The Court of Angels – New Orleans Square Disneyland

Written by Sam Gennawey. Posted in Samland

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Published on October 10, 2013 at 2:00 am with 76 Comments

The removal of the Court of Angels in New Orleans Square to make room for an expanded Club 33 has become the latest polarizing issue between traditionalists and those who are apathetic about change. How people view this little piece of construction says a lot about how they view the park in general.


For those who are sad to see this little out of the way space go away, it represents one more example of Disney corporate greed over Walt Disney’s vision of creating exotic immersive environmental experiences for everyone. For those who never noticed The Court of Angels before or recognize that it represents an underutilized area that nobody visits even on the busiest day, their opinion tends to be “Get over it, things change.”

For anybody who has read Samland before knows, I am in the former camp. But I don’t want to get into that debate. Instead, I am going to take the opportunity to focus my lens on how filmmaking is used in Disneyland’s environmental design and how The Court of Angels is a wonderful example of an essential pattern to quality urban planning.


First the film link. One of the things Walt Disney loved to do was to add little surprises throughout the park that guests could stumble upon. In filmmaking they were known as interstitials, events between the major events. Within the best films, you need occasional pauses in the action to catch your breath. If you remove them, the film would be a chaotic jumble of raw emotions. Disneyland and Walt Disney World were designed with interstitials in mind and that is why they are not a Six Flags style amusement park.


The Court of Angels is an excellent example. Another favorite that is highlighted in The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide is the petrified tree in Frontierland. In July 1956, Walt and Lillian had driven through Colorado, near Pike’s Peak, just outside of Colorado Springs. Walt saw a “Petrified Trees for Sale” at Pike’s Petrified Forest. He pulled in and told Lillian to wait in the car. She was not happy with the detour and was starting to get agitated. When her husband returned, he proudly proclaimed that he had just bought her anniversary present; a petrified tree stump. The 5-ton stump was still in Colorado on their 31st anniversary on July 13, 1956. When she said that it was too big for the mantle, Walt brought it down to Disneyland. On Walt and Lillian’s 32nd anniversary, July 13, 1957, the 10-foot tree stump was installed next to the Rivers of America.


For urban designers, an outdoor room such as the Court of Angels is recognized as essential element to creating spaces with a higher degree of life. In A Pattern Language, architect Christopher Alexander said, “An outdoor space becomes a special outdoor room when it is well enclosed with walls of the building, walls of foliage, columns, trellis, and sky; and when the outdoor room, together with an indoor space [the shops], forms a virtually continuous living area.” It is my belief that the Court of Angels satisfies that need and that is why so many people are lamenting its passing.

For today’s management, it is a tough call. They are being pushed to maximize the revenues for every square foot of the park and a beautiful “underutilized” space is very tempting. It is not like they have not already tried before. Look at the holidays when the space has played host to an expanded retail display. The baseline for revenues had already been set and it must be obvious that Club 33 should have a higher yield. But is that enough to close off a beautiful space to the general visitor? You be the judge.


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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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  • Algernon

    Club 33 belongs in Beverly Hills, not Disneyland. Get rid of it now—along with the elitist VIP railcar and the Dream Suite.

    “How do you take your caviar, sir?”
    Never cared much for it, myself…

    • Mr Snappy

      Wow, you really don’t understand free enterprise and business, do you?

    • Kevbot217

      If by definition, anything that Walt Disney himself did “belongs” in Disneyland, then yes, Club 33 belongs there. Because Walt himself created it.

      What you’re saying is that you want Disneyland to preserve something of Walt’s legacy because it’s integral to his aesthetic, but to get rid of something else from his legacy because you don’t like caviar?

    • DobbysCloset

      I love caviar…

      Walt needed a private place to entertain business guests he brought to Disneyland.

      I wish he were still here doing it. I wish the Dream Suite were a museum in his memory so that we all could look from the window and see Disneyland as Walt did for just a moment.

      Some of us sit in box seats, some in bleachers, but the game’s the same. That’s what’s important, right?

  • Country Bear

    Thanks for the article Sam, as well as the thoughtful comments. I would say I am more of a purist than anything, but this change has forced me to really evaluate how attached I am to this particular area. I can’t say that I visited this area every time I went to the park, but I know it existed. Just like Snow Whites fountain, I visit on occasion and it always reminds me how different these small areas feel from the rest of the park. Because I usually have the area to myself when I visit, it’s like a hidden treasure that no-one else is aware of. That feeling is what I would call the magic of Disneyland.

    Would Walt tear it out now if he was still with us? I don’t know (perhaps Bob Gurr, Rolly Crump or Tony Baxter could offer some insight into this). I guess if it made sense for the show and he saw the improvement in removing it as opposed to having it stay put, he would do that. We will likely never know. But what we do know is that Disneyland is now managed by accountants and this area has no cash value, but it will. I compare it to the tearing out of the waterfalls at the Disneyland Hotel. That issue made me livid in comparison because it wasn’t to improve the area at all, and the experiential impact was massive. I don’t feel as impacted personally by the Court removal, though I can imagine that for some this is every bit as impactful on their visiting experience as the waterfalls were for me. It’s sad but I guess that’s the way its going to be.

    Another thing that’s sad is how disrespectful some people can be when writing comments. There is a way to bring your point across in disagreement without having to berate the other party. Respect should come before a single word is written. It seems this is something not taught in online communications. Too traditional perhaps?

    Thanks for your great works Sam, keep it up!

    • StevenW

      Perhaps we should evaluate how we feel about public areas that are now closed areas because Disney ceased to have a ride or attraction anymore, which may be more acceptable than taking away for special access. I’m referring to closed rides and food locations.

    • MagicKingdomBoy

      I can’t believe how some of these people talk about the Club 33 members….as if we were the ones who have any say whatsoever in what Disneyland does or does not do. We are customers like everyone else, buying something being offered for sale. We have feelings just like everyone else, too. And we have the same say as any other guest in the park. The company does what it wants to do independent of anything any guest or Club 33 member says. They didn’t close COA to “appease the elite 1%, thumbing their nose at the common people.”

  • Gyoza Dog

    I’d like to echo some of the previous comments about your opening statement. You characterise everyone who disagrees with your opinion as “apathetic about change” and by describing your side as “”traditionalist” imply your opponents do not believe in traditional Disney values.
    It was a cheap rhetorical trick and an ugly self congratulatory beginning to what was otherwise an interesting article.

  • QPerth

    I’m all for a Club33 expansion if that is what is needed, what I don’t understand is why they can’t still leave the Court of Angels open to the paying public and still use it as the entrance to C33?!
    I have no chance or desire to be a C33 member, have never seen the COA myself yet I understand the need for such a club and am happy for it to exist, but after discovering COA though great articles and pictures, I am sad now I will never get a chance to see this design perfection, this unique place and it’s story and details.
    What will be closed next, Main Street Station of the DLRR to be used as an exclusive Members Only or extra ticketed price benefit? What is stopping that from happening?
    This is a very poor decision on Disney’s part, and I think they should reopen it to the paying public.

  • themur

    I love that the first and biggest argument is that it is all about Disney Corporate greed! I bet pop up retail in the Court of Angels generated more money that what the Club will add just from the Court (members aren’t paying more for using the space but yes more people will have the opportunity to join the club)

    Many of the people who make this argument are AP holders who go so often that their effective cost to visit is mere dollars! I renew my AP annually because I feel I get an outstanding value for the dollars spent. When I compare it to other recreational activities including sporting events, concerts, skiing etc, Disney looks like a bargain. But everyone has different values!

    Maybe Disney should price the park at what the real cost for a day in one of the greatest theme parks in the world actually costs. Most would not be able to afford it. But Disney looks for a variety of ways to separate visitors from their dollars to get to an average dollars spent per guest per day. What does that mean? That true tourist as well as guests who are not as price sensitive are helping to make the park available to the more budget conscious people. Eat outside the park, there is a family picking up your share but buying lunch and dinner in the park.

    We all love Disney because we have great and fond memories. It is sad to lose things we hold near and dear in our heart. I am sad that it isn’t available to everyone but will it still feel like New Orleans; you bet. There are all sorts of hidden court yards behind gates and doors. Part of the beauty and mystery of the Big Easy.

  • Klutch

    I live near the area where Walt bought that petrified tree. It’s now a park where there are petrified remnants of a once great redwood forest. The local park ranger told us “horror stories” about how people used to haul away the petrified trees and sell them for fireplace mantles. Doh! I guess Walt Disney contributed to one of those horror stories.

    I grew up just down the street from Disneyland and have been visiting the park since the late 1960s. But not until last November, after living in Colorado for twelve years, did I ever notice that petrified tree. I guess I always too busy heading to the next ride!

    Anyway, thanks for the story about the petrified tree, Sam.

  • BigCountry

    Everyone seems to profess they know Walt’s stance – well take a line from one of his most famous speeches:

    “To all that come to this happy place: welcome. Disneyland is your land.” EMPHASIZE: ALL AND YOUR.

    With this move, the Walt Disney Co. is taking away a cherished piece of MY LAND and designating it for the rich and pompous (I have yet to meet a Club 33 member that didn’t have an elitist attitude and an entitlement because of their income/financial status, and I have met MANY) Aand excluding me as I will never be able to afford to see it again.

    The corporate officers are appeasing a few elite and are not giving consideration to THE MASSES that got them where they are today. Disgusting.

    How many marriage proposals have happened at the Court of Angels? How many first kisses? How many family photos have been cherished being taken on the winding staircase? How many cherished photos of friends? And how many of these MILLIONS will NEVER get to experience this LANDMARK ever again? Disgusting.

    This is enough for me to never renew my Annual Pass ever again. For me it represents not just a change to capitalize on an underused space – BUT A CHANGE IN MINDSET. NO LONGER ARE ALL WELCOME TO THIS HAPPY PLACE – BUT MORE AND MORE BITS AND PIECES ARE DELEGATED FOR THE FEW ELITE THAT CAN AFFORD THEM. Disgusting.

    • StevenW


      You do realize that you’re talking about the entire park. The whole of Disneyland Resort is unaffordable, yet people are still coming. So you can claim that a few elite can afford them, when actually quite a few are buying into Club 33, thus the private restaurant is taking up more Disneyland real estate, and the general public are increasing attendance to the parks fueling more complaints. But we all know these rants are meaningless.

      • BigCountry

        You are missing the point – the number of people who cherish this quiet location/photo op/life event occurrence location FAR OUTNUMBER the few elite that are club 33 members.

        “quite a few are buying into Club 33″ Are you insane? this is a LUDICROUS statement and SUPER UNSUBSTANTIATED – for years the club had a 20 some-odd year waiting list (possibly longer), closed….and now with expansions MIGHT open to a few select number of memberships.

        AND most memberships now are corporate memberships (big bucks for Disney, I know) which is far removed from the individual memberships when the club first opened.

        the Walt Disney Co. is now catering to a few elite by remodeling Club 33…in reality most likely to keep up with the offerings at the ’1901 Lounge’ within the Carthay Circle Theater, the Club 33 equivalent in California Adventure.

        Prior to the opening of Club 1901 in California Adventure I was one of a select few who was chosen to participate in a marketing analysis event which inquired about various details of things to be desired in Club 1901 (they put us up in the Grand Californian for the night and gave us passes) – I am sure I was one of the standard layman invited (never able to afford such a club offering), but numerous Club 33 members were invited as well – and let me tell you, their “hoity, toity” give me more, give me more entitlement attitudes made me want to puke!

        AND affordability is kind of relative. But the facts are this: while Disneyland resort is expensive – it is definitely affordable to those who desire strongest to go. Anyone with a job can save to go if it is made their priority – even if it is once every couple of years. Club 33 – absolutely UNOBTAINABLE to a guaranteed 90+% of Disney fans. Why close off a cherished part of the park to a majority of people, who as I said above, ARE THE REASON DISNEY IS THE CORPORATE FORCE IT IS TODAY, just to be enjoyed by a select few whose mindset is that of never being satisfied until the park is theirs exclusively?

        “To ALL who come to this happy place, welcome. Disneyland is YOUR land.”

      • DobbysCloset

        No, they aren’t meaningless. They reflect the views of a small group of folks to whom Disneyland is more than just an occasional vacation destination, people who are the opposite of apathetic — passionate?

        And you are right, both of you.

        But since most folks on this overpopulated planet don’t get to visit Disneyland EVER in their entire lives. We are privileged and elite to even have these discussions. We could all be sitting in the Market House around the stove talking about whether we should cut down a few trees and put in a children’s play yard in our city park.

      • StevenW

        @BC: “quite a few are buying into Club 33″ “Are you insane? this is a LUDICROUS statement and SUPER UNSUBSTANTIATED – for years the club had a 20 some-odd year waiting list (possibly longer), closed….and now with expansions MIGHT open to a few select number of memberships.”

        No, I’m not insane and you immediately contradict yourself.

        A waiting list means they met their quota. Thus, they don’t need more people to join the exclusive club. This means quite a few bought into the Club.

        The expansion means they will open it up to more members and more diners. Otherwise, they can’t service the amount of people who are willing to pay the price of joining.

        “AND most memberships now are corporate memberships (big bucks for Disney, I know) which is far removed from the individual memberships when the club first opened.”

        There are corporate memberships and individual memberships. It isn’t an “either or” scenario. While corporate membership will cost more in aggregate, Disney will make more money off of individual memberships based on per person spending. Besides, in this corporate environment, I don’t forsee corporations spending money frivoulously. Thus Disney may rely more on individuals buying memberships.

        As for your main point of “the number of people who cherish this quiet location/photo op/life event occurrence location FAR OUTNUMBER the few elite that are club 33 members.”

        You should say the Club 33 members and their guests of which I was priviledged to go at one time and I didn’t even know the Club 33 member. I went via invitation of a family relative who knew the Club 33 member as a business associate.

        Based on these accounts from the nervous Club 33 guests who also regret the closing of the Trophy Room, which I haven’t see at all, I wonder who won’t get the vapors of the next great renovation.

        The Trophy Room is history. The Court of Angels is still there. Okay, I haven’t visited either much and I am apathetic.

  • soletrain

    if people want a quite place to relax at disneyland there is a HUGE quite place that NOBODY ever goes to. It’s called ToonTown.

  • The Lost Boy

    The fact that the petrified stump ended up in Frontierland was actually just making the best of a bad situation. Walt Disney was under the influence of it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time-itus when he purchased the stump as a present for his wife. Mrs. Disney did not like the stump (as most wives would). Putting it in the Park was a compromise since it cost a lot of money, however, if it ended up in the backlot in Burbank or the dump that would have suited her as well.

    Those people who think Walt Disney was some pure artist who was above cashing in the proceeds of his business certainly don’t know the history of WDI, the original WED, and RETLAW. In a nutshell, these were the vehicles for Walt Disney to license himself to the corporation yielding some very lucrative proceeds for him and his family. This arrangement was a bone of contention between Walt, Roy O., and other stockholders because it essentially allowed Walt to ensure that he was paid first. These entities were eventually sold back to the corporation for a lot of money. I don’t begrudge the Disneys a penny of this money, but what’s ironic is that for all the whining and handwringing over today’s Disney merchandising, These entities were the way Walt Disney was compensated for merchandising himself.

    For that sub-infinitesimal group of people who claim that they are offended by Disney’s (fill in the blank) policy, please feel free to stay away, like the feller above said, you won’t be missed.

    And for those who believe that Disneyland is actually their “land”, admission is a license to enter, not a transferral of property rights.

    • EC82

      The well-considered statement Walt Disney made when opening Disneyland was and remains: “Disneyland is your land.”

      Walt was a fantastic business man. He is rarely credited for what he managed to achieve, and today’s Disney wants him seen as simply a kindly old man. Walt Disney and Roy Disney together influenced more of today’s entertainment industry than anyone really realizes.

      But his own company no longer follows the examples he set. If they did, it would be a very different, and likely much more fascinating and amazing, company — I’m guessing it could have become more like Google than what it is today. Still … admission is not simply a license to enter. Had it been that from Day One, Disneyland likely would have failed spectacularly; it really was “your land,” and Walt listened to his customers in ways that his namesake company could certainly stand to do today. He never stopped creating; today’s Disney simply never stops raising prices and finding ways to wring more money out of guests while providing an increasingly sub-standard experience.

  • eynsteinp

    I find it amazing how many people KNOW exactly what Walt wanted. The fact is that Walt Disney was a business man and made many millions of dollars off of his creations. He lived a life of luxury in many ways and did create club 33 for the “elite” guests to enjoy, not the common man. He wasn’t giving away his product for free. It is likely that he would have made whatever changes he felt would maximize profits and still cater to the masses so that he could have a viable longterm investment, just like every business man would. I love Disneyland and have been an annual passholder for many years and going to the park for more years than I would like to acknowledge. While I love Disneyland (and Disneyworld) the fact remains that Disney is not a non-profit corporation setup to satisfy the wants of any particular group, it is a for profit company attempting to maximize returns and continue to develop its products. They would not be expanding Club 33 if the demand from the public was there to support it. For any of you to categorize all of the members as the rich elitist and to portray them as committing some sort of crime for having financial success is offensive. I seriously doubt that any of you would turn down a free membership to club 33 based on your moral objections to such an elitist place. Disneyland really is not some sort of secret war between the haves and have nots. Its a great place for all visitors to go and escape from reality. People need to stop thinking of Disneyland as some sort of perfect “Eden” where any change can only be for the worse and Walt as some sort of God that could never want to profit from his creations. I am pretty sure that not only did Walt make millions and live a life that very few, if any of us are living, but he made so much money that his children, grandchildren and many future generations will be able to live off of his success.

    • EC82

      Sorry, but many of the assertions here are incorrect. Walt DID live a life of luxury, but took his children to a free merry-go-round and was always, ALWAYS aware of and concerned about how “average” people would respond to his creations, because despite the polo playing and ocean-liner excursions, he really believed himself to be just an ordinary guy who got lucky. He even had etched into bronze, “DIsneyland is YOUR land.” Not “Disneyland belongs to those who can afford it.”

      He did not create Club 33 for elite guests, he created Club 33 as a place where he could court potential investors, business partners and sponsors. It had a very specific business purpose and was never intended to be opened to the public. It’s called Club 33 for the number of companies invited to be part of it; it’s not called Club 33,000 for the number of members it can accommodate or the dollar amount of the membership fee.

      Walt Disney strenuously objected to the idea that his company should be taken public specifically because he didn’t want it to have to be focused on making money.

      In that sense, he was way ahead of the business curve. He was an extraordinary businessman who did something that today’s executives are far too timid to even try: He funneled almost all of his company’s profits into new projects, not into his wallet. His annual pay, his bonuses, and the amount he gave to his staff are all very well-documented. Walt Disney was most certainly not focused on the revenue potential of his business, and he certainly didn’t worry about P/E ratios, EBITDA and year-over-year comparisons.

      In that regard, people still quote the “What would Walt do” mantra because it is still very relevant. He built a massive company off of a vision and a desire to remain true to his unique style. If he was able to do that, the question becomes: Why can’t other executives? Certainly Eisner and Wells came the closest.

      I believe Walt would be ashamed of what his company has become. I think he would have insisted on continuous and massive change at all of his parks, and I think the speculation about what he might have done remains both relevant and important because his company should continue to find ways to be a singularly phenomenal creative company, not simply a “brand-management” and entertainment-media-acquistions company that is driven purely by financial considerations. “What would Walt do?” should be combined with “What would Michael and Frank have done?” And the answer to both questions is likely that they would not have let the company devolve into one that is so focused on money that it has become genuinely incapable of envisioning and developing its own creative destiny.

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  • dgo33

    Sam, thanks for your outstanding articles. I love what your interests/comments add to this site.

    I posted this over in the DASneyland article but thought I’d add it over here too for interested readers.

    Regarding The Court of Angels, I was recently re-reading the 1996 book “Imagineering A Behind the Dreams Look at Making Magic Real” and gosh golly, right there on page 22 is a Herb Ryman drawing of The Royal Court. “Walt Disney asked Herbert Ryman to draw up some sketches that would capture the romance of New Orleans. The Royal Court, seen here, would become a central focus of New Orleans Square when it opened in Disneyland in 1966.”

    I’m assuming the Ryman drawing of The Royal Court would become The Court of Angels, giving us a background slice of the intention for the space from Walt, Herb, and the Imagineers.

    The complete caption for the drawing reads:

    “Walt Disney asked Herbert Ryman to draw up some sketches that would capture the romance of New Orleans. The Royal Court, seen here, would become a central focus of New Orleans Square when it opened in Disneyland in 1966. The stairway in the center of the sketch leads to a suite of private rooms that would have been a private apartment for Walt Disney. (Walt passes away before the apartment was ever used.) Today, the rooms are part of The Disneyland Gallery.”

    One could argue that precedent was set in 1955 with exclusive areas (backstage, Walt’s apartment over the firehouse, the planned apartment in New Orleans Square, and Club 33) and the expansion of Club 33 into The Court of Angels is not some radical new occurrence of exclusiveness. However, given that Walt, Herb, and the Imagineers originally conceived and designed this space to be a ‘central focus of New Orleans Square’, we can’t simply dismiss the loss of a space that is no one’s main reason to visit Disneyland. It was originally designed to be part of the atmosphere and feeling of the entire land. I remember the first time I stumbled upon the space, thinking “oh, where does this go?” and at first shocked I had found a dead-end (which if you think about it, is hard to find in a Disney park). But then to stand there and absorb the space, its feeling, its away from the crowds, its great design, it changed my understanding and respect for the Disney experience.

    Is it a national disaster the space is now lost to the general public? Not really. Will it be missed? Sure. Will anyone remember it and miss it in 5 years? Probably not many.

    We’ve been through a lot of these “how dare Disney!” (the pirate chase scene changes in PotC, the addition of Jack Sparrow to PotC, the holiday overlays of attractions, the loss of quiet nighttime river cruises on the Rivers of America, the pirate overlay of Tom Sawyer’s Island, etc etc etc).

    I’ll miss spending a few quiet minutes in The Court of Angels when I visit the park. But I have my memories of the space and the first time I “found” it. And it is a shame new visitors will no longer have the opportunity to stumble upon it and find their moment of Disney magic. But, everyone has their own moment of “Ohhhhhhhhh! I get it!!” Well, not everyone. Most folks are too busy on their cellphones to have that experience anymore.

    I read into that caption that

    • StevenW

      “pirate chase scene changes in PotC”

      They done away with this completely. No more chasing of anything, food or women. Goodbye chase scene.

  • EC82

    I’m not upset about change at Disneyland — I’m upset about two things:

    * The false notion that empty space is bad space, and that every square inch needs to be marketable, monetizable or useable. Court of Angels served no purpose except to be beautiful, and there really is very little higher purpose … except in the minds of greedy executives who can’t see with their heart, only with their dollar-sign-filled eyes

    * The use of this space for the exclusionary, private Club 33. I hate to say, “This is not what Walt wanted,” because it’s a stupid, impossible-to-prove cliche. But this is not the intention of Disneyland. This is not why it was created. This is not what has made it successful for 58 years. A private club open only to the well-heeled is a sad commentary on our money-obsessed, status-crazy society, it exists only to remind non-members that they are not important. The use of a beautiful open “public” space for a private, exclusionary, expensive “club” is a horrifying step in the wrong direction.

    • HollywoodF1

      I can tell you that your cause and effect are utterly wrong. You have judged why this has happened, but your judgement is wrong. You have conjected the motivation of those who made the decision, but your conjecture is wrong. The slanderous statements you have made are based on a supposition that is, again, wrong.

      Some benefit of the doubt on your part is in order for the following reason: You do not know the truth, because you weren’t involved, consulted, or made aware. You have leveled a judgement based on what you have observed, but much has been kept secret from you, so your observations are not wholly objective.

      You have guessed at the truth, and you have guessed wrong. So take a deep breath, let go of your unfounded hate, and wait. In the not-too-distant-future, the truth shall set you free.