You know the place. You've soaked in the sights and sounds of Main Street USA, passed through Sleeping Beauty's Castle, made the treacherous climb up the Matterhorn, and taken the plunge off Splash Mountain – whether in reality or in your own mind, dreaming one day of making the journey there. But honestly, how much do you really know about Disneyland? You've got your favorite attractions, sure, and I bet you avoid the teacups like the plague, but what about the history, the thought process behind the park itself?
Disney wanted your experience there to be a magical one, and he incorporated many different aesthetic choices into the design to make sure of it. For brevity's sake, here's a list of 20 behind-the- scenes tidbits you may or may not have been aware of, gathered from around the web. If any of these help enhance your appreciation for the place, great. Maybe next time, you won't take so much of it for granted. (NOTE: Photos of certain attractions have been relegated to links, for fear of reprisals from Disney lawyers.)
Walt came up with the idea for Disneyland while
taking his two daughters, Diane and Sharon,
around to various zoos and amusement parks
during the 1930s and 40s. "While they were on
the merry-go-round riding 40 times or
something," he said, "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."
2) In 1953, he bought over 160 acres in Anaheim CA
to build Disneyland near his studio in Burbank.
Construction began on July 21, 1954, and
finished one year later.
3) Disney constantly used the word "wienie" to
describe the type of attractions he wanted
peppered throughout the park. A "wienie" was an
enticement, designed to draw customers in (much
like you'd dangle a hot dog in front of a dog
to get him to do tricks). Sleeping Beauty's
Castle is a shining example of this.
4) Speaking of wienies: One day, Walt ate a hot
dog while taking a tour of Disneyland's initial
design and development. It took him
approximately 20 steps to finish his meal,
which is why the trash cans are spaced an
average of that many paces apart.
Originally, Walt wanted a red carpet to cover
the entrance to Disneyland so that visitors
would feel like movie stars as they started
their day. It was soon decided that a carpet
would require constant attention and cleaning,
however, so they painted the pavement instead.
6) The buildings along Main Street USA were
designed using forced perspective, to create
the illusion that Disneyland is larger than it
actually is. One side of each building is
slightly shorter than the other, and this
continues all the way down the street to give
the impression that you're walking less of a
distance as you enter the park. (Conversely,
this also makes it harder to leave the park, as
it looks like such a long walk out!)
7) Walt and brother Roy actually ran out of money
after spending $17 million on construction
costs. ABC then came to the rescue, and
brokered a deal with the Disneys to produce a
weekly television series. Coupled with
investments from the Santa Fe Railroad (plus
other loans), this finally gave the brothers
the funds they needed to finish the park.
8) Walt's public dedication on Opening Day, July
17th, 1955: "To all who come to this happy
place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here
age relives fond memories of the past, and here
youth may savor the challenge and promise of
the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the
ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that
have created America, with the hope that it
will be a source of joy and inspiration to all
Roy Disney bought the first ticket to the park
for $1 (!). The first actual customer was David
MacPherson. He and the first children to step
through the gates, Christine Vess and Michael
Schwartner, were later awarded lifetime passes
to any Disney park in the entire world.
10) Opening Day was plagued with problems.
Temperatures reached a sweltering 110 degrees,
at the tail end of a 15-day California heat
wave. It was so hot that the heels on the
women's shoes sunk into the asphalt (moccasins
were offered as replacements – the only shoes
large enough to fit adults). Given the choice
between working drinking fountains and working
toilets, Walt chose the latter. A gas leak
leak forced Adventureland, Frontierland, and
Fantasyland to close early. By midday, the park
was overcrowded with 30,000 visitors – though
only 6,000 invitations had been sent out to
customers (many tickets were counterfeit.)
11) The press reacted so negatively to the event
that Disney invited everyone back for a proper,
fully-functioning second-day experience. As a
result, July 18th was dubbed Disneyland's
official "Opening Day," and July 17th was
renamed "Dedication Day."
12) Though initially predicted to fail within its
first year, Disneyland welcomed its 1 millionth
customer on September 8th, 1955.
While Disneyland is currently comprised of
eight different "lands" (Main Street USA,
Adventureland, New Orleans Square, Fantasyland,
Frontierland, Critter Country, Mickey's
Toontown, and Tomorrowland), a ninth area
called Holidayland actually opened in 1957.
This was a picnic area designated for larger
events and could hold up to 7,000 guests, with
a built-in baseball field, volleyball court,
circus tent and playgrounds for kids. It was
not a successful venture, however. Holidayland
closed in 1961 for its lack of shade, nighttime
lighting and restrooms. It is now referred to
as the "lost" land of Disneyland.
14) A rodent infestation early in the park's
history caused workers to bring in cats to hunt
them down. (I wonder how Mickey feels about
this.) Today, wild cats can still be spotted
roaming the attractions. Cast members even feed
these cats during their backstage breaks.
15) The petrified tree stump at the outskirts of
Rivers of America was an anniversary present
from Walt to his wife, Lillian. He had the
stump transported from Colorado in 1956.
16) Disney owned an actual apartment above the fire
house on Main Street USA. Cast members knew he
was on site when they saw a light coming from
his window. To this day, the light is left on
continuously as a tribute to him.
Pirates of the Caribbean was the final
attraction co-designed by Disney himself. It
opened in 1967 three months before his death.
Many of its animatronic characters were modeled
on Disney Imagineers.
18) The only place in all of Disneyland to sell
alcoholic drinks is located just outside the
Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. It is an
exclusive private club marked with a "33" on
its door, and charges initiation fees up to
$27,000 (yearly membership fees cost anywhere
from $4,000 to $8,000). You must put yourself
on a seven-year waiting list to become a member
of "Club 33."
19) There have been nine reported deaths on the
premises since Disneyland opened in 1955,
including two guests who unbuckled their
seat belts and were consequently thrown from
their rides, a teen caught walking along the
monorail, three guests who attempted to jump
from their car to another during rides (two
on board the Peoplemover), two guests who
drowned while swimming (illegally) around Tom
Sawyer Island, one guest hit by a mooring
anchor that dislodged from the Sailing Ship
Columbia, and a cast member crushed between the
stationary wall and the rotating wall in the
America Sings attraction.
20) Though he was the main creative force behind
the park and even purchased stock in the
company, Walt never owned a controlling share.
Disneyland was never officially his.
That's it for this brief Disneyland trivia post. Were you enlightened? Or bored out of your mind? Please add your thoughts/resort memories below! Up next, it's back to our Animated Fifty, with a review of 1955's Sleeping Beauty.