“To all who come to this happy place; welcome.
Disneyland is your land.
Here age relives fond memories of the past…and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.
Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America…with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”
While we are probably best known as the gals that #RunAllTheRaces, we also like to take in some of the other local flavor when we are in town for a race. To this end, as part of our 2014 Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend, we FINALLY got the chance to go on a tour at Disneyland: A Walk in Walt’s Footsteps.
We had been trying to get a reservation for this tour since Disneyland Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend earlier this year. Think we’re joking? No, really. We wanted to go on this particular tour SO BAD that we were on the phone making reservations as we were in line for a roller coaster during our Cedar Point Run and Race Half Marathon Weekend.
Why is THIS particular tour so high on our “MUST DO” list? Besides getting a chance to learn more about the only Disney theme park that Walt actually got a chance to be a part of, the tour includes a stop at Walt’s personal apartment – above the fire station on Main Street, U.S.A. A chance to see where Walt and his family used to spend time? Yes, please!
While we want to share some of the vast amount of Disneyland and Walt specific stories that were shared on the tour – we’ll do our best to not spoil the greatness that was this tour – just get you excited for your turn!
First Stop: Town Square Fire Station
Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955. While this was a momentous and historic occasion for Disney, the day did not go quite as planned. Disneyland’s opening day was referred to by cast members as “Black Sunday” due to all of the problems experienced at the park. The asphalt on Main Street USA had not had time to properly cure – which meant many of the 1950’s female park goers, decked out in their Sunday best, ended up having their heels sink and get stuck in the road. As the park was then only surrounded with a chain link fence, an enterprising farmer with property that backed up to the park perimeter, put up a ladder and charged people to climb over into the park. This, along with counterfeit tickets, meant the park was soon overflowing with more guest than it could handle. This meant that the restaurants and carts soon ran out of food and drink – and a plumber’s union strike meant that Walt had to choose working bathrooms over working drinking fountains for opening day. As gas leak meant that Fantasyland had to be closed and most of Tomorrowland was incomplete – Walt had the Imagineers cover up the area with banners and balloons so people would walk right by.
Cast members wanted to shield Walt from the issues of the day, so he didn’t learn of many of the issues until he read about them in the next day’s newspaper. Instead of being upset, Walt viewed the issues of the day as an opportunity and went on with his Imagineers to fix them in record time. Disneyland sou;d welcome it’s 1,000,000th guest during it’s first year of operation.
Stop: Town Square Flag Pole
Here our Tour Guide shared with us Walt’s Disneyland dedication speech (see top of this post). One of the great things about this tour were the many extra audio clips in Walt’s own voice – really made you feel like you where there!
Stop: Main Street (and the awesome personalized windows)
The names painted in the windows along Main Street serve as credits for some of the many people who contributed in some manner to the parks. Typically they appear as fictional businesses (realtors, dentists, etc.), and often refer to a hobby of or development made by the person honored. Walt honored his father, Elias Disney, with his own window above the Emporium.
Stop: The Hub and the Partners Statue
To build the park itself would require millions of dollars. Walt found the answer for a significant amount of the funding in television. In exchange for a weekly one-hour show on ABC, the network would put up $500,000 in cash and guarantee $4.5 million in loans. Additionally, ABC would have one-third ownership in the park. Walt would eventually buy out their share and the Disney company would wholly own Disneyland.
On the evening of Wednesday, October 27, 1954, at 7:30 p.m., most people watching television tuned into ABC to catch the premiere of a new program hosted by famed producer Walt Disney called Disneyland. It was during the first 15 minutes or so that they learned in detail of a new kind of amusement park: a clean, family-friendly park consisting of different themed areas. Over the course of the next 10 months, Walt introduced America to Disneyland and shared the construction process with anxious viewers.
On July 17, 1955, the opening of Disneyland was covered on a live television special, Dateline: Disneyland, which is not technically considered to be part of the series. It was hosted by Walt along with Bob Cummings, Art Linkletter, Ronald Reagan, and featured various
other guests. While the opening of the now landmark park certainly was an historic event, it is also noteworthy that, at the time, the program was the world’s largest live telecast.
Stop: Walk through Sleeping Beauty Castle to Fantasyland
The drawbridge on Sleeping Beauty Castle is an actual working drawbridge. It has only been used twice – the first time during Opening Day and the second in 1983 for the Fantasyland rededication.
Each of the horses on King Arthur’s Carrousel are unique and have their own name. The lead horse is named Jingles. You can stop by City Hall on Main Street and get a full listing of all the horses’ names.
Ride: Peter Pan’s Flight
Prior to riding the attraction (with NO WAIT!), we were tasked by our tour guide to try and find the Hidden Mickey on the attraction. We have to admit – this is one of the hardest Hidden Mickey’s to find. As you fly over London and pass Big Ben, turn around and look behind you – Mickey can be seen
in one of Big Ben’s windows. This is the ONLY full body Hidden Mickey. NOTE: If you want to make sure not to miss it, you need to be seated on the left side of your flying ship.
Stop: Frontierland (and Lilian Disney’s Petrified Tree)
Walt was a great lover of road trips. During a road trip with his family in 1956, Walt visited Pike Forest Fossil Beds, a privately owned petrified forest area in Colorado that is now part of Florrisant Fossil Beds National Monument. He was so enchanted, he talked the owner into selling him a specimen as an anniversary gift for his wife, Lillian. On receiving the gift, Lillian commented that it wouldn’t fit on the mantel and donated it to Disneyland in September 1957. It has been in it’s riverfront spot on the Rivers of America in Frontierland ever since.
Stop: New Orleans Square (and the recently remodeled Club 33 entrance)
It was at the 1964 World’s Fair where Walt visited the private VIP lounges of the large corporate sponsors that allegedly caused him to began forming the concept of his own VIP lounge within Disneyland. It wasn’t long after his return back to the studio that Walt’s private lounge began it’s initial development.
After years of planning, Club 33 became a reality in May of 1967. Sadly enough, it was never seen by its creator because of his untimely death five months earlier.
Club 33 just recently reopened after an extensive remodel that included the addition of The Jazz Lounge, which Walt originally envisioned for the club.
Who knows someone that can GET US IN TO CLUB 33?!?! We could be convinced to pay for dinner…
As you wait in line for the train, listen for the clicking sounds from the station across the way. That’s Walt’s Opening Day Speech repeating over and over in morse code.
In 1966 The Haunted Mansion opens in what is now New Orleans Square, becoming the most technologically advanced attraction of the time. Originally conceived as a walk-through attraction, Disney held out until a continuously moving transportation system (named the “omnicar” or “omnimover”) could be developed for the ride that never had to stop – even when loading.
Ride: Disneyland Railroad
Once again, we were escorted onto the ride without having to wait (I think we’re getting spoiled…).
In 1959, Disneyland introduced the “E” ticket. The first two “E” ticket attractions were the experimental Swiss-made Alweg Disneyland Monorail and the world’s first tubular steel roller coaster, the Matterhorn Bobsleds. The Matterhorn is a 1/100 version of the 14,700ft high Swiss Alps peak, and tops out at 147ft. It is the park’s highest point. Besides being the first tubular steel roller coater, the Matterhorn was also the first roller coaster to allow the multiple dispatch of trains.
In a memo that he dictated on August 7, 1954, Walt listed The Auto Speedway as number five for The Land of Tomorrow. The name transitioned into Autopia by October 30, 1954 and stayed that way ever since.
Sponsored by Richfield (1955–1970), it represented the future of America’s highways. Bob Gurr, a recent graduate from an automotive design school, created the design of the body for the car, inspired by a Porsche 550 Spider and a custom Ferrari he had once seen. Cars without bumpers were almost completely destroyed by the test drivers, so bumpers were fitted around the vehicle and spring-loaded bumpers were eventually installed to discourage collisions.
Imagineer Bob Gurr tells the story how the Autopia got a “garage”: After Disneyland opened, we had a lot of trouble with the Autopia cars. The majority of them were failing, and no one had figured out the support side of the attractions. I had been repairing the cars with my own tools on-site. Walt came by, looked at the whole scene, and asked, ‘What do you need?” I told him we needed mechanics to work on the cars and that we didn’t have any kind of facilities. In less than an hour, here comes this tractor dragging an old building, and the drivers says, ‘Here’s your building. Where do you want it?’ We had mechanics the next morning.”
Walt Disney was fascinated with the life of Abraham Lincoln. As a child, he even recited Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to his elementary school class. The first Audio-Animatronics version of Lincoln debuted in 1964 at the New York World’s Fair. The show was so life-like that National Geographic magazine called the figure “alarming” in its realism. In 1965, the smash hit was relocated to Disneyland Park, where it has been enjoyed in one incarnation or another ever since.
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, along with the Carousel of Progress and It’s A Small World were three attractions Disney created for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.
Watch a clip from Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.
Stop: Opera House
In the early 1960s, Walt Disney had a huge success in the entertainment industry, as well as having a family with many grandchildren. In watching his grandchildren grow up, Walt began to worry about the world of the future they would inhabit. He began to notice that the modern cities were hectic, disorganized, dirty, and riddled with crime. This was a far cry from Disney’s clean and controlled Disneyland Park in California. The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) was a concept developed by Walt Disney near the end of his lifetime.
Recorded on October 27, 1966, less than two months before his death, Walt Disney made a 25-minute film about his plans for the Florida Project, then dubbed “Disney World”. In the film, Walt himself explains briefly how the Florida property will be utilized and how his EPCOT concept will work with the other aspects of Disney World.
Disney made this film primarily to persuade and encourage American industry and various corporations to opt in and help Walt Disney Productions in the creation and running of EPCOT. Disney also encouraged the
industrial companies to come up with their best ideas in technology, so that those ideas could be continuously demonstrated in the city.
With the help of concept art and animation, Disney showed what the city would look like and how it would work. However, he reminded the viewing audience that the sketches and paintings are only a starting point in the conceptualization of EPCOT, stating: “Everything in this room will change time and time again as we move ahead. But the basic philosophy of what we’re planning for Disney World is going to remain very much as it is right now”.
Stop: Walt’s Apartment
How cool was it to go into Walt’s personal apartment? So cool it came with instructions!
As Disneyland was constructed, Walt Disney wanted a place to stay and watch the activity. So, he had a special apartment constructed on the second floor of the Main Street Firehouse. Private, and hidden from the rest of Disneyland, it was the perfect place for Walt to do quiet work, or enjoy with his family.
The apartment is very small, but was fully operational. It had a small bathroom, with a shower (which is WAY ahead of it’s time), along with a small kitchenette. The original decorator of the apartment was Emil Kuri, a set designer for many Disney films, and also the decorator of Main Street, U.S.A itself. Walt’s wife Lillian was know to purchase antiques from the shop originally located on Main Street, U.S.A and many items still in the apartment have the original 1950’s Disneyland price tags still attached!
The apartment also features a patio. Lillian Disney often used this patio for her afternoon tea, or to entertain guests. The patio very private and is blocked from any observers from the street. When you are standing in front of the Fire Station, look for the lattice on the roof to your left.
Originally, the fire pole in the Fire Station below actually started in Walt’s apartment and his grandchildren loved sliding down into the park in the mornings before the guest’s arrived. An enterprising guest managed to shimmy up the pole – only to find Walt, sitting in his apartment, reading the newspaper and drinking his morning coffee. The pole was then cut-off and sealed to prevent guest access to the apartment.
On Disneyland’s Opening Day, the original Mouseketeers prepared for their entrance in the apartment. Mousketeer, Sharon Baird remembers Walt watching the crowds enter the park from his apartment window:
“On the opening day of Disneyland, we (Mouseketters) were in Walt Disney’s private apartment above the Main Street Fire Station when the gates of the park opened for the first time. I was standing next to him at the window, watching the guests come pouring through the gates. When I looked up at him, he had his hands behind his back, a grin from ear to ear, I could see a lump in his throat and a tear streaming down his cheek. He had realized his dream. I was only twelve years old at the time, so it didn’t mean as much to me then. But as the years go by, that image of him becomes more and more endearing.”
Too soon – really the 3-hour tour went by SO FAST, it was time for lunch and the end of the tour.
Prior to the start of the tour, during check-in, we had the opportunity to select our lunch entrees which included the choice of several sandwiches and salads, a beverage, and a dessert. We we arrived, our lunch greater us – lovingly set up in grand Disney style with our name! I was tempted to take my empty salad container home 😉
Along with a great lunch, we got a AWESOME commemorative pin highlighting several great Walt quotes.
We highly suggest this tour! It was jammed packed with lots of great Disneyland history and we learned so much about Walt and his park.
Have you experienced A Walk in Walt’s Footsteps? Another Disneyland tour?