From the Crazy Mixed Up Files of Samland

Written by Sam Gennawey. Posted in Features, Samland

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Published on May 30, 2013 at 3:02 am with 5 Comments

I’m constantly working on all kinds of stories, research and ideas. Some become full blown articles here on MiceChat, others make it into books. Often, however, there are bits and pieces of ideas left on the cutting room floor. Let’s put a few of those to good use. In today’s Samland Grab Bag, we cover a range of topics: from an unsuccessful Six Flags venture, to the forming of a resort at Walt Disney World, and finally a brand new “game” that you can play while learning a bit of history. Let’s begin!

THE SAGA OF THE ST. LOUIS ADMIRAL

If you ever thought that DisneyQuest at Walt Disney World seemed like a white elephant, imagine what the management of Six Flags thought when they tried to do something really different in St. Louis, Missouri with the SS Admiral. In 1933, investors in St. Louis decided to build a 300-foot, state-of-the-art riverboat on top of a barge that was built in 1907. Designed by Maizie Krebs, a fashion illustrator for a St. Louis department store, the boat’s Art Deco look cost more than $1 million.

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In 1987, Six Flags took over the ship and converted it into an indoor theme park. With the price of admission ($4.95 for adults and $2.95 for children), guests got to see an Audio-Animatronic show and a multi-media show. There was a 400-seat Cabaret, that featured magic during the day, and a more adult-oriented cabaret show in the evening. A big draw was the large ballroom that could seat up to 700 for live shows and more than 1,000 people for dancing and dining.

If you got hungry, there was a 225-seat Oyster Bar and a 500-seat indoor/outdoor food court. The food court could be transformed into a disco at night. There was also a 200-seat fine dining restaurant. If that was not enough, there was also shopping and observations areas along the promenade decks.

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Apparently, it was not enough, as the venue was a huge flop. The Admiral opened on St. Patrick’s weekend and was closed and bankrupt by the first week of October. During its seven month run, attendance topped only 300,000 people.

Many factors contributed to the failure. Most locals did not appreciate the admission charge. This really brought down daytime visits. The nostalgic theme was very narrow and not enough of a draw for teens and young adults. Even worse that, at the time, downtown St. Louis was not a nice place to be and very few locals lived nearby. Six Flags struggled to position the attraction. Most visitors perceived it as an adult venue, which meant it did great business on Friday and Saturday nights. However, during the day and on weeknights, it was a ghost town.

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Other negative factors included the Cabaret, which never caught on, and the disco food court, which did at first but quickly faded. Of the shows, only the Audio-Animatronic show was popular. The multi-media show and the live shows were performed primarily to empty houses.

WHERE DID WDW MODERATE RESORTS COME FROM.

The mid-1980s was a tough time at Walt Disney World. Ever since the Magic Kingdom opened at the end of 1971, attendance was steadily going down. Even with millions spent on new attractions, it was not enough. It was thought that the opening of Epcot Center in 1982 would reverse the trend, but that did not happen. The only thing Epcot Center was successful at was having guests extend their stays.

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Management began to realize that the public’s perception of a WDW trip was very expensive. As much as they tried, Disney struggled to attract middle class visitors. If something was not done, attendance was likely to continue to spiral downward.

One of the ideas being floated was the creation of something similar to the very popular CenterParcs in Europe, founded in 1953. The resorts were designed to attract the growing middle class and give them themed residential villages clustered around retail, shows, and sports activities.

To make it work in Florida, it was suggested that the resorts range from 1,000 to 2,000 rooms. There should be plenty of amenities such as central sports facilities, swimming pools, tennis, hiking, and other activities. A variety of dining options should be offered such as a fast food and full service restaurants. There should also be a convenience store. Borrowing from Europe, giving it that Disney spin, the Caribbean Beach Resort opened on October 1, 1988.

COLLOQUIUM VIII:  “THE USE AND ABUSE OF THE URBAN BLOCK”

Presented by the Los Angeles Region Planning History Group

City of San Gabriel, City Hall Council Chambers 425 S. Mission Drive, San Gabriel, CA 91776**

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Free Parking at City Hall, Entering on McGroarty Street; parking also available at Mission Playhouse, 320 S. Mission Drive, San Gabriel

Continental Breakfast Reception:  9:30 a.m.

Colloquium and Lunch:  10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

The urban block is a critical and fundamental unit in every city. Its crucial role as the mediating element between individual site and neighborhood cannot be overestimated.  Yet, in many ways, this significance has been lost. For decades, the block has remained marginalized in how we plan, design and develop the urban landscape. Much time, effort, and treasure have been focused on individual lots and buildings, ignoring their sometimes detrimental impacts on urban fabric and urban life.  At the other end of the scale, many development projects are big enough to dwarf the block itself.  The block has been stretched, squashed, scraped and re-purposed. Suburban mega-blocks hold immense retail structures amid a sea of cars. Residential super-blocks with repetitive buildings disrupt traditional neighborhoods, and aging inner-city blocks lined with parking spaces disrupt and degrade the street scape.

In recent years, the design and configuration of the urban block has gained renewed attention and respect.  Numerous residential, commercial, and mixed-use projects are being undertaken, not as mega-buildings, but as block-scale, street-friendly developments, re-establishing the traditional relationship between the urban grid and the public realm. Focusing attention on the urban block suggests such questions as: How can block design mediate between urbanism and architecture?  How do residential and commercial environments affect block design? How can parking needs be balanced with building program while generating a rich public realm for people? What regulations and policies can encourage/require good block design?  As California cities struggle with the death of large, subsidized redevelopment projects, could the urban block itself provide an ideally-sized solution?

A distinguished panel will address these and other questions regarding the urban block:

  • Todd Gish, USC Price School of Public Policy; Moderator 
  • Vinayak Bharne, Director of Design, Moule & Polyzoides, Architects and Urbanists 
  • Stefanos Polyzoides, Principal, Moule & Polyzoides, Architects and Urbanists

RESERVATIONS

Event is $40; for students with valid student IDs, $20

Fee includes Continental Breakfast, Lunch

Seating is limited to 80 attendees; registration opened May 21, 2013

Please confirm your attendance to: Alice Lepis, Secretary [email protected] (preferred) or at 818.769.4179 on or before Noon, Wednesday, June 26, 2013

PASSPORT 2 HISTORY

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Looking for something a little different to do? Try your hand at a genuine authentic experience in a place that breathes history with the Passport 2 History program. The program is brainchild of the staff at the Leonis Adobe Museum in Calabasas. What they have done is brought together 50 historic homes, sites, cultural centers, and museums of all kinds including automobile, aviation, maritime and railroad, and turned it into a game. The whole thing was inspired by Huell Howser.

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You start by getting a book at www.passport2history.com. The program covers five counties; Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. Inside is information on each of the sites, including hours and contact information. For many of these places, admission is less than the price of a churro and a soda at Disneyland. Many are free.

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The most well known destination is the Ronald Reagan Museum. The rest are just wonderful gems well worth the visit. Take your guidebook and they will stamp the book. You can even earn prizes from some of the sponsors of the book. Like the small details and tiny gems at the Parks that keep Samland readers going back again and again, working your way through this book will reward you in unexpected ways.

That’ll do it for this edition of the Samland Grab Bag. We’ll see you back here next week for another great topic!


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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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5 Comments

Comments for From the Crazy Mixed Up Files of Samland are now closed.

  1. I love your crazy grab bag articles Sam! Lots of fun!

  2. Sam on California Gold’s Huell Howser, he actually voiced Braxton for Disney Studios Winnie The Pooh feature in 2011. Another Disney Huell project discussed, was to take California Gold through Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain attraction on a walking tour, since it contained over 100 tons of high grade California gold ore and mining artifacts from several California mines and ghost towns. That would have been fun through the eyes and mind of Huell.

  3. Having grown up in Southern California back in the day when schools sponsored field trips, I count myself lucky to have seen many of the historical landmarks in the area, but none compare to Disneyland — skip the churros, please.

    I wonder if the perception of Disneyland being located in the midst of tacky motel strips helped contribute to the idea that a Disneyland vacation might be more affordable than a WDW trip. We bemoan those tacky motels today, but they are a wonderful alternative to the Disney Resort hotels for those who get their magic at the parks and just sleep at the motel/hotel.

    • My family used to stay at the Jack and Jill Motel located on Ball Road in the Disneyland early years of the 50′s and early 60′s. For a later trip we had seen the 1960 Disney Issues of the Jack and Jill Magazine which started in 1938 long before the Motel was built, but felt a small connection as Disney had done some Jack and Jill records in 1964. Staying here allowed my family the extra savings to spend on Disneyland treasures like my Mineral Hall Ultraviolet Rock and Light kit. It was a real treat for my family to finally stay at the Disneyland Hotel.

      • Instead of trying to cross Ball Road on foot from the Jack and Jill Motel, we could take the Monorail from the Disneyland Hotel to and from the Park which felt like first class to us kids..