The Disneyland 1953 Sales Pitch

by Wade Sampson, staff writer

In the late 1940s, tourism to California began increasing, with studies showing that the top three things tourists wanted to do were put a foot in the Pacific Ocean, pick an orange and visit a movie studio.

“You know, it’s a shame people come to Hollywood and find there’s nothing to see," Walt said. "Even the people who come to the [Disney] Studio. What do they see? A bunch of guys bending over drawings. Wouldn’t it be nice if people could come to Hollywood and see something?”

In 1949, Walt outlined his rough concept for a “Mickey Mouse Park” across the street from the Disney Studio:

“The Main Village, which includes the Railroad Station, is built around a village green or informal park. In the park will be benches, a bandstand, drinking fountain, trees and shrubs. It will be a place for people to sit and rest…mothers and grandmothers can watch over small children at play. I want it to be very relaxing, cool and inviting.

“Around the park will be built the town. At one end will be the Railroad Station…at the other end…the Town Hall. The Hall will be built to represent a Town Hall, but actually we will use it as our administration building. It will be the headquarters of the entire project. Adjoining the Town Hall will be the Fire and Police Stations. The Fire Station will contain practical fire apparatus…scaled down.

“The Police Station will be put to practical use. Here the visitors will report all violations…lost articles…lost kids, etc. In it we could have a little jail where the kids could look in. We might even have some characters in it.”

That memorandum also listed these additional attractions: a drugstore with a soda fountain; an opera house and movie theater; toy, book, hobby, doll and children’s clothing shops; a doll hospital and toy repair shop; a candy factory and store selling old-fashioned candy; a magic shop; a store selling dollhouse furniture; ice cream and hot dog stands; a restaurant featuring rooms for birthday parties; a functioning post office; a horse-drawn streetcar; a general store; a pony ring; and a donkey pack train and a stage coach.

“It was back in the 1940s,” remembered Imagineer John Hench. “I lived on Riverside Drive in Burbank, quite near the studio. I remember several Sundays seeing Walt across the street in a weed-filled lot, standing, visualizing, all by himself. The longer Walt thought about the park, the more ideas he got, and suddenly the weed-filled lot wasn’t big enough.”

During the next five years, the plans for Disneyland continued to grow and evolve. Did you know that while Walt and his team studied Knott’s Berry Farm, zoos, parks, amusement venues, county fairs, circuses, and carnivals, they also studied Forest Lawn Cemetery that presented various religious shows. It was later discovered that their visitor patterns paralleled, on a smaller scale, those of Disneyland.

In September 1953, Roy O. Disney planned to fly to New York to raise money for Disneyland, but needed a sales package, since Walt was not accompanying him to help pitch the concept. Selling dreams is a lot tougher than selling something more familiar and tangible.

Most Disney fans are familiar of the famous story of Walt calling in artist Herb Ryman on a Saturday morning and convincing him to paint a rendering of Disneyland to show the tight-fisted, practical money men. Early Monday morning, after Ryman and Walt spent the entire weekend working at the Disney Studio, that famous drawing was ready for Roy to take to New York.

In addition, Roy took along an eight-page single-spaced concept document that included such proposals that at Disneyland you would be able to order a real, live pony by mail and there would be a section of the park called Lilliputian Land (inspired by the Gulliver’s Travels story of a visit to the miniature land of Lilliput).

To celebrate Disneyland’s 55th, here are some excerpts from that historic document. What I especially love about this document is Walt’s vast imagination where there were absolutely no limits. If Disney is looking for new ideas for the parks, maybe they should go back 57 years and consider adapting some of these gems. On the first page, it stated:

“Walt Disney sometime—in 1955—will present for the people of the world—and to children of all ages—a new experience in entertainment. In these pages is proffered a glimpse into this great adventure…a preview of what the visitor will find in……Disneyland.”

“Like Alice stepping through the Looking Glass, to step through the portals of Disneyland will be like entering another world. Within a few steps the visitor will find himself in a small mid-Western town at the turn of the century.

“Main Street has the nostalgic quality that makes it everybody’s hometown. On the corner is the great Disneyland Emporium where you can buy almost anything and everything unusual. Or you can get the big mail-order catalogue and purchase by mail. If you want a real pony and cart or a miniature donkey thirty inches high, you’ll find it in the catalogue. Or if you want the latest Disney book or toy, you can order by mail and the gift will arrive wrapped in a special Disneyland paper bearing the postmark: ‘Disneyland, California’—direct from the Disneyland U.S. Post Office.

‘The Hub is the crossroads of the world of Disneyland. Straight ahead lies Fantasy Land, to your left is Frontier Country, the world of yesterday. And to your right is The World of Tomorrow. But between these central spokes of the wheel are other exciting avenues of adventure.

“True-Life Adventureland is entered through a beautiful botanical garden of tropical flora and fauna. Here you can see magnificently plumed birds and fantastic fish from all over the world, and which may be purchased and shipped anywhere in the U.S. if you so desire.

“If you wish refreshments that are in keeping with your surroundings, there are fresh pineapple sticks, crisp coconut meats and exotic fruit punches made from fresh tropical fruits.

“A river borders the edge of True-Life Adventureland where you embark in a colorful Explorer’s Boat with a native guide for a cruise down the River of Romance. As you glide through the Everglades, past birds and animals living in their natural habitat…alligators lurk along the banks, and otters and turtles play in the water about you. Monkeys chatter in the orchid-flowered trees.

“The World of Tomorrow. A moving sidewalk carries you effortlessly into the World of Tomorrow where the fascinating exhibits of the miracles of science and industry are displayed. The theme for the World of Tomorrow is the factual and scientific exposition of Things to Come.

“Among the exhibits, that will change from time to time, are The Mechanical Brain…a Diving Bell…Monorail Train…The Little Parkway system where children drive scale model motor cars over a modern freeway…Models of an atomic submarine, a Flying Saucer…The Magic House of Tomorrow, with mechanical features that obey the command of your voice like a Genie. You say ‘Please’ and the door opens, a polite ‘Thank you’ will close it.

“And if you are hungry, conveyor-belts will carry your food through the electronic cooking device of Tomorrow where you will see it cooked instantly to your liking.

“Lilliputian Land. A land of Little Things…a miniature Americana village inhabited by mechanical people nine inches high who sing and dance and talk to you as you peek through the windows of their tiny shops and homes. In Lilliputian Land, there is an Erie Canal barge that takes you through the famous canals of the world, where you visit the scenic wonders of the world in miniature.

“Here a little diamond-stack locomotive engine 17-inches high steams into the tiny railroad station. You sit on top of the Pullman coaches like Gulliver, and the little 9 inch engineer pulls back the throttle taking you on the biggest little-ride in the land.

“And for the little people who have little appetites—you can get miniature ice cream cones, or the world’s smallest hot-dog on a tiny bun.

“Frontier Country. Along Frontier Street are a harness shop and a blacksmith shop, livery stable, assayer’s office, sheriff’s office and the jail. There is a shooting gallery, the Wells Fargo Express office and an old fashioned saloon with the longest little bar in the world serving root beer Western style.

“Ride shotgun on the stagecoaches…past Granny’s Farm, a practical working farm operated with real live miniature horses, cows, oxen and donkeys. Carry the mail on the Pony Express Ride around the little track.

“Treasure Island. Mickey Mouse, the best known personality in the world has his Mickey Mouse Club headquarters at Disneyland located on Treasure Island in the middle of the river, a fantastic hollow tree and treehouse serves as the Club meeting place. The hollow tree is several stories high, with interesting rooms and lookout spots for club members. There is a Pirate cove and buried treasure on the island…and direct from this location the Club presents the Mickey Mouse Club Television Show.

“Holidayland is a showplace of Special Attractions that change with the seasons. Its theme is a current as the calendar. Its decorations, entertainment or exhibits follow the flowers in Spring with its Flower Festival…the Mardi Gras and special Easter activities. Mother’s Day…St. Valentine’s Day…Boy Scout week.

“Summer brings the Fourth of July…and Circus Time…with a circus parade down Main Street…and under the big top, a one-ring circus with special acts from all over the world.

“Fall ushers in the Harvest Festival..Halloween..Girl Scout week..Thanksgiving.

“And Winter with its ice skating rink, sleigh rides, and Bobsled Hill with real snow…and Christmas Tree Lane that leads to Santa’s home at the North Pole.

“Disneyland will be the essence of America as we know it…the nostalgia of the past, the exciting glimpses into the future. It will give meaning to the pleasure of the children—and pleasure to the experience of adults. It will focus a new interest upon Southern California through the mediums of television and other exploitation. It will be a place for California to be at home, to bring its guests, to demonstrate its faith in the future…

“And mostly as stated at the beginning—it will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge.”

In the early months of 1954, Disneyland Inc. was reconstituted with Walt Disney Productions and the American Broadcasting/Paramount Theaters, each acquiring a 34.8 percent interest from a $500,000 investment. ABC also agreed to guarantee loans of up to $4.5 million.

Western Printing and Lithographing, who had published Disney comic books since the 1930s, contributed $200,000 for a 13.79 percent interest. Walt Disney himself acquired a 17.25 percent interest by investing $250,000. However, all this money didn’t even come close to the final tab of nearly $17 million to build Disneyland. (Eventually, ABC would receive $7 million on its original investment, with the same percentage of profit going to Western Printing when Walt Disney Productions bought them out.)

In the beginning, it was estimated that guess would arrive in two groups: morning (9 a.m.-1 p.m.) and afternoon (2-7 p.m.) and so the parking lot (100 acres) was designed accordingly to accommodate 11,500 cars. It was determined very quickly that 92 percent of the people visiting Disneyland would come by personal car and each automobile would bring an average of 3.7 people. It would take 19 years before the Park reached what was considered its peak capacity in a single day: more than 80,000 guests.

The word “unique” is often overused but the original Disneyland was unique. There was nothing else like it anywhere I the world. It is the only Disney theme park built under the direct supervision of Walt Disney and the only Disney theme park that Walt was able to enjoy with guests from all over the world. Today’s column is just a reminder that Disneyland didn’t “just happen” by accident but through almost 20 years of Walt thinking and planning and wishing.