There is good reason why Disneyland is known as the “happiest place on earth”. From the moment Disneyland Park opened its gates on July 17, 1955 to the present, throngs of people have been visiting to escape for a day of magic. And magical it is.
Walt Disney had a vision and he saw it through. It was Disney himself who dedicated the various ‘lands’ within the kingdom: Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland. Over the years, other lands were added: New Orleans Square, Bear Country (now known as Critterland), and most recently, Toontown.
Amusement parks at the turn of the century (the last century) were charming but by the 20’s and 30’s they had become sleazy. They consisted of bad rides and midways. What Disney envisioned hadn’t been done before. He set out to create an amusement park in a beautiful setting, one that had unique rides and family friendly attractions. An amusement park that had a theme.
The original park was to have been built on a Burbank studio lot, but the space was determined to be too small for what was desired and ultimately the building of it was put on hold when we entered WWII. Disney Studio facilities had been taken over by the military and energies were put into making and distributing war training films. Many of the studio’s animators were now in the military so production of animation was slow.
Where was Walt to get the money needed to build his dream park? In the mid-fifties a solution presented itself. Disney was able to fund the building of Disneyland with revenues earned by his television series. Another source of money was the investors Disney was able to get to sponsor the project. (There were originally 33 sponsors which is where Club 33, an exclusive club on the Disneyland premises, derives its name).
Disney tested some attractions at the 1964 N.Y. World’s Fair, which I had the privilege of visiting as a kid. I remember being in awe of two attractions in particular: It’s a Small World and the Abraham Lincoln that was designed as an audio/animatronics wonder. Incidentally, these exhibits were so successful amongst New Yorkers that Disney began thinking of an ‘east coast version’ of Disneyland; he quietly began buying up land in Orlando, Florida.
I visited Disneyland recently and found it to be as magical a place as it was when I brought my children there many years ago. Amazingly, old rides, like the Teacup Ride remain as they were, evoking feelings of nostalgia, while small new elements are added and the various lands altered all the time. As Disney himself said “this park will never be completed as long as there is imagination in the world".
Thanks for reading Rhodes Less Traveled and have a great weekend,