“A Second Rate Las Vegas” 
Walt Disney
by Paul F. Anderson
Harbor Blvd., Walt’s “Second Rate Las Vegas” (July 1962)
I was recently going through some of the nearly 9000 photos of Disneyland that Jeremy scanned over the summer and I found a few that I think aptly illustrates a previous essay I wrote (more on that shortly). The collection of photos are mostly from the 1970s and early 1980s. They were taken by good friends of mine (old Mouse Club acquaintances), that have since passed on … and yes, they were avid Disney fans; as such, it makes this particular DHI photo collection quite invaluable as far as documenting these two decades at Disneyland. You see, as Disney enthusiasts they took photos of all the things that, well, normal tourists (and normal people) decidedly do not take pictures of. In this collection, every parade, every character, every attraction, every store–basically every nuance and detail–and frankly mundanity–of Disneyland is heavily documented. Our crack Institute staff (Todd, Jeremy, and myself…anyone else want to volunteer?) have been sorting and tagging the collection in our database in the hopes of finding the best way to share this unbelievable visual record of Walt’s Happiest Place on Earth … “after Walt.”

Today I stumbled across a series of photos of a 1980s Harbor Boulevard, aka Walt’s Second Rate Las Vegas. It reminded me of the photo essay “A Second-Rate Las Vegas” -Walt Disney I wrote back in December of 2010. In that piece, I discovered in the Institute’s hallowed halls three quite rare black and white photos from July 1962 featuring Harbor Blvd. during the period in which Walt uttered his now famous protestation of disgust for the peripheral of Disneyland. Oddly, that particular essay has been a perennial favorite here at the Institute from day one (where in the first week it was one of our most popular essays to that point, garnering somewhere over 2000 views). Even to this day, our numbers show that 25 to 35 individuals find their way to this essay each week.

My guess on the popularity of these Harbor Boulevard photos? For one, that particular Walt quote is quite famous and shows up in all thoughtful historical pieces on Walt and Disneyland, including numerous official company publications. And in fact, in several instances Walt’s feelings on this are often attributed to be the very genesis of Project Florida (misguided as that may be … which is, of course, a story for another day). So with all of this attention to this particular Walt declaration (which seemingly has achieved Biblical red-letter status), people want to actually see what it was that so disturbed Walt. 

Intellectual curiosity on such an important thought by Walt almost always requires a visual record (after all, Walt existed across the board in visual mediums). And yet, there is very little photographic record of this facet of Disneyland! After all, given a chance of using the last four images in your camera (remember film!? when judicious choices such as this had to be made?) on, say, a Rocket Ship, Submarine (complete with mermaids), a Ken Anderson-designed miniature setting for Pinocchio, and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle … OR … the outside world of neon, clutter, signage, and power poles … let us just agree that the choice is quite obvious! That is, unless you are a Disney enthusiast bent on documenting Walt’s Magic Kingdom (and to that end, I would like to thank my friends Ray and Juanita Huber for gifting me with such an important historical record!). So the mere fact that these images we desire to see are as rare as, well, as rare as a kind word from Art Babbit on Walt (and visa versa), illustrate to us why people have continually found their way to the Institute’s images of Walt’s “second rate Las Vegas.”

And thus dear Institute reader, these are the thoughts that came flooding to my mind this morning as I began my day by perusing Jeremy’s labored efforts from this summer (you want to know who makes the Institute run? Not Todd and I in our Ivory White Walt Disney Think Tank Towers … but Jeremy, who scans and finds this wonderful stuff in the Institute’s collection so we can talk about it). And finally, even though these photos are from a different period, a substantial 14 years after Walt’s passing, they still aptly offer yet another visual record of what Walt found so offensive to the outside setting for his little family park; what has in essence over the last few decades become the “strip-malling” of America! A sad aspect of our current culture that Walt recognized well before it had taken hold (and yet one more proof that the world could use a lot more urban planners and designers with Walt Disney’s sensibilities!). And thus, for obvious reasons, I will dispense with my standard close of “Enjoy!”

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