The Liberty Street Story 1959

by Wade Sampson, staff writer

Walt Disney felt that many Americans, especially children, failed to fully appreciate the significance of their patriotic heritage. In the early days of Disneyland, Walt was developing plans for an area to provide guests with a better understanding and a greater pride in the American way of life.

This area was to be called Liberty Street. Just to the left of the Disneyland Opera House would have been a street that would have paralleled Main Street.

However, you wouldn't have been able to take the street to the Hub. It was to be a cul-de-sac. Only Main Street would have given you the option to visit other lands.

Publicity and signage at Disneyland announced that this area was scheduled to open in 1959. Originally the street was going to be International Street and that was announced as opening in 1958, but that is a story for another time.

The release of the live action Disney feature film, Johnny Tremain (originally intended as merely a two-part episode for the Disneyland television show) in 1957 may have influenced Walt to consider the development of an area capturing that time period, especially since the first planning for Liberty Square began in 1957.

Walt's daughter, Sharon, had her one and only film role—a small one—in this film, although the Disney publicity machine certainly shone a lot of its light on her performance.

Liberty Street was to be an architectural mixture of several America cities as they existed during the Revolutionary War era. At one point there were to be thirteen buildings, one for each of the original 13 colonies.

Cobblestones would pave the way down Liberty Street and into Liberty Square (an area that Walt would later develop into an Edison Square concept to focus on the marvels of electricity and to feature the prototype for the Carousel of Progress).

There would be a blacksmith shop, apothecary, glassmaker, weaver, print shop, insurance office, silversmith and cabinetmaker. All the shops and exhibits would represent the types of enterprises that might be found in Colonial America. In fact, the shops were supposed to showcase people not only selling their wares but also practicing their crafts for guests to enjoy.

The original outline for the project stated that "the audience will walk around the street toward Independence Hall where the Liberty Bell would be constantly tolling." (Fortunately, in Florida, wiser heads realized a constantly tolling Liberty Bell would be more of an irritant than a joy when they installed their own replica of the Liberty Bell.)

One of the exhibits in Liberty Square would be a scale model of the Capitol building. (Long-time Disneyland visitors might remember it used to be displayed for many years at Disneyland in the Walt Disney Story.) The model was personally purchased by Walt Disney himself from an artisan who had devoted 25 years of his life to carving it out of stone.

Liberty Hall (also called Independence Hall in some versions) was the centerpiece of the Liberty Square and was the entrance to the two major attractions in this land: Hall of The Declaration of Independence, and Hall of Presidents of the United States. A large foyer with dioramas depicting famous scenes of the Revolutionary War period would be the common entrance to the two big auditoriums.

The Hall of The Declaration of Independence was designed to present the dramatic story of the birth of the United States through three scenes that were based on three famous paintings.

These scenes would be three framed settings with three-dimensional sculpted life-sized human figures in costume. It was hoped the figures would move realistically but in a limited fashion. Narration (sprinkled with quotes from the Declaration) would tell the story and historical significance of each tableau along with dramatic lighting and music. Theatrical curtains would open and close on each scene.

The first scene was inspired by the painting "The Drafting of the Declaration of Independence" by J.L.G. Ferris. The scene has Ben Franklin and John Adams in consultation with Thomas Jefferson as he drafted the Declaration of Independence.

The second scene would be based on the painting "Signing of the Declaration of Independence" by John Trumbull. The third scene would be based on the painting "Ringing of the Liberty Bell" by Henry Mosler.

Of course, the theater would try to capture the feel of the time period. There would be bench-like pews that could seat up to 500 guests. Overhead, 13 stars representing the original thirteen colonies would light the auditorium.

In The Hall of Presidents of the United States auditorium, the stage lights would brighten and the curtains would partially open to reveal life-sized sculpted and costumed figures of the presidents of the United States. They would all be in silhouette except for the main figure. The key U.S. president would not have been Lincoln but George Washington.

The show was entitled "One Nation Under God" and would be a theater presentation of "the mighty cavalcade of American History".

"Martial music would come up as lights played on the features of Washington, creating a feeling of reality. Narrations of the trials, decisions and formation of America's heritage were to be complemented by excerpts from presidential speeches. At the conclusion, all the nation's presidents (34 by 1957) would be seen on the enormous stage against a rear-projected image of the United States Capitol, as clouds panned across the sky and a musical finale closed the show," wrote Imagineer David Mumford several decades ago in an article on "Lost Disneyland" for WDEye, the in-house magazine for Walt Disney Imagineering.

Obviously, this show would depend heavily on the development of audio-animatronics which was still in its earliest of stages. WED had begun producing prototypes, including the head of an elderly Chinese man for a figure that Walt had originally intended for a Chinese restaurant that would have been in Center Street near the Market House. An elderly Chinese man wearing long flowing robes would have justified any shaky, slow, awkward movements when the figure moved.

WED was working on a prototype of President Lincoln, a particular favorite of Walt's, for the Hall of Presidents attraction when Robert Moses who was promoting the New York World's Fair dropped by the Disney Studios and got a demonstration of the figure. Moses arranged for the State of Illinois to help pay for the development of the figure for its pavilion at the fair. Although crude by today's standards, the "winking, blinking Lincoln" thrilled audiences. Many were convinced it was a live actor.

A second version of "Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln" was installed at Disneyland on July 18, 1965, mere feet away from where the entrance to Liberty Street was planned.

Instead of creating Liberty Street in 1959, Walt Disney used his money and expertise to update Tomorrowland with the Monorail, the Submarine Voyage and the Matterhorn.

However, Imagineering never fully abandoned Walt's dream. Walt Disney World's Liberty Square captures the spirit of Walt's plans for Disneyland in 1959 including a Hall of Presidents. In fact, the script and some of the actual recordings in the original version of the show that opened in 1971 were done under Walt's personal supervision for the Disneyland Liberty Street project around 1960.