Disneyland: My Favorite year

Written by Sam Gennawey. Posted in Samland


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.

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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  • VintageMouse

    1977. The addition of Space Mountain completed Tomorrowland as Walt imagined it.

  • HeeHee

    Genius topic Sam! However, I can’t decide between a year I actually visited the park, or a year I am too young to have experienced. I would have loved to run into Walt at the park, that would be the ultimate fan experience for me or to have been a teenager watching some seriously great jazz happening at The Plaza…well, then there’s the first time I was there, I was 5 and vividly remember Mickey Mouse coming up behind me tapping my on the shoulder and scaring me to bits when I turned around to see his face right in front of mine…then there’s 1959 and the opening of…yep, I can’t do it.

  • DobbysCloset

    You are asking me to choose between my children? I turned 12 in 1967 and your piece did a beautiful job of taking me back to that year’s visits. Thanks so much!

  • camplkc

    You hit it right on the nose!!
    I had just turned 9 years old in 1967, and yes Disneyland had come into it’s own at that time. The sad part was remembering that Walt had just passed and he would not be able to see what we all had watched him work on(every Sunday night on the ” Wonderful World of Color”) but the joint was jump’n and for the next 10 years I never missed a summer!

    -Update: we are watching this magic happen again with the re-opening of California Adventure..(“Disneyland will never be completed..”)

  • FredSimmons

    What was great about Tomorrowland then, was that it really seemed to represent a “great, big beautiful tomorrow” – a glimpse into a bright future world that we could all look forward to.

    I was disappointed when Disneyland opted to replace this optimistic vision with a Tomorrowland based on visions from the past (ala Jules Verne), rather than attempt to conjure up another inspiring vision of our own future. It was virtually an admission that they lacked the imagination to create a world of the future that would inspire future generations, and were willing to settle for easy maintenance that would require few (if any) updates as the years progressed.

    I feel sorry for the new generations of children who will never experience the same kind of excitement of seeing a bright, beautiful future laid out before them, with all the promise that held.

    • Atomobile

      Amen to you Fred.

  • Goofy85

    1959: I would probably spend most of the day wondering around the parking lot, admiring all the cars.

    • DisneylandManFan

      GREAT one, Goofy85!

  • fnord

    Fred Simmons,
    You nailed the tomorrow land situation. Well said. But the greater issue is the same sort
    of malaise creeping throughout the park, corrupting what was once the happiest place on
    Fantastic example: fantasy faire!!!

  • fnord

    Other examples: MAIN STREET, adventureland, FRONTIERLAND, TTOOOONNTTOOWWNN,
    (did I place enough emphasis?,)

  • fnord

    Also out of control and non period holiday decorations, I’ll never again visit DLR during the holidays. Just the stuff they burden the beautiful castle with steals it’s awesome magic.

  • Atomobile

    I have two years: 1967 when the whole New Tomorrowland opened and my parents took us there within a month. I had stood at the (to me then) HUGE walls that blocked off Tomorrowland during the rebuild over at least three visits and recall asking my dad over and over if it was EVER going to be finished. I don’t remember the original Tomorrowland at all, as I was too small. My parents have pictures of me there, but I don’t remember it. As a 4 year old however, when the walls FINALLY came down and I stood at the portal of “A world on the move” I DO remember the first time I saw those gleaming “gates” and the fascination of the Peoplemover cars gliding silently overhead. The Rocket Jets beyond whirled like a huge kenetic sculpture (alas, that’s what they’ve been relegated too now). I also remember the apprehension and amazement I felt as I watched people being shrunken before my eyes as my Grandparents and I waited for Innerspace… it was to become my favorite ride until Horizons opened at EPCOT.

    My second year is 1978 for my best friend’s 15th birthday. It was the FIRST TIME I’d been allowed to run free in the park with my buddies. Space Mountain had only been opened a year and the Starcade was like Pleasure Island to a teenager… It had TWO FLOORS of VIDEO GAMES! AMAZING! One of my favorites, The Carosel of Progress had moved out and America Sings was still in its place, rocking it every day. IN the entry area of Space Mountain was a stage with cool bands playing all the time entertaining audiences that didn’t fit at the terrace and amusing those standing in the two hour lines! (No FastPass back then… You had to EARN your amazing space adventure through hours of grueling standing in the hot sun.) All of the wondrous moving experiences were still there and the Future seemed brighter than ever before as the 80′s loomed on the new coming decade… I was about to get my license and begin taking girls to Disneyland on dates. This last hurrah of pure young pre-manhood “buddiness” still sticks to me to this day. I don’t see any of those friends anymore, but I still am riding the Monorail, the Peoplemover, Matterhorn, Innerspace, and standing in line with them waiting for Space Mountain. And it’s still a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow in my memory.

    • DisneylandManFan

      Atomobile, we are kindred hearts. I agree with you on every point. Especially with the “shout out” to Horizons in EPCOT. But, I’m a die hard optimist. I think Disneyland’s Tomorrowland can regain the feelings in this new generation that we, and many others, felt when we entered this section of the Park. It still will be indeed, a “Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”.

  • Big D

    I’m going to go with 1995, which for me was the last year before things went bad. Indiana Jones had just opened and Tomorrowland was still cool. Then, in 96, Disney made the decision to get rid of the Main Street Electrical Parade, then came Light Magic, the New Tomorrowland, and of course DCA.