Twelve Stories of Disneyland: Part Two

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer
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Last week, inspired by the famous Twelve Days of Christmas, I decided to celebrate this holiday season with Twelve Stories of Disneyland. This week: the final six.

I hope these tales helped brighten your holiday season and that a happy and healthy new year awaits you.

Weed Science

There are more than 170 different species of weeds. These weeds have both a common name and a scientific botanical one that is in Latin, the international language of science.

The main reason for plants to have scientific names is to eliminate confusion, since some common names may be used for more than one plant, but the Latin name is recognized in countries around the world.

"We landscaped all of Disneyland in less than a year with a maximum of arm-waving and a minimum of drawings and money," said Disney Legend Bill Evans, who, along with his brother Jack, were hired personally by Walt Disney to landscape the Happiest Place on Earth.

"We scampered around the country to try to find all the mature trees we could and it didn't take long to exhaust the budget. The park was built on a very modest budget."

At the 10-year anniversary celebration in July 1965 for Disneyland cast members, held at the Disneyland Hotel, Walt regaled the audience with this anecdote:

"A lot of people don't realize we had some very serious problems here, keeping this thing going … getting it started. I remember when we opened we didn't have enough money to finish the landscaping. I had Bill Evans go and put Latin tags on all of the weeds. We had a lot of inquiries. [laughter] That's a fact. You ask Bill Evans. Of course, every weed to Bill Evans has got a Latin name, you know."

In 1985, I asked Evans if that story was true. He responded: "Yes, absolutely. I had to tell Walt by the time I got around to the back berm that we had run out of money and plant material and were scraping the bottom of the barrel. Walt said, 'I notice you have some head high weeds out there. Why don't you put some jaw breaking Latin names on them?' So we did as he suggested."

"As we got closer to opening, we did a lot of irrigating to get the weeds to grow on the barren areas, particularly on the high dirt berm that surrounded the Park so it would look fuller for the guests,' he said. "The weeds were growing almost as high as trees so we put some fancy names on them. Walt got such a kick out of it that he mentioned it at the cast celebration for the tenth anniversary of Disneyland."

Walt's Apartment

Walt often needed a place to stay while Disneyland was being completed since it was a long drive to the Disney Studios in Burbank and few motels existed in the area.


Walt's apartment above the Disneyland firehouse was designed by art director Emile Kuri.

As Disney Legend Bob Gurr told me, before the freeway was operational, the trip to the park was a series of small, dusty roads, and most cars did not have air conditioning, so the rolled down windows let in the heat and smog. It was an exhausting trip.

A small apartment was built for Walt over the firehouse on Main Street. It was decorated by art director Emile Kuri to suggest the Victorian era. Kuri had designed the lush interior of Captain Nemo's Nautilus for the film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) and had added significant touches, like hitching posts, to Disneyland's Main Street. A rose motif was used in the apartment extensively on everything from furniture to dinnerware, since it was a favorite of Walt's wife, Lillian and in keeping with the time period.

Although small, the area included a small dressing area with a mirrored closet, a tiny bathroom complete with enclosed shower and a main living room with a kitchenette behind louvered folding doors. There were also two fold-out bed couches. The room was filled with items that Walt and Lillian acquired on their travels as well as purchased at Disneyland, including from the Ruggles China Shop. There were two antique music boxes from a collection Walt had purchased for the Main Street arcades.

Since it was above the firehouse, there was a firepole that according to legend was covered up after a curious child climbed up the pole and poked his head into the apartment while Walt was sitting there reading the newspaper. The apartment served as a refuge for Walt when he visited the park as well as a location to entertain friends and celebrities, sometimes on the small outdoor patio that included white wicker furniture on a landing leading to City Hall.

On April 18, 1986, Lillian notified the Disney Company that she wanted to remove "all personal items of Walt Disney and mine from our apartment at Disneyland." The first set of personal property (family pictures, hairbrush, portable radio, raincoats, scarves, and similar items) was removed in May with the remainder of the larger antiques and collectibles that summer. Lillian's last known visit to the apartment was in December 1984.

Lafitte's Anchor

Imagineer Eddie Soto once proposed some simple additions that would connect Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, and Tom Sawyer's Island together thematically using references to the famous Louisiana pirate Jean Lafitte.

A vintage ship's anchor reportedly belonging to one of Lafitte's ship has been displayed in Frontierland for more than 60 years.

On a warm day in August 1955, the celebration started with the Disneyland Band, under the direction of Vesey Walker, leading the dignitaries that had gathered on Main Street USA to a bandstand in Magnolia Park on New Orleans Street.

Following the band was actress Dorothy Lamour (not in her famous sarong but in a long, white, short-sleeved dress and heels) accompanied by her husband William Howard, riding in a Main Street surrey.

She was followed by the Disneyland stagecoach carrying the Frito Kid, the mascot of the Casa De Fritos eatery. Casa de Fritos originally opened the month after the opening of Disneyland in 1955, next to Aunt Jemima's Pancake House.

Since this was in the days before costumed mascots made such public appearances, the Frito Kid was portrayed by a full-sized actor who wore a Frito Kid outfit, including the name Frito Kid on the shirt, but his real face was clearly visible.

The parade was still not over, because there were now members of the United States Marine Corps from New Orleans, who happened to be in the area because of training at the El Toro Marine base near Disneyland. Finally, bringing up the rear of the parade was the original cast from Slue Foot Sue's Golden Horseshoe Revue.

Lamour, to loud cheers from the gathered crowd, approached an ancient anchor laying on its side, but tilted slightly up in the air at an angle. Lamour stylishly christened the anchor by breaking a bottle filled with water from the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

"We found it [the anchor] in an antique store near New Orleans," Walt told the press.

The plaque near the anchor stated:

"Lafitte's Anchor. Said to be from a pirate ship commanded by Jean Lafitte in the Battle of New Orleans January 8, 1815. It is also said that Lafitte's privateering ships left a wake of blood from the Mainland to Barataria Bay but, don't believe everything you read."

King Arthur Carrousel

This carrousel (the double "r" is an old spelling variation meant to evoke medieval times) was an 1875 merry-go-round (with a menagerie of giraffes, deer, and cats, as well as horses) built by Dentzel in Philadelphia. It ran for decades since 1922 in Sunnyside Beach Park (also known as Sunnyside Amusement Park) in Toronto, Canada. The park was demolished in 1955.

Ross Davis, through his amusement park connections, located the attraction for Walt and saved it from destruction. Davis obtained the famous 1926 Spillman merry-go-round for Griffith Park that Walt loved so much and supposedly helped inspire the creation of Disneyland.

Walt never saw the carrousel in person until it arrived in Los Angeles. The outer row horses were all "standers," but Walt wanted them to be all jumpers and to have nothing but horses on it, so Imagineer Bruce Bushman, who designed the concept art for the attraction, was given the assignment to make the adjustments like sawing the legs and repositioning them, as well as creating a fourth row to accommodate more riders.

Arrow Development did all the work refitting the mechanical elements like crankshafts. Bud Hurlbut helped a few years later with the bull gears since parts no longer existed for machines like this one when they broke.

Bushman located some vintage horses underneath the Coney Island pier and installed them, along with some additional Dentzel horses he obtained from Whitney's Playland in California. There were a total of 72 horses on the attraction with more than a dozen other hand-carved horses as back-ups. In 2003, a wheelchair accessible bench and ramp were installed, so today only 68 horses spin around. Wurlitzer model number 155 played music until replaced with speakers in the 1983 renovation of Fantasyland.

As was true of carousels from this era, there was detailed ornamentation including court jesters and cherub carvings. Some of the ornamentation, including a chariot bench, was refitted to the Casey Jr. train's calliope and passenger cars.

In the early years, the horses were in traditional shades of black, tan, gray and brownish red. They did not become all white until Imagineer John Hench made the change in 1975 after seeing that guests preferred to ride white horses, because they were the horses ridden by the heroes. Other changes at that time included the canopy and the addition of nine hand-painted mural panels to tell the story of Sleeping Beauty.

In 1955, there were approximately 4,200 operating carousels in the United States. Today, it is less than 200.

Emile Kuri Interior Decorator

Emile Kuri's window at Disneyland's Main Street is above the Market House where he is listed as an "Interior Decorator."

In 1952, he joined the Disney Studios where he remained for 23 years. During that time, he won an Oscar for his work on the Disney feature film 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954), which included the Nautilus's lush interior of red velvet furnishings, gleaming brass rococo decorations and that magnificent pipe organ which ended up in the Haunted Mansion.

It was Kuri who made a trip to Baltimore, Maryland, in 1955 to purchase, at a cost of $0.08 a pound, some then 160-year-old gas lamp posts weighing 500 pounds that the city was replacing. In the earliest days of Disneyland, these gas lamps were individually lit each night by a lamplighter appropriately attired in a turn-of-the-century costume.

"They were the only lamp posts I could find that would match the less than full scale design of Main Street," Kuri said.

Not only were the lamps installed on Disneyland's Main Street, but when the Magic Kingdom opened in Florida in 1971, its Main Street was lined with gas lamps made from molds patterned from the original Disneyland lamps.

Those horse-head hitching posts in Town Square at both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom were created by Kuri from an original antique hitching post he was given as a gift by the grateful owner of an 1840 mansion where the Paramount film The Heiress (1949) was filmed.

Kuri took such great care of the mansion during filming that the owner wanted to reward him. The original resided for many years in the front yard of Kuri's house in Corona del Mar, California.

A car knocked over a street light on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, and Kuri rescued it at a cost of $5 to become the 65-foot-tall flagpole at Disneyland.

He also decorated the lower level of the Sailing Ship Columbia. The huge crystal chandeliers in Club 33 were made to order by Baccarat, according to Kuri's instructions. He had the chandeliers hung on a concealed steel cable that allowed them to be lowered for weekly cleaning.

For the Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln attraction, Kuri designed the deep red carpeting, royal blue drapes, and classic white columns in such a way that it "did not distract from the central figure."

Like so many talented people who contributed to Disneyland, Kuri is little remembered by Disney fans today.

Tomorrowland's Doctor Who?

Canadian television producer Sydney Newman, who was responsible for initiating the creation of Doctor Who in 1963, was offered an animator's job at the Disney Studios in 1938, but he had to turn it down due to visa complications.

Doctor Who is the main character in a long-running British science-fiction television series of the same name. He is a time-traveling, humanoid-looking alien Time Lord who explores the universe and generally saves the day in an unorthodox way. His method of transportation is the TARDIS that, from the outside, looks like a typical blue British police call box.

In 1974, there was a proposal for one of the Doctor Who serials to take place at Disneyland, where the Doctor would be tracking down an alien. The premise was that Disneyland is a pretty alien place, so it would be the perfect place for an alien to hide. Unfortunately, the limited budget for the show killed the idea.

In August 1975, Tom Baker, in character and costume as The Fourth Doctor, guest-hosted an edition of the British BBC television show, Disney Time, in which he appeared in filmed inserts introducing clips from Disney movies.

In the late 1980s, Disney CEO Michael Eisner was actively looking for franchises to purchase, and made several attempts to buy the rights to Doctor Who and its video library. Preliminary plans were drawn up for a walkthrough attraction at Disneyland's Tomorrowland that would have taken guests through the inside of the TARDIS. There were also discussions for a film with an elaborate official announcement of the new Doctor to be made at a special press conference in Tomorrowland. Disney was looking at other options at the same time, as well, but eventually partnered with George Lucas instead.

In 1987, the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) appeared in a three-episode serial titled "Delta and the Bannerman." The Doctor and a bunch of aliens were to spend a week at 1959 Disneyland. However, when their Nostalgia Tours bus hits an orbiting satellite, they all then end up at a holiday camp in South Wales which was more appropriate for the BBC budget.

The first unofficial Disneyland Galliday gathering (named as a reference to the Doctor's home planet Gallifrey by founder Amy McCain) took place in January 2014. There have been five other events, the last one in November. The event is one of several unofficial cosplay days including Dapper Day and Bats Day at the park.