MO that many believe to be one of the main influences in Walt’s dream of Disneyland. I found many references to this park as I was researching this story and leaned it was clean and well maintained – different than most of the parks operating at the time.
Electric Park also had a steam train that ran around the park. Much as we see at Disneyland today. I always feel that the railway if Walt’s signature in the park since he loved both so much.
Theme Parks and Railroads
So Walt’s dream was finally coming to fruition. It had been years in the making and Walt had spent some quality time sitting on benches at various amusement parks, asking children which ride they liked the best (early market research that Disney parks continue to use today).
It was 1948 and Walt decided he needed to get serious about his dream, Mickey Mouse Park is what I heard he called it at the beginning. He enlisted artists and staff to help bring his plans to life. One of the main areas being Main Street U.S.A. This area of the park was designed by artist Harper Goff who drew it based on his hometown of Fort Collins, CO. When Walt saw the drawings he thought they looked like Main Street in Marceline. (I guess it’s true that many small-town main streets look a lot alike.)
Despite his plan and enthusiasm, Walt did not find support for his park from his brother Roy or from Lillian. But he would not give up.
No investors wanted to invest (including Walt’s friend Art Linkletter who thought after being driven out to see the Disneyland site, “My poor deluded friend! He’s going to put a bunch of merry-go-rounds and roller-coasters out here, forty-five minutes from L.A. He’ll go broke!” ) As a result, Art didn’t take Walt’s suggestion to purchase land around the soon to be built park and passed up on the chance to make millions.
Walt continued with his plans and put up his own personal finances (including the sale of his vacation home in Palm Springs) and worked with his brother Roy (who had been turned around from his first impression of the plan) on some opportunities that included Disney produced television programs in concert with the Disneyland investment. I was all quite complex but worked to get the park built and open.
July 17, 1955, finally arrived. Not one to leave out the details, Walt sent money to his sister so she could purchase a new television to watch the opening since he knew she didn’t like crowds.
His friend Art Linkletter was to MC the event and arranged to bring two other broadcasters with him. Ronald Reagan and Robert Cummings. Seeing the successful opening and changing his mind about the future of the park, when Walt asked him what he could provide as a thank you for his help he requested the camera and film concession for the first 10 years, a lucrative gift that was quickly granted.
There are times that I am saddened to see an old favorite attraction change or close completely but then I remember that even Walt himself did not see it as somewhere that would remain static. Of course, there are certain classic attractions that I can’t imagine us even losing like the Haunted Mansion or it’s a small world. I think they would be high on most Disney fans’ lists for something that should never go away.
I also like to visit the spots that remind me of Walt and the young boy who grew up to create this place. We often stop for lunch at the Carnation Cafe and enjoy an order of his favorite meatloaf.
Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.Walt Disney
Disneyland is a place that will continue to entertain generations in the future. It is certainly my happy place!
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