by D.W. Lundberg

Saturday, August 6, 2011


As Walt Disney took a break from producing animated films during the 1950s (there's a four-year gap between the release of Lady And The Tramp and Sleeping Beauty), we now shift our attention to Disney's budding obsession during that time: the creation and cultivation of Disneyland. Built in Anaheim, California, and opened to the public in July of 1955, Walt's "Happiest Place On Earth" has since become the official vacation destination for families the world over.

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.)

1)  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.

5)  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
    the world."

9)  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.

13) 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.

17) 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.

And finally:

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.


  1. Point 18? No problem, just step on over to California Adventure. Plenty of alcohol! :)

  2. Those are some interesting facts! Very cool!