This Could be the Start of Something Big: The Story of Arrow Development Part 2

Written by Dexter Francis. Posted in Disneyland Resort, Features

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Published on May 29, 2014 at 3:00 am with 1 Comment

Dexter Francis returns with part 2 of his series on Arrow Development, the company behind so many great Disney attractions. For part one, CLICK HERE.

The four years between 1946 and 1950 were very busy for Arrow. So much so that there wasn’t even time to put a sign up on the new building. Work had been coming in so regularly that they had to lease extra space. By August of 1951, a 2400 square foot addition was under way, which would nearly double their shop area.

An article in the 1950 Los Altos Town Crier declared that word of the quality and reliability of Arrow’s work was spreading rapidly, winning praise for its sturdiness and serviceability. Inquiries came in from as far away as Canada and Mexico, in addition to other parts of the United States.

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The outbreak of war in Korea in June of 1950 would cause a shortage of aluminum. This impacted the production of the carousel horses, so Arrow began casting them out of magnesium. They also started doing subcontract work for the Federal Government and made concrete floor grid tampers for Wells P. Goodenough, Inc., of Palo Alto and an assembly line for loading pallets for the McCormack Co., of Santa Clara. Their automobile machine shop work also continued, rebuilding two Dusenberg automobiles. One of their less well known products was an automatic hot dog cooker for “Glamor Dogs”.

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Along with the “Arrowplane”, carousel and boat rides were miniature streamline trains, and “baby” autos. Arrow also reconditioned an early-day San Francisco horse car, only one of 17 to come through the 1906 earthquake, and the last of two that were still in existence. It was intended to be a museum piece, as well as a ride for youngsters, running on a track and cable, but powered by a concealed gas engine. Also in the inventory was a kiddie fire engine, which was rented to churches and civic organizations for carnivals and bazaars. As was typical of Arrow’s attention to detail, the hook and ladder truck was complete with sirens, red lights, hoses and axes.

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According to Harrison Price of SRI, Walt had been trying to get help from Los Angeles Architects Pereira & Luckman, who had designed some of Southern California’s most well-known buildings. Pereira & Luckman would later do the the famed Theme Building at LAX. (By the way, the now defunct Encounter Restaurant in the Themed Building was designed by Imagineers. Eddie Sotto, Main Street show producer at Disneyland Paris led the design team. Ellen Guevara, another WDI Imagineer, worked with Eddie on restaurant’s interior design. The lighting of the exterior was done by WDI lighting specialist Michael Valentino.)

Luckman told Walt; ‘Why don’t you go to Stanford Research? They did a good job for us in Hawaii when we were building a new kind of stadium.” The next morning, Disney had Nate Winecoff call and put SRI under contract. The first phase would be a ten-week study to determine the park’s location. The second phase would be a four-month analysis. Once Roy Disney saw the value of working with SRI, he told Harrison to “Do it in a bigger way.”

Disney first met with SRI on June 3, 1953. The “Analysis of Location Factors for Disneyland” was published on August 28th. The top site selection was the 139-acre “Ball Road Subdivision”, along the Santa Ana Freeway, in Anaheim. Price and his boss, C.V. Wood, presented the findings to Walt and Roy. Walt selected the Harbor Boulevard site, but moved it farther away from the freeway. On September 11th, Walt Disney Productions approved the funding, at a cost of about $4,600 per acre. With regard to the location, Price would later say; “That was the perfect place for it. We hit it right on the nose, dead center.” For their services, SRI was paid $32,000.

On December 4th, 1953, Harrison Price conducted a meeting with four of the leaders of the amusement park trade; William Schmitt, owner of River View Park in Chicago, Harry Batt of Pontchartrain Park in New Orleans, Ed Schott from Cincinnati’s Coney Island, and George Whitney of Playland at the Beach in San Francisco. (At least three of them would eventually have Arrow rides in their parks.) The gathering was held in a suite at the Sherman Hotel in Chicago, during the annual N.A.A.P.P. & B. convention and trade show. Along with Price were Richard Irvine and Bill Cottreall, President and Vice President of WED Enterprises and Nate Winecoff, the man who recommended Harrison Price to Walt.

 

The “expert” feedback was unanimous; Disneyland would never fly.  All four park mavens agreed that the proven moneymakers were conspicuously missing; Roller coasters, Ferris wheels, Shoot-the-chutes, Tunnels of love, Hot dog carts, Beer(!), and “Carnie” games like the baseball throw. That also agreed that “custom rides” would never work because they cost too much to buy, would constantly break down and reduce ride capacity, which could anger the customers. (At least they were concerned about that! ~ df) They claimed that only stock off-the-shelf rides were cheap enough and reliable enough to do the job. Beside all that, the public didn’t know the difference or care. They also said that there would not be enough ride capacity to make a profit.

The next month; January of 1954, Arrow delivered their 23 foot stern wheel paddle boat, Lil’ Belle, to the city of Oakland. During the next few months, someone at SRI apparently also saw her and suggested Arrow to Disney. On April 2, 1954, plans for the construction of Disneyland were announced. On November 28, 1954 San Jose Mercury News reported that Arrow was commissioned that week to build rides for the new Disneyland park.

There is a letter, dated January 6th, 1953, addressed to Mr. Richard Irvine at WED Enterprises, thanking him for his inquiry about Arrow’s Stern Wheeler Boat. It mentions a convention and is signed by Wm. J. Hardiman. Arrow Development attended the NAAPP&B convention in December of 1953. Billboard Magazine, in their December 12th issue, quoted Ed Morgan saying that “business was good.” I wonder if Bill Hardiman didn’t accidentally make a common mistake many of us do at the start of a new year and put 1953 on the letter to WED, rather than 1954. In any case, something very big was about to happen to Arrow Development.

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About Dexter Francis

Dexter Francis is on the trail of the story behind the story of Walt Disney Imagineering and Arrow Development. A peculiar blend of artist, engineer, storyteller and business analyst, he loves uncovering the hidden connections between seemingly unrelated events which lead to breakthrough innovations. Rob Reynolds, the author of "Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers" described Dexter’s latest book as a “…precisely detailed account of Arrow Development, based on extensive research that has uncovered many gems from the early days of Disneyland and the development of the tubular steel roller coaster. I highly recommend Building Disney's Dream as a valuable addition to any history of Disney or the theme park industry."

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  1. Really interesting series so far, appreciate you’re sharing it with us!