Disneyland was Walt Disney’s baby, a dream he nurtured for years which eventually turned into a flat-out obsession ... an obsession that had as many skeptics as it had bank creditors demanding that Disney make good on all the loans he needed to make his pie-in-the-sky come true.
Today, The Happiest Place on Earth celebrates its 55th anniversary. Five and a half decades after the world’s first theme park opened, it’s safe to say Disneyland — an original, like Walt Disney himself — has left an indelible mark on the world of entertainment.
As far back as the mid-1930's, thoughts of a family oriented park began percolating in Walt Disney’s fertile imagination. "I had all my drawing things laid out at home, and I’d work on plans for the park, as a hobby, at night," Walt told National Geographic in the early 1960's. Like many of Disney’s ideas, he appeared to be swimming upstream; amusement parks were financial poison at the time. "I talked Disneyland, but no one could see it," Walt said. "So I went ahead and spent my own money."
Once the site had been selected and all the preliminary work was complete, it took about a year from the start of construction to the park’s grand opening. One of the many aspects of Disneyland that clearly separated it from the cheesy amusements parks of the day was Walt’s desire to create a clean, family-friendly atmosphere.
Walt was so committed to the success of Disneyland that he had an apartment above the firehouse in Town Square. Many nights, he was there when the last guests straggled out of the park ... and was up at the crack of dawn to supervise his staff before the gates swung open the next morning.
In the first few weeks of operation, Disneyland was a markedly different place than it is today. For one thing, souvenir and merchandise shops selling Disney products had yet to come into existence.
The rides and attractions in Disneyland during the early years were based on Disney films, cartoon shorts or TV shows and were pretty basic by today’s standards, although classics like the Casey Jr. Circus Train, Alice in Wonderland and the Storybook Land Canal Boats remain to this day resplendent in their simplicity.
Each ride required a ticket for admission, with tickets carrying A, B and C designations — A being the mildest; C more elaborate. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was considered the most "thrilling" attraction in the park; you needed a C ticket, which cost 50 cents, to climb aboard the ride based on "The Wind in the Willows."
Tickets with D (introduced in 1956 with the Skyway ride) and E (first used in 1959 with the opening of Matterhorn Mountain, the monorail and the Submarine Voyage) designations wouldn’t come into Disney lexicon for another few years.
Another unique aspect of Disneyland was the division of the park into themed lands, or "cardinal realms" as Walt often referred to them. These lands — Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Frontierland, etc. — aren’t separated by gates or fences, but by paint. When you walk from one land to the next, the concrete beneath your feet is painted a different color.
Here are some other interesting Disneyland tidbits:
- The Submarine Voyage used to feature "real" mermaids poised on top of rocks.
- Hard as it may be to believe now, Disneyland used to be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays during the off-season. It became a year-round operation in 1985.
- In Disneyland’s early days, guests were allowed to fish off Tom Sawyer Island. That practice was halted when too many dead fish ended up on Disneyland’s walkways. Tom Sawyer Island, by the way, was designed by Walt Disney himself.
The clip below is a beautiful montage of photos and video clips to the song, 'Remember When' from Disneyland's 50th Birthday, written by Richard Marx and sung by LeAnn Rimes.
The clip below was originally released on Disneyland.com in 2005. It not only entertains you with clips from opening day, but shows construction of Disneyland park and some old footage of some pretty important people who visited. Watch how Disneyland park evolved from Walt’s dream of a place “where the parents and children could have fun together” to an additional four Resorts around the world and a world-famous cruise line.
Thanks to Disney Parks Blog, YouTube and my good friend Greg for their contributions to this entry! Happy 55th Disneyland!!