Due to popular demand, I’m bringing you a new edition of the encyclopedia Samlandica today. I was inspired by dance, design, and dinosaurs. Lot’s of history here, and a lot of really fond memories. I have a feeling that some of you have stories of your own to share, particularly of today’s first item, Disneyland’s Videopolis
Welcome Back To Videopolis
Well before there was a Glowfest, ElecTRONica, or a Mad T Party, there was Videopolis. Disney CEO Michael Eisner and President Frank Wells were brand new at Walt Disney Productions and they “wanted to show the world that Disney was waking up…that it was different” according to Imagineer Tony Baxter. The Imagineers were already working on Star Tours and Splash Mountain when Eisner asked, “Now that we have these two ride ideas, we open them when…next year or what?” Baxter had to break the bad news and told them “Star Tours will take three years and Splash, which is a lot more elaborate will take five.” Eisner was used to having things done on his schedule and “he about died” Baxter said. “So, what he did in the short term was he put in Videopolis, which gave us a teen dance club of the John Travolta 1980s.”
Videopolis opened on June 22, 1985 at a cost of $3 million. It took a mere 105 days from design to installation. The park purchased some of the staging elements used at a 1984 Los Angeles Olympics facility.
Over the 5,000 square foot dance floor was a giant grid structure with a sophisticated light show that slowly lowered from the ceiling. Three camera crews captured the dancers and projected the images on two 16-foot screens and 70 video monitors. The venue was packed with all sorts of state-of-the-art technical effects including a large computerized display wall projecting images of the dancers and a system of “light sticks” that play tricks on the eyes of the dancers.
Imagineer Carl Bongiorno described Videopolis as “the first, the fastest, and the finest – it is the first attraction completed under the new Eisner-Wells team; the fastest construction project we’ve ever completed; and the finest dance facility of its kind anywhere.” Although Disney denied it at the time, the project was influence by the success of Club K at nearby Knott’s Berry Farm. The Knott’s venue was attracting up to 2,000 teenagers a night.
Disneyland wanted to ride on the music television wave and bring an edgier type of entertainment to attract a different audience; young adults and older teens. Park spokesman Al Flores said, “Obviously, we have never had trouble attracting families to Disneyland, but we have never been satisfied with our percentage of the teen market.”
The Videopolis venue was strategically placed near its a small world. The location was out of the way and the sound could be directed away from Fantasyland and toward the backstage area.
The venue was not without its critics. One mother wrote to the Anaheim Bulletin about “Punkers in Fantasyland.” She asserted since the dance club opened “It’s Halloween every day.”
One of the hit shows at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair was Ford’s Magic Skyway, created by the team at WED Enterprises. Visitors got to ride in one of 50 late model Ford convertibles propelled by the same technology that would be used on the WEDway PeopleMover and then go back in time and visit with cavemen, dinosaurs, and other exotic creatures. More than 15 million people saw the show at the Fair.
When it was time to bring the attraction back to Disneyland, Ford did not want to spend the money and Walt Disney was not satisfied with the animation of the caveman figures. But he did like the dinosaurs and wanted to bring those back to Anaheim. He felt the combination of the Grand Canyon diorama and the Primeval World would make for an an appropriate finale for the Disneyland and Santa Fe Railroad grand circle tour of the park.
On July 1, 1966, the Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad reopened with a new destination, the Grand Canyon Diorama and Primeval World. The trains left the the Tomorrowland depot and passed by the Grand Canyon diorama like they have been since 1958. A covered bridge providing street access to the backstage area was built and the dark space would act as a “time tunnel” taking guests back in time 300 million years.
The display was inspired by the animated film Fantasia and the environments that the dinosaurs inhabit reflect the passage of time. There are forty-six Audio-Animatronics figures.
In the beginning, the large set is dressed as a tropical rain forest filled with abundance; giant prehistoric plants, reptiles, and insects. A a group of brontosaurus are feeding on plants while guests witness the comical birth of happy triceratops babies.
As time passes, the environment changes to a drought stricken plain. Three ornithomimuses are trying to drink from a water hole while a 22-foot tall tyrannosaurus rex is in a perpetual battle with a stegosaurus near pouring lava.
The Disney Gallery
Walt Disney always wanted to have an art gallery to showcase the work done by the Imagineers and other Disney artists. Even before opening Disneyland according to Disney Legend John Hench. “He talked about doing it at the Studio, and he said, ‘We ought to have ourselves a little gallery next to the Commissary. Some of these guys around here are very good artists.’”
Maybe the idea could work at Disneyland. Hench said, “Now we have several decades of marvelous art to share with the public, art which was instrumental in turning Walt’s dreams for the Parks into reality.” The question was where to put the gallery.
In 1986, Imagineer Tony Baxter was working on an unrelated project. He was trying to figure out how to deal with the congestion in front of Pirates of the Caribbean. It was decided that a new entry treatment could help and Baxter proposed connecting Adventureland to New Orleans Square with an elevated walkway that crossed over the Pirates queue. As he was working on this solution, he realized that he could add a pair of sweeping staircases that lead to what was meant to be the private second-floor 3,000 square foot apartment for Walt and Roy Disney. The apartment never came to be after Walt’s death in 1966. A celebration of art inside of Walt’s personal residence seemed like a perfect fit.
The Disney Gallery opened on July 11. Guests climbed the staircase and entered through French doors into the living room. Artwork adorned the walls and most exhibits featured models or other artifacts. The master bedroom and guest bedroom were used as galleries. The dining room was turned into a retail space and the small kitchen became a sales counter. The climate controlled courtyard remained, even though the heating and air conditioning system was not used. Guests were allowed to sit on the balcony with an incredible view of the Rivers of America. Woven into the wrought iron railing are the initials for both Walt and Roy.
The first exhibit was The Art of Disneyland, which featured rarely seen original concept drawings and scales models of park attractions. Many other shows followed. However, the Gallery closed August 7, 2007 so the space could be converted into the Disneyland Dream Suite as part of a promotion for the Year of a Million Dreams campaign. The gallery was moved and eventually reopened in the old Bank Building on Town Square in Main Street in October 2009.
Well folks, those are my three stories. I’m sure I’ve sparked a memory or two in many of you. Sure would love to hear them in the comments below.
If you enjoy reading SAMLAND, you’ll love his book. Walt and the Promise of Progress City is a detailed look into how Walt Disney envisioned the future of communities. Along the way, we explore many facets of a fascinating man.