JOURNAL OF A DISNEY HISTORIAN
The Disneyland Construction Edition
by Paul F. Anderson
We are celebrating the lead up to Disneyland’s Birthday this month by posting rare and unseen photos of Walt’s Happiest Place on Earth over on our Facebook group page. If you haven’t checked the page out yet, you should, it has some of the liveliest discussion on Disney history anywhere on the web. So to get in on the conversation head on over to the Disney History Institute Facebook page. Best of all, like many early Disneyland exhibits, it’s free (see, we listen to Walt!).
One of the reasons construction photos of Disneyland are so rare, is that Walt and his team took great pains to keep it out of the eyes of the public. Walt was adamant that the real world stay outside the berm; simply put he did not want the illusion of his fantasy world destroyed by objects that did not belong. He once strongly reprimanded a publicity man for parking his car next to the Frontierland Railroad station. “When people come here,” he explained to the employee, “they expect to see the frontier. Your car destroys the whole illusion. I don’t ever want to see a car inside the park again.”
Yet for historical purposes, construction photos are quite interesting because they give us the story behind the magic. Take a look.
I love this particular construction photo; it definitely draws you in and illustrates the enormous amount of work that went into the creation of this attraction…an attraction that is sadly all-too-often taken for granted. Like most that see it for the first time, you’ll realize how massive this set truly is, which is very befitting of what it represents and its name–the Grand Canyon.
For this photo, I offer for your consideration (with all apologies to Rod Serling) this lovely interior image of Pirates of the Caribbean. Taken in the fall of 1966 it gives us an idea of how Walt Disney would have seen this attraction in Disneyland. It was not complete by any means, but with his imagination and vision (and the mock-up at the Studio) he most certainly had a good idea of what it was going to be like.
The integration of the Studio and Disneyland is quite apparent in this image. Yes, building the Monorail on the Studio’s backlot. Not only is it an example of one of many attractions that were assembled (or partially built) at the Studio, it is nice to see the Walt Disney Productions’ Back Lot earning its keep inbetween shoots.
It is this image that sort of started all of the excitement here at the Disney History Institute. I first posted this back in June as sort of a start to the run up of Disneyland’s Birthday Celebration. I was looking for something unique to share (since that is one of our number one goals here at the Institute) and I happened across this image. Shortly after posting it to our Facebook page, it was an instant hit, and it really captured the imagination of many Institute members. I think it was a bit humbling to me as an historian, to realize how rare and delightful these images really are. Where I live and reside here in the Institute and see these photos so often, I get kind of jaded (a bad thing for a historian to have to admit). You see them for the thousandth time, and you forget how overwhelmed you were the first time you saw it. This particular image really amazed me when I first purchased it back in the early 1990s (as part of a former Imagineer’s slide collection). Here it is, Disneyland being built by workmen and their hands; no heavy equipment, just skilled craftsmen making it happen. More importantly for me, it made me revisit the excitement and joy of when I first gazed upon these spectacular pieces of history. A moment in time, captured by an Imagineer who had the foresight to snap a photo, that has now been handed down to us at DHI to share with you. I think it is what we are all about.
This image is from 1959, illustrating quite well how one puts a Mark I Monorail Car on a Monorail Beam! It started the crane series of construction photos, showing how one installs something at Disneyland when a group of workmen are incapable of lifting said item.
This expressive image shows the short-lived Viewliner being placed delicately (one assumes) on the track. More intriguing is the sensibilities of the 1950s, where a young child in a car is free to drive under a large Viewliner train being hefted over him with a crane (not sure the Keppy Kap he is sporting would actually provide him with much protection). Imagine how excited this child must have been after seeing this (an E Ticket experience if ever there was one, before there were ones).
This super rare Disneyland Construction Photo comes to us from the spring of 1962, showcasing the construction on the Tahitian Terrace and also the area that would become Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. Oh, and look, that same publicist’s car is parked over by the Adventureland Bazaar (rest assured, this area was closed down at the time, so he probably did not get the same reprimand as he did for parking next to the Frontierland Railroad Station).
I was ecstatic when I found this image, and I remember when (yes, everything at DHI has a story–a story that begins with the question that if you find a Matterhorn climber, what exactly do you ask them? Of course, do you have any cool photos? Ahh, the ways of the Disney historian). Not only does it show the entire construction of New Tomorrowland from the winter of 1967, but it also illustrates one of this Disney historian’s favorite Disneyland attractions, the new “America the Beautiful” film for Circlevision 360.
As a historian who loved Circle-Vision 360, let’s take a look at another construction photo of this beloved attraction. Only this time, we leave the safe confines of the top of the Matterhorn to venture inside the unsafe, OSHA-NOT Approved, Bell Telephone sponsor area (careful not to trip on any loose wires, or step in a bucket of paint–exploring Disney history can be so dangerous!).
With that, I’ll bring to a close this construction photo celebration of Disneyland. Mind you, there are a few I have not put in this essay, so if you want to find those you’ll have to head over to the DHI Facebook page and check out what is going on there. You can find it at: DHI FACEBOOK.
If you enjoyed this journal entry, you might click over to some of these other DHI videos and articles that explore Disneyland history:
* 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