Today, Sunday November 18th, is the birthday of the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. Or, rather, it would have been if it was still at Disneyland today.
What had been a landmark Johann Wyss novel in 1812 and a blockbuster Disney adventure film in 1960, became the world’s most elaborate tree house in 1962 at Disneyland.
Disney was looking for something to complement the Jungle Cruise, which had been operating as Adventureland’s only high-profile attraction since 1955. After the success of the film, it was decided that the Swiss Family Treehouse would be a clever addition to the northern border of Adventureland, where guests round the corner to Frontierland. It would also give guests a chance to explore the Treehouse from the film for themselves, up close and personally.
Opening as a B-ticket walk through attraction, the tree house took its design and décor from the Swiss Family Robinson movie sets and props, which included items salvaged from the Robinsons’ sinking ship and homemade creations fashioned from jungle materials. It included a library, kitchen, private rooms and viewing platforms. All of this was furnished and functional, as if the family did actually live there. You were able to view all this using the 139 steps on the wooden stairways throughout the Treehouse.
The most memorable thing about the Treehouse was an ingenious water-delivery system that lifted hundreds of gallons of water per hour to the upper levels using pulleys, bamboo dippers, and bamboo chutes.
Throughout the tour, a lively Buddy Baker composition from the movie, “The Swisskapolka,” served as the background music.
Almost as impressive as the Treehouse itself was the “tree” it was made upon. Officially known as a “Disneyodendron semperflorens grandis” (which translates into ‘big ever-blooming Disney tree’) by its designers, the massive steel-and-concrete structure rose “70 feet over the jungle and spread brilliant colored branches 80 feet in width,” according to Disneyland’s 1964 souvenir book. And yes, that meant that it was longer than it was tall!
Underneath the tree itself was the foundation of its “roots” which drove another 42 feet downward and helped hold up the 150 ton structure. The 300,000 leaves that adorned the tree were artificial and reddish in color until they faded in the harsh sun and were replaced by green plastic instead.
True to the Robinson’s heritage, a Swiss flag flew from the top of the tree.
The film’s stars were on hand for the dedication, which featured a hand-painted sign in the Jungle Lookout that welcomed guests with the following inscription:
” . . . In this compound we often pause to contemplate our small world. Here adventure beckons . . . with every view & every sound, the jungle & its river call out their mystery. . . . invite us to new discovery.”
That jungle & river alluded to in the description were actually visible from the treetops, because it afforded spectacular views of Adventureland and the Rivers of America.
As cherished as the Treehouse was for almost four decades, it got a dramatic makeover in 1999 and reopened as Tarzan’s Treehouse. A few souvenirs have been retained in Tarzan’s new home in tribute to the departed Robinsons, including a version of Swisskapolka at the exit.
Though it no longer exists at Disneyland, the Swiss Family still have homes in Florida, Japan, and France.
Did you enjoy the Swiss Family Treehouse Disneyland? Do you miss it or make a special point to visit it in Orlando?
Available on 11/20/2012!
A brand new book from a Disney Legend, as told to MiceChat’s own Jeff Heimbuch!
The Imagineers, those men and women who helped Walt Disney bring his creations to life, have achieved legendary status among theme park enthusiasts. It’s Kind Of A Cute Story is the life story of one of the most beloved Imagineers, Rolly Crump. Covering his long and varied career, including designing some of Disney’s most famous attractions and working directly with Walt himself, Rolly’s stories weave into a lighthearted yet riveting narrative of his life and accomplishments. Packed with over 200 photos, many of which have never been seen before, It’s Kind Of A Cute Story is a tribute to the life and work of a true original.
Also available as a limited edition, signed hardcover from Bamboo Forest Publishing.
And save the date of February 2nd, 2013 to meet Rolly Crump for yourself and have him sign your copy of the book during the MiceAge 10th anniversary celebration (more information about this event available soon).
by Jeff Heimbuch
If you have a tip, questions, comments, or gripes, please feel free email me at [email protected] or leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!
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Jeff can help you plan your perfect Disney vacation with Fairy Godmother Travel! Call him at 732-278-7404 or email him at [email protected] for a free, no-obligation quote for Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Aulani or Adventures By Disney.
Jeff also writes another column called From The Mouth Of The Mouse. We invite you to check it out.
Jeff co-hosts the weekly VidCast Communicore Weekly as well!
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