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Magic Kingdom Chronicles
A look back at Disney history
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Jason Schultz

Morgan Evans and Disneyland Greenery

The architecture of the Disney Parks is fascinating and a reflection of the times and the culture the particular Park caters to. Indeed, this has been the subject of numerous books, including "The Architecture of Reassurance," accompanied by a traveling exhibit of Imagineering artwork and models. However, it is the landscaping that really allows Disneyland to be seen as a "living, breathing thing." Walt Disney once said, "The way I see it, Disneyland will never be finished. It's something we can keep developing and adding to. A motion picture is different. Once it's wrapped up and sent out for processing, we're through with it. If there are things that could be improved, we can't do them anymore. I've always wanted to work on something alive, something that keeps growing. We've got that at Disneyland."

The task of landscaping Disneyland - something on a much grander scale than had ever been attempted before - was given to the Evans brothers, Jack and Morgan (or "Bill"). Walt first met them when he was working on his Carolwood Pacific Railroad and needed some unique landscaping help. The brothers helped run the Evans & Reeves Nursery and catered to the influential areas of Beverly Hills and Brentwood, introducing unusual plant life and taking on varied landscaping jobs.

After proving themselves competent with the challenges put forth by the landscaping needed in Walt's Holmby Hills backyard, he called on them to help with Disneyland. Within days, they toured the Anaheim site - still undeveloped - and began contemplating just what needed to be done. Their first, and most important, task was to save the trees that could be saved. As we've seen, the Disneyland project was short on cash and landscaping certainly wasn't at the top of the list of things to fund. The advantage of saving the original trees was twofold: not only was it cheaper than hauling in all new trees, but it also gave the Park somewhat of a mature look.

City Hall trees
Eucalyptus trees behind City Hall

To find out which trees could be saved, the Evans' worked with Disneyland site planner Marvin Davis. By placing a transparency of the master plan over an aerial photograph - showing the locations of all the trees - the landscapers were able to determine which plants they could save. Those that weren't in planned walkways or locations of buildings were prime candidates for salvation. In fact, one group of trees was so important that the location of Adventureland was moved to accommodate them! Behind City Hall were (and still are) some eucalyptus trees that provided a natural break and also themed well to the exotic locales Adventureland required. Thus, the entire land was shifted from next to Tomorrowland (approximately where Space Mountain is now) over to the west side of the Park and its current location. Those eucalyptus trees also theme to Main Street - they're some of the only things actually from the turn of the 20th century!

In a classic story, the Evans brothers went around and tagged all the trees; a green ribbon was a signal to save, red to destroy. When the bulldozing began, the operator destroyed all the trees in his path, paying no attention to the ribbons. When asked why he would do such a thing, the operator replied that he was colorblind. (One wonders, however, why the operator didn't let them know right away of this problem; presumably he would have been told of the significance of the ribbons!)

The burgeoning Southern California freeway system was a great outlet for finding new trees. As the bulldozers came to remove the trees in the freeway's path, Morgan chose which trees he wanted for Disneyland and paid the operator to leave them untouched. The trees were boxed up and transported down to the Park, where they found a new home where they could thrive in a new environment. These snatched trees had the advantage of already being rather mature, lending a somewhat "finished" look at the areas of the Park into which they were put.

The Evans' and their team also worked on constructing the berm around Disneyland. Its function is to block the outside world out of the fantasy of Disneyland, both in terms of blocking out unsightly buildings and sounds from the nearby Santa Ana Freeway. The landscaping also played a part; though it is the earthen wall that keeps out most of the outside intrusions, the plantings on top of it go a long way toward blending it in with the rest of the Park - so much so that it is usually unnoticed by Park Guests.

While designing the landscaping, the brothers worked closely with the art directors for the various lands, making sure their designs were in tune with the atmosphere the art directors were establishing. Each land presented its own unique challenges:

Central Plaza tree
One of the trees in the Hub in springtime

Main Street, U.S.A. - The aim here was for the landscaping to blend in and contribute to the relaxed atmosphere. The trees function to provide shade and give it that "small town America" look. Town Square and the Hub are both park-like areas, requiring special care to keep it alive and colorful year-round. The trees appear neatly trimmed, a far cry from the "untamed" look required in Adventureland or Frontierland. The Town Square and Central Plaza flower beds are normally filled with color and are changed frequently to match the season. Grass is also present throughout the land to add to the atmosphere, though the fences surrounding it haven't always been there. As the Central Plaza branches out to the different realms of Disneyland, the landscaping gradually changes from that of Main Street to that appropriate to each land.

Tomorrowland - Tomorrowland was unique in the problem it presented: how do you go about representing the future through plants? When Tomorrowland was being redesigned in 1998, the Imagineers settled on the concept of "Agrifuture," with all the plants throughout Tomorrowland edible. In the 1950s, however, the Evans brothers made the decision to represent the future through exotic plants and those that were used in contemporary landscape design. The House of the Future was located around a lushly landscaped area also featuring a pool and some oriental plants; this area is still at Disneyland today and is now home to the King Triton Fountain. One of the goals with Tomorrowland landscaping was to complement the stylized buildings with a collection of assertive plants that wouldn't simply blend into the background.

Castle plants
Plants near Sleeping Beauty Castle

Fantasyland - The land of fantasy isn't known for its extensive landscaping. Indeed, there are only a few places in the land where the landscaping is even noticeable, and these were added after the Park's opening! Regardless, the objective of Fantasyland landscaping is to portray a whimsical feeling, something that is perhaps more associated with Mickey's Toontown today.

Frontierland - At the Park's opening, the dense forest we're familiar with today certainly did not exist. Many of the trees dotting the river were nothing more than saplings, lending the entire land an unfinished look. Those Guests riding the Mule Pack or Stage Coach those first few months must have had a pretty barren vista to view. The Rivers of America was certainly a challenge to create, but 45 years has brought the area a look as if it's always been there. The trees are fully grown and give the feeling that you're actually on a river in the Midwest. The untamed look of Frontierland was also required in the jungles of Adventureland.

Opera House
The "Dominguez Palm" by the Jungle Cruise

Adventureland - Before opening, Adventureland was certainly the area that required the most attention of any of the lands. The Jungle Cruise was - and is - the land's signature attraction and was the only attraction in Adventureland for the Park's first few years. While real jungles are oftentimes not the exciting menagerie of plants imagined by armchair travelers, the Jungle Cruise featured an inaccurate but nonetheless entertaining and fascinating landscaping mixture. One of the more interesting plants in Adventureland is known as the "Dominguez Palm," and belonged to one of the families that sold their land for Disneyland. The Dominguez family - who had a son, Ron, work for Disneyland from opening day and go on to become a senior executive - wanted to make sure that the tree would remain living, and it has to this day. In 1994, when a new load structure was being constructed for the Jungle Cruise, it was built with the palm butting right up against it.

While the landscaping was pretty much under control, the rest of the Park was plagued with construction problems. What kind of problems? You name it, they had it!


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


NEXT UP: Construction Nightmares

EXTENDED INFORMATION

The Carolwood Pacific Railroad was Walt's backyard railroad at his Holmby Hills home. The train was hand crafted by Walt in the Studio's machine shop. The plans for the Lilly Belle - Walt's train - were later blown up to become the basis for the first two engines on the Disneyland Railroad.

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.

Marvin Davis is best known for his work in master planning Disneyland and Walt Disney World. He was another early Imagineer who came from 20th Century Fox.

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