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The Magic Years
Disney through the eyes of teens
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Adrienne Krock, editor
When Walt Wished Upon a Star
"Why do you want to build a dirty amusement park?" This was a question that Lillian Disney posed to her husband when he announced that he was going to build Disneyland. Just imagine how crazy Walt Disney's idea must have sounded over 45 years ago! Back then, most amusement parks were not well kept. But Walt Disney was not discouraged. His dream was to build a park that was clean and friendly. Walt believed that "sometimes it is fun to do the impossible." That is one of my favorite quotes. He felt that "there should be something built where parents and children could have fun together." Walt also said that the streets should be "so clean I can eat off them." Walt's whole idea was pretty wild. And money was a huge issue.

No way would banks lend Walt money for some crazy idea! Walt had borrowed $100,000 against his own life insurance policy and had borrowed $150,000 from his personal bank account. Still, his dream would cost more than he had to spend. His partner, Roy Disney (also his brother), was the one who figured it out. At this point in time, ABC was a new television network. They were falling behind the other two big companies and they needed a show.

Disneyland TV show title card  Disney
Disneyland TV show title card Disney

Walt agreed to produce a weekly, hour-long TV show called Disneyland in return for ABC guaranteeing a loan of over $4 million and the network's $500,000 investment in what was quite possibly Walt's greatest dream. Almost overnight, Disneyland became a favorite among American families. Through this show, America dreamed along with Walt as Disneyland came into view.

The original plan was for Disneyland to be built on eight acres of land in Burbank. However, World War II postponed its being built and gave Walt more time to dream. When construction began on July 21, 1954, a 160-acre orange grove in Anaheim had been purchased and fifteen homes had been moved to make room for Disneyland. Walt always carefully watched every detail of the construction taking place. He visited the site many times each week.

Disneyland under construction - Photos  Disney

Disneyland under construction - Photos Disney

Disneyland under construction - Photos  Disney

Sometimes, Walt needed to ask the staff of his movie studio for help and advice, such as when he proposed to build Anaheim's first castle. This was not the usual construction project and it took many creative minds to get it just right. Several problems occurred during construction as well. The Rivers of America wouldn't hold water until the solution was found in a bed of clay! There were also a bunch of plumbers that went on strike, costing Disneyland many operating water fountains on Opening Day. When Tom Sawyer's Island was being built, Walt didn't like the way his designers had designed it. He went home with the plans and brought them back changed. He went and designed the whole thing himself. When Walt didn't like what his designers did, he would simply do it himself. Tom Sawyer's Island is the same today as when Walt changed it in the days when Disneyland was just a pile of dirt and roll of blueprints.

As Opening Day drew near, Walt's construction workers moved faster. The Mark Twain was being brought to Disneyland deck by deck via the Santa Ana freeway and plants were spilling out of nurseries from Santa Barbara to San Diego. Walt was watching his dream come true before his very eyes.

Walt Disney hosts the opening day telecast - Photo  Disney
Walt Disney hosts the opening day telecast - Photo Disney

On Sunday, July 17, 1955, just one year after ground was broken, Disneyland opened. 6,000 invitations were sent out to selected guests for Opening Day. (On July 18, it would be open to the public.) However, by the afternoon, over 28,000 guests had arrived. Each of them had a ticket, but most of those were fraudulent. To think that they were concerned nobody would show up! Opening Day was great! But it had its problems...

Because of those striking plumbers I mentioned earlier, there were not very many working drinking fountains, and the temperature rose up to 110 degrees farenheit! There were also a few restrooms that weren't working. The blacktop had just been laid the night before, so all the women's high heels were sinking into it! There was still wet paint in some places. Plus, guests complained that 95 cents was too much to pay for admission! But there must have been something magical about the Park, because within one year, Disneyland greeted its 1 millionth guest. And by 1965, 50 million guests from across the nation and around the world had been to the Happiest Place on Earth.

However, Disneyland did have some great attractions. Some of those open on the 17th were: Dumbo the Flying Elephant (which is still there but has been moved since then), Peter Pan's Flight, Mark Twain Riverboat, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Mad Tea Party, and King Arthur Carrousel. There were a lot more, of course, and many that are no longer at Disneyland. Some of these were: Speedboats, Conestoga Wagons, Space Station X-1, and Clock of the World.

A close friend of our family, Helen Hulst Field, recently passed away just before turning 100 years old. She went to Disneyland on July 26, 1955 and when she got back home, she wrote a journal entry about her visit. Here is what she thought about the park just days after it opened:

Drove back to Disneyland my first time there and it was fabulous! I loved it and can see the great possibilities of it after a year or so when the flowers, etc. are lovely. Stayed 'til about 9:30.

Liked the rides, Peter Pan, Snow White and the Toad. They were scary for children but lots of fun especially Peter Pan.

The rides that Mrs. Field mentions are still the most loved rides in Disneyland. Though they don't have the longest lines or even a FastPass, no rides could ever replace them. And the flowers at Disneyland are always beautiful.

Walt Disney walks through Sleeping Beauty Castle - Publicity photo  Disney
Walt Disney walks through Sleeping Beauty Castle - Publicity photo Disney

Many things have changed since that first week at Disneyland, and there will always be things changing. That's what Walt would have wanted. He said that as long as there is imagination in the world, Disneyland will never be finished. One thing will never change, though. Disneyland will always be a place where children and their parents can have fun together. Just as Walt envisioned it.



E-mail from all of you out there is one of my favorite things! Do any of you have good Opening Day stories? Maybe you know somebody who was there. I know I would love to hear them and I'm sure that other MousePlanet readers would, too. And feel free to suggest any possible subjects for my column. E-mail me at

Jewel's FastFact: At first, Walt Disney wanted the Jungle Cruise to be home to live animals! Wouldn't that have been wild? (HaHa...) Anyway, he decided against this when it was brought to his attention that the animals would most likely be asleep or hiding, and maybe even a bit scared of the guests when Jungle Cruise was operating.

When Walt Wished Upon a Star
Publicity photo Disney


My name is Jewel.

I am 13 years old, and a typical junior high student. I live with my mom, dad, and little brother. My family and I have annual passes to Disneyland so we go quite often. I love school, and science has always been a favorite subject of mine. I am in band and hope to be involved in music for the rest of my life.

Right now, my career goal is to become a deejay. In my mind, that is the coolest job in the world! My hobbies include: listening to and playing music, reading, writing, messing around on the computer and hanging out at Disneyland. We have seven cats (four of them found us), a black Labrador, and I have a goldfish.

Special thanks to Jason Schultz for the photos - visit his Magic Kingdom Chronicles for a more detailed overview of Disneyland's construction

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