Disneyland Voce 1955

Disneyland Voce 1955
by Todd James Pierce
<<<< Note: More Disneyland 1955 photos on our Facebook Group Page. >>>
This is a video I’ve wanted to dish for years–a video that contextualizes Disneyland within the political and cultural events of the early 1950s.  “Disneyland Voce” is distilled down from a dozen home movies, all shot in 1955, during the first five months that Disneyland was open to the public.  Here’s one reason I love home movies: they reveal the vacation experience as taken by the average guest.  Disney has produced reels of film documenting the park during its early years (most notably “Disneyland U.S.A.” in 1956 and “Gala Day at Disneyland” in 1959), but professional footage presents the park under ideal conditions.  Home movies lay down the scenery as a typical guest would have experienced it.  If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to visit Disneyland when it first opened, buckle into your DeLorean and hit the play button on YouTube.  I’ll point out 14 things you might’ve overlooked on your first viewing.
(1)  So where are all the costumed Disney characters?    
In the 1950s, Mickey and Minnie didn’t roam the streets of Disneyland.  On opening day, Disneyland borrowed character costumes from the Ice Capades—which produced a Disney on Ice show—for the televised festivities.  Those costumes, however, were owned by the Ice Capades and were used in a touring show for most of the year.  From time-to-time, the Ice Capades would loan the costumes to Disneyland—particularly in the summers of 1957 and 1958—but aside from that, in the 1950s, Disneyland was primarily an atmospheric park, without walk-around characters. 
(2)  Minute Marker 0:32 – The Parking Lot
If you are under the age of 20, you probably don’t remember the original Disneyland parking lot.  The original parking lot was on the land now occupied by Disney’s California Adventure.  In 1955, the parking lot extended from the Disneyland ticket booths back to roughly where the Tower of Terror now stands.  It was only in later years that the parking lot was paved out to West Katella Avenue.
(3)  Minute Marker 0:38 – Closed Mondays
In the 1950s, only during the summer and school holidays was Disneyland open seven days a week.  During 1955, the park was closed on Mondays.  In later years, the park was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
(4)  Minute Marker 1:20 – Intimate Apparel
Hollywood Maxwell’s Intimate Apparel shop lasted exactly six months.  In my years and years of collecting old film of the park, I’ve found only three images of this shop.  The clip here is a beauty.  The shop featured two rooms: The first room offered a visual history of women’s under things—such as the brassiere—with miniature displays arranged in small shadow boxes.  In the center of the first room was your host, a wizardly mannequin done up in a turban and sporting a magic wand, who offered a tape-recorded presentation explaining the restrictive Victorian approach to undergarments and extolling the virtues of modern bras.  The second room, of course, offered these modern bras and other undergarments for sale.  And no, I’m not making any of this up.
(5)  Minute Marker 1:29 – The Monkey
I have images of this organ grinder and his monkey performing in Disneyland from 1955 (when I believe he worked most every day) all the way up through the late 1950s (when his appearances were far less common).  Instead of costumed characters, Main Street presented entertainment that would have existed on an actual city street around the 1900s—such as the organ grinder featured here.
(6)  Minute Marker 1:43 – The Bandstand
For its first year of operation, Disneyland did not have the elaborate stage and dance floor of Carnation Gardens.  Instead, the park had a simple bandstand in roughly the same location.
(7)  Minute Marker 2:01 – Casey Jr.
One of the most famous stories about the construction of Disneyland concerns funding—specifically in the final weeks, the park (then an independent company, Disneyland Inc.) was so broke that landscapers couldn’t afford plants to finish the grounds.  The park featured lovely plants in Main Street, Adventureland and parts of Frontierland, but the park featured very little landscaping in Fantasyland and the back sections of Tomorrowland.  (Another story, not so well known: the park was so broke that it never even asked its landscape architect to create plans for those areas of the park.)  Here—around the Casey Jr. Train—the absence of landscaping is readily apparent.  In the days leading up to opening, groundskeepers watered the hills to encourage weed growth simply so dirt hills would not erode.
(8)  Minute Marker 2:08 – Canal Boats of the World
Before Storybook Land (built in 1956), on roughly the same waterway, Disneyland featured a short-lived ride called Canal Boats of the World, in which guests floated past dirt.  Specifically these mounds are the dirt left over from digging the canal.  The ride was so unpopular—and often closed—that I have only one clip of it in operation, as well as a few photos and slides.  But in 1955, if you were to venture onto the Canal Boats, you’d see no miniature houses or gardens.  (Those would be built the following year.)  You’d see, simply, dirt—also a few international flags around the entrance to give the canal boats that “of the world” flavor.
(9)  Minute Marker 2:12 – The Unfinished Pirate Ship
When Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, sections of the park were unfinished.  The most obvious example was the Chicken of the Sea Pirate Ship.  Before the grand opening festivities, crews were able to paint half the ship—the half that would face the TV cameras.  For the opening festivities, the work scaffolding was removed and a few celebrities were allowed on the ship deck (then unpainted) for the benefit of home viewers.  The following day, the crews put back the scaffolding and continued to paint—an effort that took about three weeks.  In these clips—which are from July and August of 1955—a paint crew works alongside guests.
(10)               Minute Marker 2:27 – Safety First pt. 1
So as you blaze back to 1955 in your DeLorean, make sure to leave all Disney lawyers in Burbank otherwise they’d quickly put an end to this practice.  I love this clip.  Here, a park employee balances on a wheel while a guest exits the top of the stagecoach with a portable ladder.  But wait: it’s not just any ladder: this ladder is handmade in the fashion of ladders that existed in the 1800s.  Let’s see: an old-fashioned ladder, no hand rails, no seatbelts for passengers on top of the stagecoach, no seat backs either, no blocks to stop the ladder in case its feet were to slip.  Lastly that girl wants nothing to do with the boy when he tries to help her find firm footing on one of the ladder’s upper rungs. 
(11)               Minute Marker 3:05 – Safety First pt. 2
Oh those wacky Autopia cars.  In the early years, the Autopia freeway had no center guide rails.  Kids could drive on the road as though it were an actual freeway:  they could drive into repair areas, even bypass the load ramp.  How better to fix these problems than with a bunch of OSHA-approved plywood and storage boxes to direct guests into the proper lanes?  I’m sure there’s no danger of that wood ever injuring a guest, especially when hit by a small car.
(12)               Minute Marker 3:14 – Test and Adjust
When Disney opens a new amusement ride today, engineers operate the ride for a few months without guests to fine-tune its mechanics—a period that is commonly known as test-and-adjust.  In 1955, engineers rushed to finish rides by opening day.  Young guests were so rough on the early Autopia cars that the vehicles were often out for repair.  In this clip, you can see a half-dozen cars in the repair bay, most covered with tarps.
(13)               Minute Marker 3:21 – Phantom Boats
These are the fabled Phantom Boats—the shortest-lived attraction at Disneyland.  Yes, even shorter-lived than the disastrous Rocket Rods.  The Phantom Boats lasted just over 13 months before being pulled from the lagoon.  What was the problem?  They were slow.  The motors overheated.  They were a money-loser—note that each boat (with one to four guests) needed to be operated by an employee.  Initially, they were pulled out in 1956 to make way for an airboat ride (like those operating in the Florida Everglades), but the airboat ride was never built.  Instead the park built a u-drive-em boat attraction called Motor Boat Cruise, with the boats on a track (no employee necessary to steer).
(14)               The Indian Village
The one area obviously absent from “Disneyland Voce 1955” is the original Indian Village.  In 1955, the original Indian Village existed beside the Mark Twain loading dock—before being relocated (in 1956) to a larger area further down river.  It’s not that I’ve forgotten the original village.  Rather, I have so much footage of the old village, I want to post up a short video on the subject later this year.
I’m sure there are other interesting items to note.  Do me a favor.  Post up your favorites below.  You don’t need a “Google account” or a “Blogger account” to post comments to our blog; you can simply select “anonymous.”  Also, for the next two or three months, I’m going to be posting up unique, never-before-published photos of Disneyland during its first year over on our Facebook group page.  Our Facebook group page has some of the liveliest discussion on Disney history anywhere on the web.  For the last month, my partner-in-crime, Paul F. Anderson has been posting up 1950s and 1960s Disneyland construction shots.  So if you want to get in on the conversation—and see some amazing snaps—join our Facebook group page.  It’s free.
Lastly, as I’m sure someone will ask: voce, an Italian word often used in musical terminology, means simply voice.  
See you in a week or two,
—–     —–     —–     —–     —–
If you enjoyed this story, you might click over to these DHI videos and articles:
* Disneyland Canon 1957: a video tour of Disneyland in 1957, two years after the park opened
* Walt Disney and Riverfront Square: the story of the indoor amusement park that Walt designed but never built in St. Louis
* The Cartography of Disneyland Maps: the story of Disneyland art director, Sam McKim
*  Construction Tales at Disneyland – 1955: trouble at Disneyland as the park struggled to open
*  The Past of the Future: Elaborate designs for Tomorrowland (1954-1955) that were never built


  1. Excellent job first off!!!!! Love these videos! I love how everything looks so barren and brand new. And how everyone dresses as if going to a formal gathering. I also wish the park was that empty now a days.

  2. I love your choice of song.

    One thing about OSHA, safety and lawyers. It is easy to make them the bad guys if you are thinking from the perspective of the corporations being sued or the people who are forced to be safe.

    Yet try looking at it from the perspective of the people who are falling and breaking bones or crushing hands. Falling 10 feet onto the ground off a moving stagecoach would not be amusing, even if it was at an amusement park.

    The reasons for safety can be thrown at the feet of those mean ol’ “government regulations” yet the government is us, designed to protect us in ways that we as individuals can’t. Being safe shouldn’t be just because you are afraid of being sued or shut down because of some pesky OSHA. It should be because it’s also the right thing to do. Yes. Some people are idiots and some people like to figure out how to sue over normal slip and falls, but those people will always be with us. It is the normal people who I want to remember, the ones who are the first to suffer because of the accident that is not safe. The ones before the massive lawsuit that forces safety onto a corporation so they won’t have to suffer a lawsuit.

    Some say, “that’s the market talking.” but why wait for “the market” to speak? Sometimes making things safer is just the right thing to do, for everyone involved.

  3. I really enjoyed seeing this video! I found it by browsing the internet and didn’t realize it was yours until I saw the Disneyhistory name! It was quite wonderful!
    Thanks again
    Mike Goldberg

  4. I like how you have the same woman from the opening again at the end petting the horse. So sweet. I was born in 1955 and probably visited Disneyland for the first time about 1960.

  5. My 4 year old son lives climbing around on the old fire wagon that is now housed / parked / bolted down inside the Main Street Fire Station. What a treat to see it at 1:12 manned, horse powered, and ridden by guests.

  6. What is the music and who sang it? It’s beautifully lilting.

  7. Loved the music. Who is that artist.

  8. I know the music is an Ingrid Michaelson song, also found as occasional

    background theme in “Grey’s Anatomy”, the tv show. But I think the

    background for the Disney video was a cover artist. I would love to

    know who he/she/they are.

  9. This video is a total inspiration for my ‘Gingerbread Jimmi – Magical Water & Snow Park’ in Park City, Utah! Walt Disney in my hero!

    J.R. Holbrook/Gingerbread Jimmi Author

  10. Wow, I too was born in 1955, shortly before Disneyland opened. I also visited for the first time in either 1960 or 1961, haven’t been able to confirm which it was….cheers

  11. Me, too…only I was born at the end of ’55, after Disneyland opened. And I visited the first week of January, 1961 – we were flying overseas, and had an 18 hour layover in LA, so my parents took me to Disneyland for the day. Going back next February – after only 53 years!

  12. the song is Keep Breathing by the loreleies. It’s listed on the YouTube page, right under the video. It available on iTunes for 99 cents.

  13. I noticed that the plaque above the entrance tunnels was missing. When did we get the the ones we are familiar with?

    Great video.

  14. I was told by my family, that on opening day, the tar hadn’t even hardened .. and everyone’s shoes were sticking to the ground!

  15. Dear Todd And Paul,
    Absolutely beautiful, thank you for bringing the magic to life from the beginning. For those uf us that were not around in 1955, this is sow awesome!!


  16. Wow, this is fantastic. Some things that struck me: people smoking in the park, the women all wearing dresses and some of the men in suits, and how much thinner everyone was! (And I say that as a plus-size person myself.)It also looked like they had a “trail ride” with people riding actual horses or ponies – was that a real attraction?


  17. I enjoyed this very much, and look forward to seeing more. I was disappointed the Tomorrowland was not shown more. Early tomorrowland was rather bare and that would have been interesting to see. Of course, the flight circle did not come in until later. NEVER have seen video of that.

  18. Wanted to add: I visited the park on July 26th, my birthday, in 1955.

  19. I love the look of all the signage and how a great deal of it looks hand-made, hand painted… versus the ‘font’ obviously computer generated signage of today.

    Simpler times.

  20. The Mule Train / Pack Mules. These actually lasted at Disneyland until 1973.

  21. I noticed there were no Black folks in the park. Was Disneyland segregated when it opened?

  22. Thanks, Cox. You were an early park CM, right?

  23. No, Disneyland was never segregated. African-Americans and all races/religions have always been welcome at the park. This is not to discount cultural, legal and institutional racism in the 1950s. Those are shameful elements in American history. But part of what you see in the video has to do with local populations. When Disneyland opened, it drew attendance heavily from local populations in Southern California. According to the 1950 census, Orange County had roughly 150,000 citizens (http://www.ocalmanac.com/Population/po26.htm), but of those 150k citizens, only 889 self-identified as African American (http://www.ocalmanac.com/Population/po20.htm). Though other race populations weren’t tracked in this database until later in the century, Orange County likely had larger Asian (particularly Japanese) and Hispanic populations in the 1950s. Again, this is not to discount cultural racism in America, which was significant in the 1950s–nor to discount that Disney images might have appealed more to the framework of European culture–but to offer a larger demographic context for the time/region in which the park existed.

  24. Thanks for the insight. I really do appreciate it.

  25. In the shot of the Snow White ride, I could see a seatbelt on the little boy. But it appeared the girl did not have a seatbelt. As you mentioned in the post, it is interesting to see how much safety has changed over the years.

    At the 3:03 mark, if you look in the background there is a little girl who climbs on a box to reach a drinking fountain. Maybe it is just an urban legend, but the story was that due to a plumber’s strike, Walt had to choose between having restrooms or drinking fountains installed. This allegedly was when Walt said “they can buy Pepsi cola but they can’t pee in the street.” It is interesting to see that the drinking fountains were in fact installed, which makes me question the stories I had heard.

    At the 0:50 mark, you can see a small booth in front of City Hall. I wonder how long that remained in place. As the camera pans past the building, you can see a white flag with a red cross attached to the City Hall building. I assume this either meant the Swiss invaded Main Street or that first aid was located at City Hall in those first few months.

    I also noticed that the attraction posters were not attached to the fence in front of the floral Mickey at the Main Entrance. I wonder when those were eventually installed.

    Thanks for making this video. It was great!

  26. Hi Dan,

    Thanks for the note. The attraction posters arrived in 1956.

    As for your question about the plumbers’ strike–the Disney version is essentially true, though oversimplified. Joe Fowler (who oversaw construction) promised to pay plumbers retroactively applied post-strike wages if they helped complete Disneyland. There was some other union strong-arming that also went on. But by this point, there wasn’t enough time to complete all necessary plumbing before July 17, 1955. But the plumbers continued to work after the park opening. One of the interesting things to note about many drinking fountains is that they were run off of landscape irrigation lines–as the hardscape had already been poured for the park. So there are some mighty unusual locations for drinking fountains in Disneyland in 1955–such as the one in the middle of Town Square, interrupting what would other be a clear view down Main Street.

    Todd Pierce

  27. Thanks for this great post and fun insights into DL history. At 2:46 the attraction presented by…..Pepsi-Cola!?!?! The horror! :-)

  28. I was there in January of 1957 and can still see the magical qualities that the Disney people tried to create.

    However, what possible connection can the Delorean (an inferior, underpowered car at best)have to do with ANYTHING that happened in 1955?

    And that music? Very weird and distracting.

  29. LOL. The DeLorean is the car that Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd use to time travel back to 1955 in the movie Back to the Future. The movie is dated now. I forget that not everyone has seen it. But in its time, it was a pretty sharp flick.

  30. Hello Mcfly

  31. Interesting video montage in relation to historic events. Thank you. But “1952 U.S. Continues Cold War”? The last I checked the United States of America did not unilaterally continue a silent war with itself but had an equal adversary in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. What could be the cause of this key omission from a “historian” at a historic institute? Interesting…but details are important!

  32. Good point. But for title sequences, to fit the single line in a video, we are limited with the number of words/letters we can use. Title lines–with about 50 characters available–don’t allow for much explication. I think most viewers understand that the US cold war engaged the Soviets. Just like most viewers would probably understand that a mention of the American Revolution presents a war that also involves the British. :)

  33. I love your comment! I couldn’t agree more….

  34. Four out of six of our family worked at D-land since the beginning. We spent alot of time there, at the Golden Horseshoe Revue, Club 31, Christmas parades and of course watching the 9 pm fireworks every night from our backyard. This video brought back those innocent times.
    I remember always buying white chocolate and tiny glass souvenirs on the way out.
    And I am so old I remember the band in the gazebo and the pack mules!
    They just raised the admission price to over $100–sad.

  35. towering above public parks Real Estate Montage and gardens and crisscrossed with multi-lane roads and flyovers.

  36. In the video from 1:12 to 1:16 there is a woman riding on the horse-drawn wagon that looks black to me. She’s on the side of the wagon closest to the camera, to the viewer’s right. There were maybe two other black people in the video, but distance and image quality make it nearly impossible to be sure.

  37. That was a great post! I love every bit of it. Great job! Did you put that video together?

    I’m the Founder & Admin of Mouse Insight. Do you mind if I share this video at http://www.MouseInsight.com? I would really appreciate it.

    Let me know. Thanks.

    Founder & Admin
    Mouse Insight

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