Disneyland Year One
Windows on Main Street
by Todd James Pierce
As today is July 17th–exactly 57 years after Walt first opened his park for Press Preview Day–I thought I should return to my “Disneyland Year One” series, with two very rare photos I’ve saved for just this occasion. At home, I have a list of images that I’m forever looking for from Disneyland’s first year, most of which in all likelihood I’ll never find. (Anyone out there have a nice set of Space Station X-1 interior shots, by chance?) But earlier this year, I was able to cross off one item from my list: images of the original Main Street windows with the original ground-floor fictitious business displays.
|Fictitious Hat Shop – October 1955|
There’s a really good story here. Give me a couple minutes to set it all up.
So according to the official Disney Parks blog: “It is a long-standing tradition to honor individuals who have had a significant impact on Disneyland park by dedicating a window to them.” And that is generally true. But why windows? Why did the tradition start and then primarily stay on Main Street? In recent years, the Walt Disney Company has compared the Main Street windows to the credits on a film: moviegoers see a list of the important players (actors, cinematographer, director) before seeing the film itself, similar to how park guests see a list of designers before entering the park. Generally that analogy works, especially if you think of the park as a cinematic production. But that may be not the full rationale as to why important designers continue to have their names commemorated on windows, of all things, along Main Street.
|Hats – October 1955|
According to Harper Goff, an original designer of Main Street (and of course the Jungle Cruise), here’s the story of why art directors, architects, set designers, and prop specialists continued to have their names stenciled onto Main Street windows. When Main Street first opened in 1955…”Some ground floor shops still had interior construction underway after the park was opened to the public.” In jest, Disney designers had taken to displaying paper signs with their own names to disguise the empty windows. “We would put up a serious looking sign that might say ‘Harper Goff will be opening his shoe store here soon’…but there was nothing inside the store.”
|Maggie the Dressmaker – Fictitious Business – Oct 1955|
After Walt’s passing park executives continued to honor early designers by stenciling their names onto the second- and third-story windows of Main Street shops. But for some of these designers, such as those who worked with Harper Goff, they didn’t see this tradition as adding their names to Main Street. Rather, they saw it as returning their names to Main Street. Simply, the company was honoring those designers in more-or-less the same way that they had chosen to honor themselves back when the park first opened to the public. “That,” Goff later said, “was the beginning of the tradition of name signs on the windows.”
Up on the blog today are two of those ground-floor windows, as they existed in October 1955. The focus is a little soft; the images have lost their color; but these are the only images I’ve ever seen that illustrate Harper Goff’s story of how the Main Street window tradition connects back to the practice of fictitious business displays on opening day.
OK, that’s it for today. But you can find previous posts in the “Disneyland Year One” series here and here. Enjoy!