Hidden Secret Stories of Disneyland

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

Everyone considers themselves a Disneyland expert and with good reason. The fact that you are reading this article shows that you are interested in knowing things about Disneyland that are not necessarily common knowledge to the average Disneyland park guest.

Disneyland is the oldest of the Disney theme parks and has been in existence for over sixty years so it is the most familiar to people. It is usually ranked as the highest attended Disney theme park each year and the one most frequently revisited so more people have spent time there and returned than any other Disney park.

Disneyland is the most documented of the Disney theme parks with numerous books, magazine and newspaper articles, as well as websites like this one recording almost everything about the place.

So, it seems like the height of hubris to suggest that there still might be some "secrets" left to share. Yet, I ended up writing two books filled with stories of Disneyland that have never been told, rarely told or previously mis-told.

Secret Stories of Disneyland: Trivia Notes, Quotes and Anecdotes and More Secret Stories of Disneyland: More Trivia Notes, Quotes and Anecdotes

This year, the emphasis at Disneyland will be on the summer opening of Star Wars: Galaxy Edge, and I think in the rush to experience that new land, some Disneyland guests may miss some of the hidden treasures of the park so for this column I am sharing a few out-of-the-ordinary things to discover on your next visit.

Main Street: Fort Collins Buildings

In many ways, Main Street U.S.A. was inspired by Walt's own memories of growing up in Marceline, Missouri, in the early 1900s, but with some significant differences to eliminate annoying imperfections, including muddy streets, trash and overhanging wires as well as alleyways between each business.

It has been argued that a few architectural aspects from Marceline were used like the distinctive style of the Zurcher building (a jewelry store in Marceline for seventy years beginning in 1903) that bears a marked similarity to the Main Street Coca-Cola sponsored Refreshment Corner building at the end of the street.

In fact, in recent years, an antique painted Coca-Cola advertisement was uncovered on a wall of a building next to the Zurcher building that Walt may have seen during his childhood there. However, it might also be argued that the style of architecture exhibited in the Zurcher building was common of buildings in other small town main streets.

For years, many, including myself, have been under the impression that City Hall on Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland was based on a turn-of-the-century courthouse in Fort Collins, Colorado, which was the hometown of Imagineer Harper Goff, who supplied so much design work for Main Street. Goff himself claimed that was the case.

However, Imagineers have recently discovered that Disneyland's City Hall is actually based on the turn-of-the century Bay County Courthouse in Bay City, Michigan.

The image was in a book about Victorian architecture in the Disney Studio library also used by Imagineer Ken Anderson for the exterior of the Haunted Mansion. Goff and Anderson are among the Disney Studios staff who have their names on the check-out slip at the front of the book.

Goff had mentioned that Walt wanted to recapture his memories of Marceline but "He decided to go with more two-story buildings to allow for additional storage space. That was what we had in Fort Collins where we had banks that looked like banks."

The Avery and Miller Blocks, the old firehouse building, the former Linden Hotel, and the Union Pacific railroad station from Fort Collins have all been incorporated in some of the facades on the Main Street U.S.A. buildings.

In addition there were similarities with the storefronts on Jefferson Street, the First National Bank building, and buildings that had been torn down including Old Main, which burned down in 1970; the county's fourth courthouse, which was demolished in 1957; and the Hottel house, which was razed to make way for a J.C. Penney and is now Old Town's Ace Hardware.

"These buildings were around when I was a kid," said Goff, who lived there from 1911 to around 1920. "They were my inspiration."

Fantasyland: The Castle Spires

The turrets for Sleeping Beauty Castle were made out of fiberglass and were created at the Disney Studios and then shipped to Anaheim and assembled. It was discussed having a "camera obscura" experience in the highest tower, but studio technician Eustace Lycett said there was not enough light for it to be effective.

Artist Eyvind Earle, who at the time was working on the animated feature Sleeping Beauty (1959), told Walt that the turrets should each be different colors like pink, red, purple, yellow and such. When Walt talked with Art Director for Fantasyland Bill Martin about the suggestion, Martin replied that he felt they should all be blue like slate because it would blend with the sky and make the structure seem taller than it actually was.

At the suggestion of Imagineer Herb Ryman who designed the castle, Walt approved the addition of 22-karat gold leafing for the spires. It wasn't just an unnecessary ornamentation although Walt's brother Roy thought so. Walt approved it while Roy was off on vacation.

Gold does not corrode, so it was actually a prudent financial decision in terms of preventative maintenance especially since, in 1955, gold was only about $35 an ounce, which was a bargain since the price has risen several-thousand percent since that time. In 1966, Walt also approved the use of 22-karat gold leaf trim for Mary Blair's original façade of "it's a small world."

One unexpected detail on the castle is the Viollet-le-Duc Spire, an ornate flèche (arrow-like spire) to the right of the tallest tower as you face the drawbridge side of the Castle. While working with Imagineer John Hench on Epcot in the 1970s, author Ray Bradbury noticed what he described as "a duplicate of the convoluted and beauteous spire Viollet-le-Duc raised atop Notre-Dame 100 years ago" and called Hench:

"I said, 'I just noticed something about Sleeping Beauty Castle. There's a spire there that I saw last on top of Notre Dame and the Palais de Justice in Paris. How long has that been there on Sleeping Beauty Castle?'

"John said, '20 years.'

"I said, 'Who put it there?' He said, 'Walt did.'

"I said, 'Why?' and Hench replied, 'Because he loved it.'

"I said, 'Ah! That's why I love Walt Disney. It probably cost a $100,000 to build a spire you didn't need, eh?' The secret of Disney is doing things you don't need and doing them well, and then you realize you needed them all along."

Fantasyland: Herb Ryman's Christmas Tree

Herb Ryman was hired by Walt Disney in 1954 to create the original overall concept drawing for Disneyland that Roy Disney used to show to investors during his initial sales' pitches for the new park.

"He understood production design and used historical context to bring real meaning to the places he created at Disneyland," Imagineer Eddie Sotto said. "When designing Sleeping Beauty Castle, he visited the famous Neuschwanstein castle in Germany; his visits to New Orleans during the development of New Orleans Square brought a realism to the area."

"For Ryman, it was not just 'place making' but what people do in those places," he said. "His best known piece of advice to beginning Disneyland designers was to make their concept art 'specifically vague' so it captured the soul and emotion but left details for later."

Ryman's sister Lucille bought a 3-foot-tall live spruce as a Christmas tree for Ryman to have by his bedside when he was in the hospital dying of cancer. Ryman joked he would try to outlive the tiny tree. When Disneyland horticulturist Bill Evans visited, he was amazed to see the sprouting of new shoots even though it had been kept in a darkened, stuffy room.

Ryman died February 10, 1988, and Evans arranged to have the still-living tree transplanted to the side of Sleeping Beauty Castle near the Snow White Grotto. Ironically, it was the same location where Ryman had previously stood and done a substantial interview for the Disney Channel.

After Disneyland closed one evening, several of Ryman's friends including Tim Onosko, Joen Koemmer, Frank Armitage, Larry Hitchcock, Bob Stockemer, Andrea Favilli, Tim Delaney, and Eddie Sotto gathered to dedicate the tiny tree.

The ceremony was done in secret, and Ryman's friends each helped dig a hole to replant the tree. They opened a bottle of champagne to toast their departed comrade. In fact, they also buried a full glass of champagne along with the tree for Herb to join in the final toast as the sky started to mist.

The mourners threw their glasses against the side of the castle, shattering them into fragments. The original tree has since died, but each time it has been replaced by a new one to honor the legacy of the man who contributed so much to the Disney theme parks, especially Disneyland. It has also been claimed the original tree was a potted pine bought by Ryman's friend, John Donaldson.

Mickey's Toontown: Disneyland Rose

Walt's wife Lillian loved roses and they were prominent in her home garden. They were one of the reasons Walt had to build an underground tunnel for his Carolwood Pacific railroad so as not to disturb Lillian's rose garden.

Roses were also prominent at Disneyland since its opening. Today, the park is home to a distinctive bloom that was named after the Happiest Place on Earth. The Disneyland Rose is found throughout the park as well as Disney's California Adventure, but in particular in Mickey's Toontown.

Disneyland roses were first bred in the United States in 2003 by Dr. Keith Zary in conjunction with John Walden. It was introduced to the general public the following year by Jackson & Perkins. Jackson & Perkins was founded in 1872 and is a full-service nursery offering not only flowers and trees but tools, accessories and plant care products. It is most renowned for its 5,000 acres of rose fields and it ships more than 2 million roses and other plants to customers every year. Disney fans can purchase a Disneyland rose from them.

The Disneyland Rose can be found in Mickey's Toontown.

This wonderful floral creation was the product of cross breeding the Hot Tamale rose with the rose Sequoia Gold. The result is an extremely colorful blend of orange and pink hues on this Floribunda rose. Despite its beautiful color, it has only a slight fragrance but what it does have is light and spicy. It continues to change color as it matures so it may start out apricot or copper in color.

The blooms on Disneyland Roses will be of an average size of about 4 inches or so in diameter. The blooms will be somewhat full as well with around 30 to 40 petals each. The plant overall will also be a typical size for Floribundas, reaching a very manageable size of about 26 to 30 inches high and 20 to 24 inches wide. The rose is fairly resistant to many common rose diseases except blackspot. Its dark green foliage is a good contrast to its vibrant color. These roses require a lot of sun light, at least six to eight hours a day of full sun. However, it is heat tolerant so it is ideal for warmer climates. Caring for the rose is fairly easy since it requires only occasional maintenance, just generally making sure it gets enough water.

Like most Floribunda roses, this variety is also a repeat bloomer. It usually flourishes from late spring to early fall and is a colorful addition to Disneyland's famed horticulture.

Tomorrowland: The Redd Rockett's Pizza Port Story

Redd Rockett's Pizza Port opened May 22, 1998 in the area where the previous Rocket to the Moon/Flight to the Moon/Mission to Mars attraction had been until 1992. The food and beverage location was part of the overall re-imagining of Tomorrowland.

At Redd Rockett's Pizza Port where space travelers know that good pizza is just a shuttle away.

Many feel the name references both the original intention that Tomorrowland would be a space port, as well as the red-striped rocket known as the Moonliner.

The Spirit of Refreshment next to Redd Rockett's features a replica of the iconic Moonliner on the roof and is 53-feet high, roughly about two-thirds the size of this classic Tomorrowland landmark and roughly 50 feet from the original location of the rocket. It sits on a 12-foot pedestal. Again, it is there to indicate that a spaceship has docked at the port and the passengers are inside eating the restaurant eating.

Being a theme park rather than an amusement park, Disneyland is filled with stories to help make the magic more real. Most guests are completely unaware of some of these intricate tales that dictated why something was built and where it was built. The Imagineers did create a back story for Redd Rockett's and it appeared in Disneyland Line March 27, 1998 for cast members only:

"By the early 21st century thousands of eager scientists, space enthusiasts and tourists were busily exploring the galaxy. Some surveyed distant planets, some worked on space stations and others enjoyed the luxury of interstellar tours.

"It has been decades since scientists had solved the problems of fuel and gravity…years since they had successfully recreated sunlight and oxygen. But they still had not solved the problem of good food.

"Space travelers loudly grumbled about the quality of space food. 'It's bland. It's reconstituted. It's boring' they said. 'Give us some taste!' One small colony became so incensed by their meals that they ran over the cook's workstation with their T-I Probe. When asked why they did it, the colonists replied, 'We couldn't stand it anymore. Just once, we wish he would have offered us a pizza.'

"Monitoring the exchange was an enterprising pilot and space trader, Redd Rockett. His mind froze and his eyes glazed over as he recalled the tantalizing smell of freshly baked pizza. And then, Redd came up with the perfect solution: 'I'll set up a pizza port right in the middle of the sector. I'll bring the freshest ingredients and offer foods that people haven't tasted in light years!'

"And so, Redd Rockett brought pizza to space travelers, along with fresh pastas, salads and desserts. Redd's original restaurant was such a hit that he soon opened a chain of Pizza Ports around the galaxy, including a Tomorrowland outpost on earth. Space travelers are now content knowing that wherever they are in the galaxy, good pizza is just a shuttle away."

When it first opened, the Imagineers had the tag line for the location: "When you're ready to cool your jets, head to this futuristic quick-service 'spaceport' for Italian fare that'll send you over the moon."

While we are in Tomorrowland and with the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge which will be filled with stories, it seems appropriate I should end this column with a secret Star Wars story of an attraction that is already in existence:

Tomorrowland: What the Hoth?

Former Imagineering Senior Show Writer Jason Surrell shared with me in 2011 this amusing story about one of the locations that appears in the new Star Tours: The Adventure Continues attraction.

One of the destinations that Imagineers wanted guests to visit in the updated attraction was the ice planet Hoth that had become such an iconic image for many Star Wars fans.

As shown in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), the Rebel Alliance moved to the planet of Hoth after their victory in the Battle of Yavin. However, an Imperial probe droid discovered their secret base. As a result, there is a memorable battle with a herd of All Terrain Armored Transports (AT-AT), a mechanical elephant-looking vehicle sometimes referred to as Imperial Walkers, resulting in the rebels abandoning Hoth.

So, obviously since the AT-AT attack on Hoth could not be used because it occurred much later in the timeline of the newly revised attraction, the Imagineers struggled to come up with some other appropriate adventure on Hoth that could be incorporated.

One scenario included wampas, the hairy white carnivorous predators that were indigenous to the planet. Another scenario included tauntauns that were used as patrol mounts by the rebels.

Lucasfilm Ltd. and filmmaker George Lucas himself, in particular, are well-known for being extremely protective of the Star Wars franchise, carefully reviewing everything connected with the movies from novels to animated shows to official articles to comic books to more to keep the canon as consistent as possible. It was with some trepidation that the Imagineers showed the possible storylines to Lucas.

"He was very nice," Surrell remembered. "He said he liked what we proposed but he was disappointed that the adventure on Hoth didn't include the Walkers. We explained that since according to the timeline that the rebels had not yet established a base on the planet that we couldn't use them.

"George looked at us and said, 'Who cares?' We were stunned," Surrell said. "He explained that perhaps there was an earlier encounter with the rebels and the Walkers on the planet while they were scouting the area. Afterward, the rebels later decided to build a base there figuring the Empire wouldn't think the rebels would return to that same location.

"He was right, of course. Guests going to Hoth would expect to see the Walkers so we added it and there have been no complaints from any of the guests who have experienced it."



  1. By jmorgan

    I have six Disneyland Rose plants in my Northern California yard. They have been going strong now for about ten years now.

  2. By CJ Brown

    Once again, Jim Korkis wrote a fine article filled with antidotes about what's around Disneyland ( ♥️ reading about 'the tree' and 'the roses') 👍

  3. By pretty Omi

    If you are local to So Cal, you can also find the Disneyland rose for sale at Roger's Gardens in Newport!

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