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Magic Kingdom Chronicles
A look back at Disney history
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Jason Schultz

Herb Ryman and the Long Weekend

Walt and everyone else knew the Park wouldn't get off the ground without money. Roy O. Disney had allotted just $10,000 for the development and construction of the Mickey Mouse Park; this would prove woefully inadequate for the Anaheim project, which was several times larger in scale! Roy still wasn't convinced that this theme park project would work, meaning Walt couldn't count on the Company to back him up with financial support. Walt was forced to look elsewhere for funds.

One group that helped Walt out was the "Disneyland Backers and Boosters." One day Walt was in the office of his nurse - Hazel George - and asked if she would contribute money to the Park. She responded positively, and then mentioned that she would see who else on the Studio lot would be willing to do the same. To Walt's delight, many people Hazel talked to said that they would donate to the fund. Though this group did collect money, its biggest contribution was to change Roy's view of the Park. The fact that others were viewing Walt's pet project with seriousness made Roy reconsider how viable it might be.

In regards to the problems obtaining the money to build Disneyland, Walt once said, "Biggest problem? Well I'd say it's been my biggest problem all my life. Money. It takes a lot of money to make these dreams come true." The kinds of details Walt wanted in his park - which would end up differentiating it from traditional amusement parks - wouldn't come cheap. But to convince the money men that his Park would work, Walt needed some concepts to illustrate Disneyland's uniqueness.

Enter Herb Ryman, a noted artist at 20th Century Fox who had contributed somewhat to Disney animated films in the 1940s.

Walt was familiar with Herb's work and was confident Herb could pull off the feat of drawing the first overall concept sketch of the new Park. Herb's artwork wasn't limited to his work on motion pictures - his works still garner interest in the art community at large. Decades ago he sold off some of his artwork in a rather unusual manner: his paintings and drawings would be hung up all throughout his house, and on a designated day at a certain time (usually early in the morning) people were able to run through the house and pick out their favorite pieces for purchase. There was tremendous interest and those participating in this free-for-all usually were only able to get their hands on one piece of artwork.

Herb was at home on the morning of September 26, 1953 when he got a call from Walt. It surprised Herb to learn why Walt was calling - this was the first he had heard of Walt's plan to build a theme park! After the initial shock had worn off, Herb began to wonder why Walt had phoned him. Of course he and Walt knew each other from Herb's prior involvement with Disney, but Herb was in the movie business and had no architectural background that would be of use to Walt.

As Herb recalls, "I said, 'Well now what do you want to talk to me about?' And he said, 'Well Herbie my brother Roy has got to go to New York on Monday. He's going to fly to New York. We need $17 million to start this project. Roy's got to take this stuff back and show them what this is gonna look like.' And so I got excited and I said, 'Well gee I'd like to see it too.' And he said, 'You're going to do it.'" (It should be noted that Herb is slightly incorrect in his recollection - at that point it was only expected to cost around $4 million to build Disneyland.)

Herb was at first reticent to undertake this, but after much pleading on Walt's part (and a pledge to stay there the whole weekend and assist with it) he finally agreed. And thus the phone call ended and Herb hurried over to the Disney Studios to meet Walt.

The weekend Herb and Walt spent together turned out to be a seminal event in the creation of Disneyland. The Park was finally given something resembling a unifying look - it was no longer defined by a loose collection of unrelated sketches. While differences between Herb's rendering and the finished Park do exist, it is remarkable how similar the finished Park would resemble the sketch made that weekend.

Now let's examine just what that drawing showed. Disneyland was depicted from above and to the side, as if the viewer were floating fifty feet above the marquee sign which would later be built on Harbor Blvd. The Main Entrance is shown as it still is today, with a raised train station and two tunnels underneath the railroad berm. The tunnels lead onto Main Street as in today's Disneyland, beginning with a Town Square. One can make out distinct blocks of buildings along the street, bisected by at least one side street perpendicular to the main one. Today, there are two such streets on Main Street - Center Street about halfway up, by Disney Clothiers and the Blue Ribbon Bakery, and Plaza Street, by Coke Corner and the Main Street Photo Supply Company. There also appears to be an Opera House in Town Square with a look closely resembling the one that was eventually built.

Central Plaza
The lands of Disneyland branch out like spokes from a hub, hence the Central Plaza's nickname

And now we're at the Central Plaza, or the "Hub" as it is sometimes known. This uniquely Disney design piece is a hallmark of all the Magic Kingdoms. Walt wanted a central point so his Guests would not get "museum feet," his term for that feeling people get when they've walked too far and too long in a single day. Walt also wanted to keep people from walking as much as they did at places like the World's Fair, where everything is spread out and there's no easy path from one thing to the next. The Hub, of course, was Walt's answer to this problem. At the beginning, all of Disneyland's lands were accessible from the centrally-located Hub.

Castle
Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant at Disneyland Paris rises nearly 150 feet above the surrounding area

Sleeping Beauty Castle, while not to be built so high as to tower over its surroundings, was built high enough so that it could provide orientation for Guests - if you ever got "lost," you would need only to look around and spot the Castle and instantly feel more comfortable with your surroundings. Disneyland's Castle rises just 77 feet above its moat, while the other Magic Kingdom castles are much more vertically-oriented and ornate. There are two conflicting stories out there why may explain why Disneyland's Castle is significantly smaller than other Disney castles. One is that Walt didn't want the castle to dominate the landscape and intimidate the Guests such as medieval castles did (they were used to strike fear in the hearts of village peasants). The other states that there was simply no money in the budget to build it taller. Take your pick.

The Hub also allowed for the placement of the wienies that were discussed earlier. By standing in the center of the Hub, a Guest could look around and be drawn into one land or another based on the striking visual element that was there for that purpose - the Moonliner rocket in Tomorrowland is a perfect example of this. It sat at the back of Tomorrowland for 11 years, drawing Guests from the Hub to the Rocket to the Moon attraction. While Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland have elaborate entrances off the Hub, Adventureland seems to the land that Walt forgot. Its awkward placement - tucked between the Plaza Pavilion and Frontierland's entrance - could be due to its last minute change of position. As seen in the Ryman concept, Adventureland was to be back between Main Street and Tomorrowland.

Castle
Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle is considerably smaller than the other Magic Kingdom Castles

The Castle is one of the most important elements of Disneyland. It serves as the entrance to Fantasyland, home of the characters from the animated films - and also Walt's favorite land. It is also the wienie or carrot which entices Guests down Main Street and toward the Hub, where the crowds disperse to whatever lands the Guests feel like visiting. Sleeping Beauty Castle (which was sometimes referred to as Snow White's Castle in the planning stages) was later worked on in more detail by Herb - it is only one of the many Disney projects he is closely associated with. In fact, there is a tree right near the Castle that was planted in his honor. The tree was given to him when he was in the hospital and after he passed away it was planted, at his request, near the Castle he helped design. While the tree itself has been replaced twice, it's still a nice touch honoring someone who helped define the look of Disneyland when it needed it the most.

But back to the concept - what else made it to the finished Park? And - more importantly - what didn't? Well, branching out from the Hub were 7 lands, many of which didn't make it into the final park: Holiday Land (occupying the space Adventureland is now in), Frontier Country (Frontierland), Recreation Park (placed where Big Thunder Mountain and the surrounding area are today), Fantasy Land (Fantasyland, obviously), Lilliputian Land (to have been located where the Matterhorn / Autopia combo is now and to have featured miniatures like the Storybook Land Canal Boats do), World of Tomorrow (Tomorrowland), and True-Life Adventureland (the "True-Life" was dropped when the idea of using real animals was shelved!). Amazingly, all of these lands were linked to the Hub! Many of them, however, had just a small meandering path winding its way out to where the bulk of the land was located.

What a weekend! To have been a fly on the wall when that drawing was being created would have been an interesting experience indeed. Walt knew exactly what he wanted and was able to successfully guide Herb to putting it on paper.

Let's take a quick survey of what the theme park had so far: a team of designers, a somewhat definitive overall concept, and a place to build it. Was there anything else they needed? Ah, yes...money!


Questions about this column or about Disneyland history in general? Send them to me at jason@mouseplanet.com!


NEXT UP: Roy Heads East

EXTENDED INFORMATION

It is widely acknowledged that Roy O. Disney was the financial brains behind Walt's dreams. Roy was sometimes reticent about Walt's projects, but when he saw that they would work - as with Disneyland - he gave the venture his full backing. After Walt's death in 1966, Roy saw to it that Walt Disney World was built and opened to the public.

The Mickey Mouse Park was the name of the Park Walt planned to build adjacent to the Burbank studios.

In order to keep the outside world out of sight and out of mind, a large earthen berm was constructed around the Park. The Disneyland Railroad runs atop this 8' foot wall, though at several points Guests pass under this berm to get to Disneyland attractions. An example of this can be found in the Indiana Jones Adventure - the spike room is really directly underneath the tracks of the railroad.

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