Disneyland: My Favorite year

Written by Sam Gennawey. Posted in Samland

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Published on February 21, 2013 at 4:04 am with 32 Comments

So what was the most magical year at Disneyland? If you could go back and visit, which year would you choose? Would it be 1959 with a bunch of new attractions? Or 1963? Some would argue that the mid-1980s were the golden age. Maybe even today is the climax. Good game to play with others, eh?

A good candidate might be 1967. New Orleans Square and it’s a small world were still new. And the Park would open two major projects that Walt Disney was deeply involved with. Pirates of the Caribbean would set a new standard of showmanship. Tomorrowland would be reinvented and become A World on the Move. There is much to be said about Pirates but this time I am going to focus on Tomorrowland.

The dedication for Tomorrowland summed up Walt’s feelings. It said, “Science and technology have already given us the tools we need to build the world of the future. If we use the right now, we won’t have to wait to know what tomorrow will bring. I believe we will prove with new Tomorrowland that today IS the future.

New Tomorrowland ’67 covered five acres or the equivalent to more than four football fields. Cost of the project was approximately $20 million. The site plan was rather clever. The WED designers claim “a walk around the new Tomorrowland area — from door to door of each attraction — measures just one-half mile. This short walking distance is the result of careful positioning of the pavilions around a pivotal point (the PeopleMover station) without creating a “crowded” effect. Who thinks like this today?

That 85-foot tall central structure was known as the “theme” building with the Rocket Jets on top and the WEDway PeopleMover station on the second level. On the ground level was the Space Bar where guests could pick up a sandwich or a soft drink. The architecture for the entire area was described as “a study in pleasing textural contrasts” made of “uninterrupted surfaces [that] complement colorful, highly imaginative murals and sculptured panels of metallic veneer.”

The Rocket Jets were the adult version of Dumbo. Guests took one of two gantry elevators to the top level of the “theme” building. They board one of twelve jets and adjust the altitude with hydraulic pressure and compressed air for one and one-half minutes.

On the second level was the WEDway PeopleMover sponsored by Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. The 58 constantly moving trains were boarded via a revolving turntable. The trains were pushed along by 500 motors embedded in the track. Guests could preview Tomorrowland and get a peek inside all of the shows and attractions. There was never a wait as the ride could handle a remarkable 4,800 guests per hour. There was even a V.I.P. Lounge located on the back side of the Plaza Inn.

The first of the new attractions was Adventure Thru Inner Space presented by Monsanto, the giant chemical company. There were 123 “Atomobiles” that would transport guests through the “Mighty Microscope” where they “appear to shrink beyond the size of a snowflake and journey into the universe of the atom.” Over the next six minutes they would encounter crystal like ice and enter “into the atom where the nucleus resembles a giant sun.” In August 1969, Cast Members were able to accommodate 35,583 guests in a 17 hour day. I am sure a celebration took place in the V.I.P. Guest lounge that was next to the loading area.

The Flight to the Moon presented by McDonnell Douglas was completely revamped. The attraction was divided into three experiences. Guests begin in Mission Control where they listen to Flight Control Director Dr. Tom Morrow, an Audio-Animatronics character, banter with a live Cast Member. This was a first. After the briefing, guests board one of the two 162-seat moon ships and feel the sensations of the pull of gravity and “weightlessness.” The journey through space would take twelve minutes.

The marquee attraction was the Carousel of Progress presented by General Electric. The show was one of the big hits at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. At Disneyland, the show was installed in a 200-foot wide two-level circular structure with six 240-seat theaters mounted on a revolving platform. The platform revolved every 4 minutes. The building was decorated with a colorful, abstract mural.

The show takes guests “into the homes of four generations of the same family from the days before electricity to the present.” It featured 32 Audio-Animatronics “stars.” As the show came to an end, guests were invited to the second level to view the scale model of Progress City, “an entire community captured in capsulized realism.” The fully animated model was 6,900 square foot model and built at 1/8” to the foot. When the attraction opened, only women were allow to operate the show. There was also a V.I.P. Guest Lounge on the second level.

A new version of America the Beautiful debuted in the Circle-Vision 360 theater. While guests waited, they were entertained by one of the “attractive Bell Telephone” hostesses. All of the hostesses (yes, all women) worked for the Bell Telephone System and work at Disneyland from four to six months then back to their old jobs. The 12 minute show was presented with a new system using 9 synchronized, 35mm motion picture projectors and stereophonic sound broadcast through 19 speakers. The post-show area allowed for guests to play with the advance telecommunication displays including a speaker phone!

The Tomorrowland Terrace (called the Refreshment Gardens during development) presented by Coca-Cola was the place to be when it came time to eat or dance. WED designers created a “facility without exterior walls that would obstruct views of the always-moving panorama of Tomorrowland. Disneyland was rightly proud of the the infrared gas-fired conveyor-broiler that could prepare 1,500 hamburgers per hour. There was also a subterranean network of conveyors to take the bussing procedures out of sight. When it came time for the live entertainment, an modern oval planter rose from the ground level and it became a canopy for a stage. The canopy over the dining area would come alive with 450 tiny lights.

Also in 1967, the Disneyland-Alweg Monorail got four brand new Mark III trains. The five-car trains carried 127 guests on the 2.5 mile, 10-minute loop to the Disneyland Hotel and back. The Matterhorn was considered part of Tomorrowland, the Submarine Voyage was still taking guests under the North Pole, and the two Autopias were still running over the feet of Cast Members.

If you needed to buy some souvenirs you had three places to choose from. The Mod Hatter carried “way-out hats of every description.” The Character Shop, was the second largest store in the Park and carried a wide variety of merchandise. There was even a temporary souvenir stand located in Alpine Gardens.

In just twelve years, the Park had grown from 22 attractions to over 52. The initial investment of $17-million had grown to $95 million. More than $40 million was spent since 1964. The result is more than 60 million people had passed through the turnstiles since opening day.

Those guests have included 11 kings and queens, 26 presidents, prime ministers, and other heads of state as well as 36 royal princes and princesses. The U.S. State Department described the Park as “one of the nation’s greatest goodwill builders.” Visiting Disneyland was so popular with dignitaries, it was the second most requested destination after Washington D.C.

Not only has Disneyland prospered but Anaheim had also done okay. A new 9,100 seat Anaheim Convention Center opened with more than 200,000 square feet of display space. Anaheim Stadium, home of the California Angels recently opened. Grow in the hotel inventory was unprecedented. In 1955, there were 60 motel-hotel rooms in the Anaheim area. By 1967, there were 125 hotels and motels with more than 6,500 rooms within a five mile radius of the Park. The Disneyland Hotel had expanded to 610 guests rooms and a new 250-seat coffee shop had opened. There was a 9-hole golf course, a driving range, a miniature golf course, and an Olympic-size swimming pool.

Many of the traditions we know today were in place by 1967 including the annual Christmas parade, a giant New Year’s Eve Party, Grad Nights, and Summertime dance parties.

What is your favorite year?


Hard for me to believe but my upcoming book, THE DISNEYLAND THAT WAS, IS, AND NEVER WILL BE, is already available for pre-order.

THE DISNEYLAND THAT WAS, IS, AND NEVER WILL BE
A Biography of an American Institution
Walt Disney said, “Disneyland is the star. Everything else is in the supporting role.”
The Disneyland that Was, Is, and Never Will Be is the story of how Walt Disney’s greatest creation was conceived, nurtured, and how it grew into a source of joy and inspiration for generations of visitors. Despite his successors battles with the whims of history and their own doubts and egos, Walt’s vision maintained momentum, thrived, and taught future generations how to do it Walt Disney’s way.

 

      

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About Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennawey is an urban planner who has collaborated with communities throughout California over the course of more than 100 projects to create a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. Sam is a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Regional Planning History Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving municipal, county, and private sector planning documents from throughout Los Angeles County. Sam is the author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City which you can find on Amazon.

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  • Trumpet

    Great Article Sam

    if I could go back to any year of visiting Disneyland, it would be 2001, as the Rocket Rods were still operating.

    However, if I could go back to any year in WDW, it would be 1996, as I got a pluto soft toy. I have always loved Pluto, and dogs, and it wa fantastic, as my parents nrought him, but I never knew until the morning, when he was on my bed. I still have him, sitting on my bed, pride of place at the bottom, guarding my room!

    Thanks Again Sam

    Trumpet

  • ogso

    Favorite year would be 1977. It was grad night. Everyone was dressed to the nines. And out of the tomorrowland terrace rose…. Wild Cherry playing “Play that funky music”. A night to remember. It was the Disneyland that I first could experience as an “adult”.

  • TCadillac

    1988 was the best year. America Sings, brand new Star Tours, knowing Splash Mountain was only a year away.

  • eicarr

    1987, the peak of tomorrowland. With America Sings, Missin to Mars, Star Tours, Captain Eo, the Skyway, the jam packed starcade, circle vision, subs, and autopia. Like EPCOT, it was ruined when it’s careful master plan was derailed with cheap “improvements” that ruined the futuristic wonderment of a tightly woven overall experience. Designed for little or no lines, I could almost walk on the peoplemover for a slow and restful family experience over the sub, by it’s a small world and under the skyway going into a Matterhorn cave. The smooth ride was not only a welcomed relaxing experience, but a way to be part of the genius that was once Tomorrowland.

    But I would rather go into the future to see what overall experience the same makers of cars land can do with Tomorrowland. I have faith in the future and the ability for DL to learn from its ’98 tomorrowland failure and ’12 Carsland success.

  • Ravjay12

    Great article! My favorite year to go back would be 1989. I got to go to the cast preview of Splash Mountain. It was the last thing my best childhood friend and I did before he passed away.

  • DebG

    Disneyland 1967 was amazing.Of course I was 7 and it was my first trip to the park. Tomorrowland was so clean and bright… and optimistic.I think I miss every single ride there,even the America the Beautiful movie that mother dragged us to (you had to stand for 12 whole minutes,what fun is that to a kid?).Although I kinda understand why they took down the Mary Blair Mural, I still sigh to myself as I walk past Star Tours.

  • Werner

    Great article! I am intrigued by the mention of some “V.I.P. lounges” — what were (are?) these? Had never heard of them before.

  • alanplm

    ’67 and ’68 really were special for a kid to run from one land to another !
    I miss that Tommorowland going from one attraction to another ….though I have to give shout out to ’77 when Space Mountain was new !

  • MrOCT31

    Man I miss Mission to Mars and the People Mover!

  • JiminyCricketFan

    I have to give the nod to 1979, when Space Mountain was open to really feel that Tomorrowland was complete. That drawing of the “space port” which was on Disneyland maps for years always intrigued me. I feel that Tomorrowland was not completely the Tomorrowland that Walt envisioned until that was built.
    You might ask why not 1977? Well, Big Thunder opened then, and it really changed Frontierland into a real destination for thrill seekers. Bear Country had been opened for a few years which was a great family addition to the park. You could even see the Golden Horseshoe review still playing in the park. You could see Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln but also see the Walt Disney Story and Walt’s office. So my vote is for 1979 as the high point for a classic Disneyland.

  • dlpostcardguy

    1967/68 would have to be it for me. It’s the farthest back I can remember as a kid (I was 6 when it opened) and I had made a little display in my room of things from the park–mainly the new tomorrowland. For me the 67 Tomorrowland is the best and has not yet been topped overall. I love the kinetics of the land. That is one thing that is sorely missing I hope they bring back in any new Tomorrowland re-do. Thanks for the article!

  • Edward Allen

    Great column, Sam. I was there in June of ’67 and can verify how great things were. I was there in ’70 as well and recall how impressed we were with the marina at the Disneyland Hotel; we had the thrill of lodging in the Bonita Tower (boy, those waterfalls out front were spectacular). I was there in ’90 when DL celebrated 35 years (like me! Both of us were born in ’55) and I was there in 2005 when we both were 50 and celebrated half a century. But my fondest memory was my first trip with my parents and sister in 1963. My anticipation as a 7 1/2 year old walking through that front gate at Disneyland at twilight cannot be expressed in words. I think my heart was about ready to explode. But the best part of the ’63 trip was one day at the Park when my mom grabbed us and exclaimed……..I think that’s HIM. And sure enough, a dignified man in a suit strolled quickly though Main Street smiled and waved at the crowd and disappeared in a building with some other men in suits. Yep, I was there when the man himself – Walter Elias Disney – personally oversaw his Magic Kingdom. And that’s why 1963 is the BEST and MY FAVORITE YEAR.

    • danielz6

      Haha WOW…I don’t think any of us can top that sir!

    • DisneylandManFan

      Absolutely AWESOME! Best story I’ve heard so far. 1963 was the year I was born. For you to actually be in the same park as Walt AT THE SAME TIME??? Nope….can’t top that! :-)

  • Joshnyah

    July 13, 1955 Walt and Lillian’s Anniversary at the Golden Horseshoe. Next would be July 16th 1955 for the corporate sponsors. Does anyone know if they had full access to the park? Could you imagine avoiding the counterfeit crowds? My third choice would be opening day. I would love to see the shiny new park.

  • CCS

    I’ve been going to Disneyland since the late 1950′s. My folks indoctrinated us early! We tried POP in Santa Monica, Belmont Park down in San Diego, Knott’s Berry Farm, Calico Ghost Town, SeaWorld and The Pike in Long Beach. But nothing compared, and D-land has been a tradition ever since. I can’t pick a favorite year, but some of the best memories are of 1967-69, my junior high years (although these were tumultuous times in the American collective experience, and also when guys couldn’t wear pocket T-shirts or hair below their collars in the Park). Making out on Monsanto; trying to get “picked up” by other junior high kids who were there on private GE nights or church youth group trips. I’m smiling now at the recollection. New Orleans Square, Pirates and Haunted Mansion were special, too. I recall how one friend faked losing a contact on Pirates and stopping the ride for awhile! OMG, the things we did. Back then, contacts were a big deal and the ride operators actually put up with this bit of shenanigans. I doubt that would happen today. The piano player at Coke Corner was my favorite live performer. It still pleases me to walk by the Silhouette Shop on Main Street. My mom kept the collection of age-progression silhouettes of me and my three brothers in frames that I now have. All this talk has got me fired up to go this weekend! Thanks to MiceChat and MiceAge for all the stories and photos…. and MEMORIES.

    • CCS

      Not that it needs clarification, but I meant contact lenses. Nowadays, “contacts” are people on your Outlook.

  • scarymouse

    I would say 1969, I was only nine and it was my first visit my sisters had been before and were older , they wanted to go on the new haunted mansion ride….but I was petrified, after some coaxing I went ….It was the greatest thing I had ever experienced…..wait Disneyland was the greatest place. It turned out to be the greatest day of my life…..Too be honest in those days , I don’t know if it was because I was a kid…but Disneyland was a marvelous place and there wasn’t anything there that I didn’t like, shows ,rides ,shops, eats, everything. Today, well I’m jaded, crowds,construction,prices…….I wish I was a kid again back in 69…..but then again when I go through those gates……I feel as giddy as that nine year old, just thinkin about it put a smile on my face, Thanks Sam!