By fluke (I was born in the Sixties), I never got the chance to visit Disneyland in its infancy. Back in the 1950s, the whole park was like one giant Frontier Landdirt and freshly planted trees were everywhere. Guests and cast members alike stumbled around, wide-eyed, not sure what each day would bring. Something new and surprising was around ever corner. In fact, Disneyland was adding new attractions at the rate of one every other month.
Uncle Walt breaks into hysterics after a cocksure rookie skipper points out, for the first time, the back side of water. Photo courtesy David Koenig.
What an exciting time. For years, my dream has been to visit that Disneyland that I never knew. I never had the chance to stretch my imagination at Space Station X-1 or try my luck at the Main Street Shooting Gallery or risk my life on a Disneyland stagecoach. I'd gladly trade my current annual pass for just one day at the park as it was in Year One.
Natually, I had high hopes that for its 50th anniversary, Disney would make my fantasy come true. That the Magic Kingdom could find a way to let us to step back in time and revisit the Disneyland of our youthor before our youth.
Now, Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) tried. Imagineers had multiple proposals on the table, including converting the Innoventions building into a Disneyland museum with two full stories of interactive displays, some of which would re-create entire sections from long-gone attractions.
I was told that my own blue-sky wish list for re-creating the park of the past (see Golden Dreams from July 17, 2002) even made it to the desk of Marty Sklar with a note attached along the lines of, See, Marty. There are people who really want to see this kind of stuff!
Alas, due to time and budget constraints, a full-scale re-creation would not come to be. Management decided instead to install a series of shiny commemorative plaques in front of the Carrousel, the Monorail and other aging attractions.
Brave passengers head out on the unreliable, short-lived Phantom Boats. Never to be seen again. Photo courtesy David Koenig.
They've also taken to putting gold paint on everything in sight. The rumor now is that they're considering repainting the lampposts on Main Street gold, which has generated such comments as:
Instead of spending money for a quality celebration, it's spent on gold paint.
I am so sick of gold.
It just looks tacky.
The place is beginning to look like something Scrooge McDuck would enjoy. I can see the suits in Burbank and [Team Disney Anaheim] screaming, Gold! More gold!'
So my dream won't come true. No matter, this year does promise a few new ways to step back in time and relive the Disneyland of 1955.
Although far less ambitious than other proposals, there is the historical display that's being installed in the Main Street Opera House over the next two months. A 15-minute movie featuring Disneyland alumnus Steve Martin and Donald Duck (in 2-D, not 3-D) will play in Mr. Lincoln's theater. Although the film follows Disneyland through all of its 50 years, extra time is devoted to the park's beginning.
Guests can also peer at long-archived artifacts and displays in the preshow and postshow lobby areas. The highlight: a scale model of Disneyland in 1955. Weaned on black-and-white aerial photos, I'll finally be able to view the primitive park in color and three (albeit miniature) dimensions.
Remember the days when the only books about Disneyland were the photo-rich yet text-deficient hardcovers the park published once every five years on its anniversaries? Then, in 1987, they finally gave us Randy Bright's Disneyland: Inside Story. Unfortunately, when the coffee table-sized tome didn't immediately fly off bookstore shelves, it was dumped into remainder bins and lost all hope of a second printing.
Not surprisingly, when an agent began peddling my first book about Disneyland to publishers 15 years ago, the number one rejection he got was, Disneyland? Who wants to read a book about Disneyland?
Well, those days have long since ended, primarily thanks to a flood of independently produced books. This year brings a record number of Disneyland titles. Those with special emphasis on the first days of the park include Disney Edition's photo-rich Disneyland 1955: In Natural Color this summer, Jim Hill's long-awaited Once Upon on Orange Grove in the fall, and a 1955-obsessed Golden Anniversary Special Edition of my own Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (just released).
Perhaps the most celebrated release from Walt's vault is this spring's CD compilation of hundreds of music and spiel tracks from Disneyland attractions. Although the park had sold many of these piecemeal over the years through CD-On-Demand kiosks, these compilations will be issued in a two-disc starter set and a six-CD die-hard version accompanied by a commemorative booklet by Bruce Gordon and Stacia Martin.
As well, those purchasing the spiffy new limited edition of Mouse Tales also receive a CD that re-creates the Magic Kingdom during its first summer. I designed the hour-long A Walk in the Park: A Guided Tour of Disneyland in 1955 to be enjoyed on its own orfor the full blast-to-the-past effectwhile walking through the park. If I ever spot an overly preoccupied guest poking around the back corners of the Penny Arcade while wearing headphones, I'll know someone finally took me up on the offer.
The shadow of 1955's Disneyland still casts itself behind today's Magic Kingdom. I'll try to bring it to life on Sunday, April 17, for a 1955 guided tour through the park.* Early that afternoon, we'll meet at the Compass Books & Cafe in Downtown Disney for a signing and a talk about Disneyland in the beginning. From there, I'll take those who purchase a book that day on an hour-long trek through Disneyland (admission to the park is not included). I'll point out the remains of long-gone attractions and shops and tell a few never-before-published stories.
I make absolutely no promises on how intimate (or even audible) the trip will be. With a small group, we'll enjoy some nice one-on-one time. But even if we have a huge turnout, we'll have fun doing our tour 1958 style (see First Tour, my previous article) Remember, having a good time is the whole purpose of Disneyland, despite the shiny plaques and gold paint.
(Send an email to David Koenig)
David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.
After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999) (All titles published by Bonaventure Press).
He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.