Disneyland 1957: Sixty Years Ago Part Two

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer
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Last week, I talked about some of the additions to Disneyland in 1957, 60 years ago this year. Believe it or not, there were so many new things that they couldn't all fit into one column so here are some more.

Disneyland had become so financially successful that Roy O. Disney was able to arrange in 1957 to buy back the 13 percent investment that had been made in the park by Western Publishing. Western still maintained its bookstore on Main Street U.S.A. selling comic books, coloring books, games and more.

In 1957, Walt Disney was still discovering what was working and what was not working at his park, despite the general popularity and success of this radically new amusement venue.

"It's quite a chore to keep Disneyland going," Walt told writer Hooper Fowler in an interview for LOOK magazine that appeared January 1964. "It's like a big show you've got to keep on the road, you know. You've got to keep it fresh and new and exciting. And when people come back, you always want to have something new they hadn't had a chance to see before."

There was still a lot of unused open space in 1957, and much of the landscaping that had been planted two years earlier was just starting to grow to maturity.

The colors were much brighter, not just because things were newly painted but because Walt was treating the lands like animation backgrounds and using some of his animators, like Ken Anderson, to use vibrant hues to capture the tone of each area. It was like stepping into one of Disney's animated cartoons.

While his attention was on the new additions to the park, Walt was also making plans for the future. In 1957, he asked artists Bruce Bushman and Duane Alt to come up with some sketches for a wax museum that would feature pirates and asked Anderson to come up with some concepts for a haunted house attraction.

Walt had plans to improve the Storybook Land Canal Boats attraction that had debuted the previous year by adding to it a Big Rock Candy Mountain. The boats would journey inside where guests would have seen scenes from the story The Wizard of Oz. That was one plan that, for a variety of reasons, never evolved into actuality.

However, here are some things that did become a reality in 1957.

Frontierland Shooting Gallery

Disneyland featured several different shooting galleries. The Main Street Penny Arcade had one from 1955 to 1962 and Adventureland had another from 1962 to 1982. The most popular, and probably the most appropriate, was the one in Frontierland that opened in July 1957 and still operates today. All of these shooting galleries required quarters, not tickets, for decades.

Even Walt had to pay to use them. Walt did not hunt for sport, but enjoyed the skill needed to hit a target in a shooting gallery.

Frontierland featured 16 rifles (reminiscent of the ones used by Davy Crockett in the Disney television series and comparable in power to a .22 caliber rifle) and guests got 14 shots. These extra-soft lead bullets were imported from Australia.

The heavy guns were positioned in a cradle to prevent guests from aiming outside the gallery. After each firing session, a cast member would have to reload each rifle with pellets. The targets were the traditional chain-driven images that moved back and forth on a loop in front of a backdrop.

MacGlasshan Guns supplied the Disney shooting galleries with their rifles beginning in 1955. Every night the targets had to be repainted to cover the dings made by the lead pellets. It was discovered that more than 2,000 gallons of paint were being used every year and that the excessive maintenance time could be best allocated elsewhere in the park.

The guns were replaced with 18 new infrared light beam rifles in 1985 and the gallery was updated, as well including humorous sound effects, and it was renamed Frontierland Shootin' Arcade.

Monsanto House of the Future

Monsanto had sponsored the Hall of Chemistry in Disneyland's Tomorrowland since 1955. Monsanto wanted to expand its presence in Disneyland, but also in the booming home construction industry.

They felt that they might be able to develop a method of using its plastics in construction, not simply to replace existing wood at a less expensive price, but explore the possibilities for new structural, durability and aesthetic options.

In 1953, Monsanto's Plastic Research Laboratory partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop on a larger scale something that was already being done with furniture, like molded plastic chairs.


The House of the Future was created in Tomorrowland as a free walkthrough attraction that was open to guests until 1967.

It was decided that only a full-scale display house would best demonstrate these new applications both to builders and the public. As a result, it was offered as a free attraction at Disneyland to guests to walk through and discover the wonders of future living.

Walt, of course, was excited because his original concept of Tomorrowland was to have guests experience the world of the immediate future just around the corner. It would also offer another attraction to the growing list of attractions, especially for Tomorrowland, which was sorely in need of something new rather than the last-minute exhibits about plumbing, painting, and dairy products that filled the area.

Walt was so excited about the concept that he even suggested to his oldest daughter Diane that she and her family should consider living in one. The Miller family had other ideas.

The house was located to the left side of the entrance to Tomorrowland and was a white cruciform with four gracefully curved fiberglass wings cantilevered from a 256-square-foot central core. It was like a cross or a "plus" sign and was chosen because it not only provided full daylight for each individual room, but sound reduction, privacy, and the ease in adding extra modules.

Each wing was 8-feet tall, 16-feet wide, and 16-feet long. Overall, the house was 1,280-square feet and had three bedrooms, two baths, a living room, a dining room, a family room, and a kitchen. When the modules arrived at Disneyland in January, the staff thought they were parts for a boat. The house opened June 12, 1957 after a media preview a day earlier.

Walt boasted, "Hardly a natural material appears anywhere in the House." It was almost entirely synthetic with the floors, walls and ceilings made of plastic.

The Kelvinator Division of American Motors Corporation, which had been an original Disney lessee, designed the kitchen. The "Atoms for Living Kitchen" had appliances that either dropped down from overhead, like the "cold zone" units that took the place of a refrigerator, or popped up from the counter, like the new microwave oven. An ultrasonic dishwasher was included to clean plastic dishes, bowls, cups, and more. It also served as a storage cabinet for them, as well.

Sylvania Electric Products Company provided adjustable panel lighting behind polarized plastic ceiling tiles that could mimic "the glow of natural sunlight," as well as bright "shadow-less light." Bell Telephone contributed the push-button speakerphone (that would make its general public appearance years later at the 1964 New York World's Fair) with "pre-set" dialing to call selected numbers, like a doctor or the school. In the bathroom there was a phone with a video screen so you could see who was at the front door, but they couldn't see you.

The bathroom featured a movable sink that, at the push of a button, could adjust higher or lower for the person using it. Devices included an electric razor and an electric toothbrush with an attached cord. The living room had a large, wall-mounted (non-working) television screen and, of course, a built-in stereo sound system.

While today, many of these innovations seem quaint and unexceptional, it must be remembered that at the time they were considered revolutionary. Coordinating the design and building of the House was Imagineer John Hench, who supplied his personal touch both inside and outside the attraction.

Working with landscaper Bill Evans, Hench helped design the exterior multilevel waterfall and horticultural terraces. The area surrounding the building was meant to resemble a calm, beautiful Japanese garden that appeared to float above the water.

For the interior, it was Hench who designed the vertical color window panes that rotated in front of the south living room window to provide splashes of different colored hues. Hench was also responsible for the "Alpha" chair in the living room that was contoured and had built-in speakers.

Within the first three years, the house welcomed more than 6 million guests. During that time, the entire structure settled less than 1/20th of an inch. More than 20 million people (more than the entire population of the state of California at the time) visited by the time the house was finally removed in 1967.

The house was updated in 1960 with a new interior paint scheme and some different furniture by architect Vincent Bonini, because some things had already become simply "contemporary" rather than "futuristic."

It was estimated that the cost of such a house would be in the $15,000-$18,000 range (roughly 10 times that cost today) although that price would increase with other options, including the ability to have a rotating base.

The house proved more durable than expected when the original plan for a one-day demolition in late 1967 turned into a long two-week project. The building had to be hack-sawed piece by piece according to Hench and parts crushed with wrapped chains into removable pieces when the wrecking ball kept bouncing off the sides of the house.

Even then, a few support pylons and the base were left in place, along with much of the garden with its pools, waterfalls, angular walkways and sandstone boulders.

For a House of the Future, one interesting omission was handicap access, the same thing that plagued boarding the monorail at the Contemporary Resort Hotel for decades. Monsanto had no plans to build or sell these houses, but merely to supply the materials.

The area was transformed into a beautiful Alpine Garden (so named because it was in the shadow of the Matterhorn) and later, in 1996, became Triton's Garden as the home for Ariel, and in 2008, became Tinker Bell's home of Pixie Hollow.

Midget Autopia

The Autopia attraction in Tomorrowland was instantly popular, resulting in Walt opening the similar Junior Autopia in Fantasyland in 1956 to try to handle the demand.

To accommodate younger children, the seats were higher, had extended gas pedals, and a guide track, but other than those modifications and a shorter track layout, it was basically the same experience.

Also in Fantasyland, near the Storybook Land Canal Boats in 1957, Walt introduced the Midget Autopia for the smallest of Disneyland's guests who might not be able to steer or operate the gas pedal. Today, the word "midget" is avoided, but in 1957 it just meant "small".

In a 1956 memo, Walt had proposed the creation of a Mousekatopia area in Disneyland devoted to the youngest children that would include a helicopter ride, boat ride and a car ride. He later changed his mind about that expansion because the rides would separate families, but he did go ahead with the smaller Autopia because the demand was so great.

Unlike other Disneyland attractions, no adults were allowed on the Midget Autopia. It was more like a cartoon experience than a miniaturized driving opportunity for two people. It was an off-the-shelf amusement park ride that was purchased and enhanced by Arrow Development. The cars included headlights from a '56 Pontiac and hood ornaments from a '57 Chevrolet.

Unlike the larger cars that ran on gas, these smaller, rounder cars ran on electricity on a bus bar track much like the popular dark rides so the drivers could not accelerate or brake like the other versions. The route was not the freeway but a gentle, winding, rural road. The journey went over a small hill, through a short tunnel and a yellow garage barn where the doors swung open at almost the last minute.

"They were just simple four-wheel dark ride cars," recalled Imagineer Bob Gurr in 1997. "Arrow had been building and selling them to other parks for years, and these were not Autopia cars in the sense that you could drive or control them. The Midget Autopia was a 'kiddie' ride with the same technology used on almost all dark rides."

There were two steering wheels so each passenger had access to one, but the wheels were unconnected to anything. The attraction was generally just open during the peak park hours during summer, holidays and weekends.

After the attraction was dismantled in 1966, it was donated to Walt's hometown of Marceline, Missouri, where it operated in the Walt Disney Municipal Park for 11 years until maintenance and insurance became major challenges and it was closed.

Holidayland

Holidayland was a 9-acre picnic-type area designed as a space that could be rented by corporations or outside groups for an outdoor event. It could accommodate up to 7,000 people. It had playgrounds with swings, slides, and more. It also featured baseball fields and picnic areas, along with a raised stage for entertainment under "the world's largest candy-striped circus tent" that had been used for the ill-fated Mickey Mouse Club Circus in 1955.

Holidayland also had a separate gated entrance into Disneyland through Frontierland. It resembled a city park and was located roughly where New Orleans Square is today. Basically, the show building for Pirates is where the baseball fields were and the Haunted Mansion show building is where the circus tent stage area was.

The Holidayland Picnic Committee included Bill Stewart, Van France, Howie Vineyard, Cap Blackburn, Bob Carbonnel, Tommy Scheid, Bob Reilly, Barbara Bray, Marty Sklar, Jack Sayers, Dick Stovall, Tommy Walker, Ray Webster, Earl Shelton, and Larry Tryon.

Primarily it was Milt Albright who was put in charge as overall manager and he tried his best to make it a success but many factors undercut his efforts.

The first event held in Holidayland was the Los Angeles Elk's Lodge No. 99 Picnic on Sunday, June 16, 1957, for 5,000 members and their families. The event included a performance by the Disneyland Band and a 30-minute performance by the Mouseketeers. (Smaller sized groups had to settle for their own entertainment, like sack races and bingo games.)

Since it was technically not in Disneyland, it had concession stands that included the sale of beer. Guests could purchase a picnic basket lunch prepared by the Red Wagon Inn that included all the beer you could drink.

"Walt thought beer was a basic part of a picnic," said Jack Taylor, the first operations supervisor at Holidayland. "But he never wanted it inside Disneyland."

Admission to Holidayland did not include admission into Disneyland, although some people tried to sneak in across the railroad tracks. Admission tickets and a reduced price ticket book were offered.

As drunks from the area found their way into the park, the sale of beer was curtailed to people who had also purchased an admission ticket. As Walt predicted, too much alcohol transformed some people into howling nuisances for the family guests.

In the beginning there were only very small restrooms and no nighttime lighting. Walt soon introduced portable restrooms, and eventually built permanent restrooms just before the area closed forever in fall 1961. The previous year strong winds had literally torn the circus tent to shreds.

By the way, it was called Holidayland because the promotional information for the area declared it to be "A recreational park where every day's a holiday."

Don DeFore's Silver Banjo Restaurant

"The finest barbecue this side of the Mississippi" was served at Don DeFore's Silver Banjo Barbecue restaurant on New Orleans Street in Frontierland. It took over the old location of Casa de Fritos that was next to Aunt Jemima's Pancake House.

The restaurant was named and operated by actor Don Defore, who had served as President of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. He was instrumental in arranging for the Emmy Awards to be broadcast on national TV, which brought him to the attention of Walt Disney and a friendship developed.

Walt learned that DeFore had helped put himself through college by cooking at his dormitory.

At the time, DeFore was getting acclaim for portraying the next door neighbor on the popular The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet television series.

When a space opened up, Walt asked DeFore if he would like to run a restaurant in Frontierland. DeFore and his younger brother Verne eagerly accepted the offer and took a 45-hour business management night class at UCLA Extension.

The restaurant was cafeteria-style with a cashier at the end of the line and served sandwiches, ribs, chicken, baked beans, cole slaw, and fries. It had its own special barbecue sauce based on the one served in the chain of Love's barbecue restaurants.

There were a few tables inside, but most were outside with a great view of Tom Sawyer Island in the middle of the Rivers of America and Dixieland jazz music playing in the background.

DeFore helped out as a chef while his brother managed the location. The name of the restaurant came from a prized childhood possession. The restaurant filed as a corporation on March 6, 1957, and opened on June 15. The two brothers' children worked at the restaurant in various capacities.

DeFore, in his enthusiasm to generate business, actually sparked the ire of Walt and his Disneyland managers but doing stunts like having someone spiel loudly outside, posted signs, and even put out pots of water with onions so that the smell would entice the guests to his restaurant.

The kitchen area was too small by Orange County Health Department standards and the storage freezers were outside in a shed, so the restaurant closed in 1962 (not the usually stated 1961) because it could not meet the requirements. Aunt Jemima absorbed the kitchen and dining area and expanded.

Also, in 1957, former Democratic President Harry S. Truman visited the park and famously refused to have his picture taken by the Dumbo attraction because he felt the elephants were the symbol of Republicans.

While 1957 was busy, Walt was already making plans for new additions in 1958, including the Sailing Ship Columbia, Grand Canyon Diorama and the Alice in Wonderland dark ride attraction.

Of course, the big plans were also in the work for 1959 with the introduction of the first three "E" Ticket attractions that would define Disneyland for years: The Disney-Alweg Monorail, the Submarine Voyage and the Matterhorn Bobsleds.

The early Disneyland that many people remember did not spring fully formed when it opened in 1955, but kept developing each year Walt was alive, adding things that seemed as if they were always there. The year 1957 helped bring the park closer to the Disneyland we all know and love.

Comments

  1. By amyuilani

    Another fun article! My friend and are talking about the House of the Future and how, 60 years later, the trend is to go back to renewable resources. We also laughed at the logistical nightmare a plastic house could be, such as how hot it would get, and that if it caught fire it would melt and possibly burn you alive.

  2. By DisneyGator

    That DeFore's restaurant sounds interesting. I love BBQ! I'm guessing Big Thunder Ranch BBQ took the place of this type of food at DL. And not it's gone! No Frontierland, representing the pioneers of America, serves Corn Dogs and Mexican Food.....but no grilled meat. Rancho Del works for the area, at least from a California-Spanish colonial perspective. But if it's a Frontier, you've got to have BBQ. And no, Riverbelle Terrace doesn't cut it because they threw ribs on the menu.

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