As Walt Disney sat at a bench, at an amusement park, watching his daughters play, he noticed how ragged and filthy the small amusement park was. He also observed people’s reactions to different rides, and noticed how children’s parents had nothing to do. They would be anxious to go home, while their children were still having fun, and playing. This is where Walt was conjuring, and planning a new type of amusement park; one that would be clean, and would have attractions for parents and children together. This was Walt Disney’s idea, which he brought to fruition with his creation of Disneyland.
Disneyland is the first of two theme parks built at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California. Opened on July 17, 1955, Disneyland has a larger cumulative attendance than any other theme park in the world, with over 650 million guests since it opened. These two sentences contain all the basic facts you need to know about how and why this still magical place and “The Happiest Place on Earth” colored my childhood, my youth, my young adulthood, my dating and parenting life, and really my entire outlook on life, today and into the future. Critical to Disneyland’s lasting impact on me is that the park and I are the same age, with both of us officially beginning to exist on planet Earth in the year 1955.
Years before Disneyland was constructed, Walt was thinking, generating, and creating everything in his mind. He traveled the United States, and visited buildings of America’s most prolific inventors and creators, such as Thomas Edison’s Workshop, the Wright Brothers Bicycle shop, and the home of the Dictionary magnate Noah Webster. While visiting these places, he was formulating and dreaming of a “Mickey Mouse Park” with a western village, Main Street, and more; these ideas would eventually form Disneyland.
The concept for Disneyland began when Walt Disney was visiting Griffith Park in Los Angeles with his daughters Diane and Sharon. While watching them ride the merry-go-round, he came up with the idea of a place where adults and their children could go and have fun together. He hired a consultant from Stanford to gauge the proper area to locate the theme park based on the area’s potential growth. The recommended location was on 160 acres of orange groves and walnut trees in Anaheim, southeast of Los Angeles in neighboring Orange County.
To fully appreciate the facts given as initial background above, one must be able to picture the landscape of Southern California in the 1950s and at the same time jump ahead and compare it to that landscape today. Los Angeles was spreading out block by block and tract by tract, as more and more housing was built in response to increased demand. This increased demand was generated over the decade by the booming economy as it changed over from agriculture, oil drills and basic manufacturing to more advanced manufacturing of airplanes and rocket ships and jet engines, from the basic black telephone and party lines and operator assistance to intercoms and automatic telephone exchanges and microelectronics. This manufacturing change and growth in turn led to the expansion of supporting retail businesses and services until the urban sprawl became suburban sprawl that crept out of the L.A. coastal basin, east over the Santa Monica Mountains (really foothills) into the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys, north to Simi Valley and sleepy coastal communities, and of course South to the now infamous Orange County, “The OC.” This sprawling and seemingly haphazard growth, along with improvements in the manufacture of automobiles, including some assembled locally, made cars cheaper and more ubiquitous on existing roads and led to the necessity of moving all these new Californians from place to place. This became LA’s famously crowded freeway system.
Griffith Park still serves as an oasis of nature in the heart of the urban jungle that is Los Angeles proper. It is today, in fact, one of the largest urban parks in North America, referred to as the Central Park of Los Angeles, though LA’s park is much larger, more untamed, and rugged than its New York City counterpart. Conversely, Orange County is now the third-most populous and the second most densely populated county in California, the sixth-most populous in the United States, and more populous than twenty-one U.S. states. The completion of Interstate 5, known to Angelenos as the Santa Ana Freeway, in 1954 helped make Orange County a bedroom community for many who moved to Southern California to work in aerospace and manufacturing. Orange County received a further boost in 1955 with the opening of Disneyland.
Uncle Walt, as my irreverent dad would often call him, uttered the following words of wisdom and promise with regard to his new amusement park in the year it was opened.
To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land; dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world. Disneyland will be uniquely equipped to dramatize these dreams and facts. The idea of Disneyland is a simple one. It will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge. It will be a place for parents and children to share pleasant times in one another’s company. Here the older generation can recapture the nostalgia of days gone by, and the younger generation can savor the challenge of the future. Here will be the wonders of Nature and Man for all to see.
When Disneyland opened, in the year of my birth and for a long time after, there were still orange groves surrounding the site. My grandma lived among those groves when I was a kid, before they were pulled out to make room for more Disneyland parking lots, tourist motels, and the newer parts of Anaheim. One of the joys of every family visit to Disneyland was to sit together in a glass-enclosed booth in Tomorrowland, talking to Grandma on the hands free phone. I don’t remember if this “attraction” was managed by AT&T or Bell, though I think I remember that you had to reserve the booth ahead of time. Dad would dial Grandma’s number and we’d all shout “Hello” at once when she picked up the receiver on her end. I think we talked to Grandma more often from that little booth inside Disneyland than we did face to face, even though she was only a few miles separated her from us when we were there!
We went to Disneyland at least once a year while I was growing up. When my kids were born, my mom couldn’t wait till they reached the age where a daily nap was no longer required so that she and Dad could go with Husband and me to bring her “jewels” to Disneyland for their very first visits. Even now that we all, except Mom, have lived in other states, my girls and I make it a point to visit Disneyland, and the newer Disney California Adventure theme park, as often as we can when we’re back in So Cal, and as often as we can find some way to pay a discounted admission price! When Disneyland and I were both young, and until we both became teenagers, park patrons would buy a book of tickets, along with admission. These tickets were labeled by category of the rides listed thereon as A, B, C, D and E. A ticket rides were the cheapest, most sedate and old-fashioned; E ticket rides were the best and newest and most exciting, at least from a kid’s perspective. We long time natives still say that when something is a lot of fun, exciting, and/or adrenaline pumping, it’s a real E-ticket experience. I used to say that about my last job in California, long after E tickets had gone the way of the dinosaurs but shortly after the opening of California Adventure. When I walked into the office every morning, I’d welcome my colleagues to the ShinMaywa California Adventure, warning them to prepare for an “E” ticket ride. I only had to explain the concept once, even to the Japanese natives I worked with, before I got their hearty concurrence about the nature of our shared daily experiences.
Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.
This is another quote from Uncle Walt that struck a chord with me. It mirrors how I feel, or at least want to feel, about myself. I guess, in the end, maybe this is really why I feel such a kinship with my beloved Disneyland. It’s still where I want to go when I want to feel like a kid again, even now, when we are both senior citizens.