Where's The Window? The Buzz Price Story - Part One
by, 04-13-2011 at 04:08 PM
Excuse me for a moment. I am going to reach over here and grab a soapbox. There. Very good. Now I would like to stand on top of this box and bleed my heart out for a few minutes. Okay?
One of the great traditions at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom is to honor those who have made an impact on the Disney Company and its parks with a window on Main Street. Walt Disney himself started the idea. According to legendary Imagineer, Marty Sklar, the rules for achieving this honor are:
- Only on retirement
- Only the highest level of service/respect/achievement.
- Agreement between top individual park management and Walt Disney Imagineering, which creates the design and copy concepts.
So, can somebody please explain why Harrison “Buzz” Price does not have a window on Main Street in either Disneyland or Walt Disney World? Let me build a case for why he should.
Location, Location, Location
Walt spent a lot of time and energy on the Disneylandia traveling show project. He had learned a lot in the development process but he decided to push that project aside and focus on a placed based attraction instead. The time had come to build Disneyland.
In the world of real estate, they say that location is everything. Walt originally wanted to build Disneyland across the street from the studio on Riverside Drive. As he continued to refine and expand the project he realized that the adjacent property would just not be big enough. To figure out the perfect location, Walt turned to numbers genius Buzz Price - and through the years, Walt would turn to Buzz time and again.
Early concept for a park across from the Disney Studios
Like most movie moguls, Walt had a great deal of faith in market research and test screenings. He would always insist that the final product reflect his standards but a little feedback from the audience is always welcome. He decided to go shopping for somebody who could find the best location for his park.
In July 1953, Walt hosted a party and discussed the Disneyland project with architects Charles Luckman, Welton Becket, and William Pereira. When the subject of where the park should go came up, Luckman suggested that Walt talk with Harrison “Buzz” Price. Price worked for the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and had recently finished two site suitability studies for major corporations. This was the type of expertise that Walt needed. The next morning, Walt had Nate Winecoff call Price and put SRI under contract.
Over his long career, Buzz Price worked on an estimated three thousand economic feasibility studies. Most of those were in the leisure-recreation-attraction field. Price would go on to advise Walt and Roy on more than 150 projects. It was Walt that suggested Price change the name of his firm from SRI to Economic Research Associates (ERA). Price ran ERA until 1969 when he sold the firm.
Price continued to work for a diverse clientele. He was one of the few non-Disney employees to be honored as a Disney Legend (2003). He was handpicked by Walt to be the Director and Chairman of the Board for Cal Arts. Not only did he work for Walt and Roy Disney but he also worked on projects for Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm, Sea World, and Six Flags. He also completed studies for museums, zoos, educational institutions, international clients as well as eight World’s Fairs. Price’s influence on the theme park business was so profound that he became the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). After Price’s passing in 2010, that honor was renamed The Buzz Price Award.
In order for Price to get an accurate read on the viability of the Disneyland project, Walt had to clearly describe his vision for the park. Price needed to understand why this project would be different and better than other amusement parks. As Price recounts in Walt’s Revolution by the Numbers, the project description would enable him to identify analogs that would allow him to come up with more accurate data for his feasibility analysis.
It began with the circulation plan. Before Disneyland, most amusement parks were planned with pathways based on a grid. There were usually four entrances or more connected to parking lots that surrounded the facility. Disneyland would only have one entrance.
As Walt described it, the entrance at Disneyland would lead guests through a corridor that was a stylized, turn of the century main street. At the end of the corridor would be a circular plaza. From the circular plaza, pathways would lead to four different thematic areas. To move about the park, you always had to return to the circular plaza.
Generally, amusement park operators wanted all the street visibility they could get. Walt wanted to hide his park from the outside world. To create that barrier he wanted to build a landscaped berm just like he did at the studio backlot and at his home in Holmby Hills. All of the rides would be customized and there not be any of the typical thrill rides such as a rollercoaster. Of course, he wanted to place an old-fashioned steam train around the perimeter. This would replace the train that he gave up at home.
Walt wanted his park to be in Southern California and thought he would need about a quarter section, which is one hundred and sixty acres. This amount of land was much larger then the area available to him adjacent to the Burbank studio. Plus, he wanted to open the park in two years. Walt told Price, “It will be a place for California to be home, to bring its guests, to demonstrate its faith in the future.”
The Feasibility Study
Walt contracted with Price to produce a feasibility study for the Disneyland project. The study started in April 1953 and was conducted in two phases. The first phase would be a ten-week study to determine the park’s location. The second phase would be a four-month analysis of the amusement park business. Price’s firm would be paid $25,000 to conduct the study. Once Roy Disney got on board, he said to Price, “Do it in a bigger way.”
Price knew that most executives already have somewhat of an answer to their own questions so he asked Walt, “Do you have any bias, any opinion, on where it should go in Southern California? The study you are talking about is big.” He reminded Walt, “The greater Los Angeles five county area [Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Ventura] is at least 4,000 square miles. The eight county area is even larger.” Walt said firmly, “No, you tell me where it should go.” Price suggested, “You own the Golden Oak Ranch out in Saugus, is that a consideration?” Walt replied again, “No, you tell me where it should go.” Walt wanted to give Price as much flexibility as he could to find the perfect location.
Price described the process, “The source of my opinions would be determined by a long and thorough study of the census data…some 40 or 50 major census tracts. That would give us direction for what would be the best choice.” This analysis was all done without the use of computers. Every tally was done by hand on spreadsheets in a notebook. Thousands of calculations were made.
SRI studied a broad set of variables. These included the differences in temperature and wind velocity, the timing of freeway construction, taxes, and building code requirements. Price said, “We even did a job of tracking smog, because this was going to be an outdoor park and we didn’t want to choke everybody.”
Some sites were rejected early in the process. The team looked at Descanso Gardens as well as Chavez Ravine where Dodger Stadium would be built a few years later. As the search continued, SRI narrowed down the choices to an “amoeba” that was five miles on either side of the Santa Ana Freeway running south from the Los Angeles County line to the city of Santa Ana. This brought the study area down to one hundred and fifty square miles. Then the team continued to narrow down the choice even further to all of the available 160-acre sites that they could find.
SRI identified ten sites with four preferred and the others described as “almost sites.” The SRI team recommended the Harbor Boulevard property in Anaheim as its’ first choice. Buena Park, where Knott’s Berry Farm is located, came in second. Los Alamitos was the third choice and the Willowick Country Club in Santa Ana was fourth.
In 2005, Price said, “We looked at locations in Los Angeles, near the beach. And the more I looked at it, I could see that the population of Southern California was going south. We could see that with the new freeway, and the way construction and the people who would go to a theme park were headed, that this location, off the freeway in Anaheim, was the way to go.”
Buzz and Anne Price
Price said, “You always have an alternative ready because no one assumes you’re going to have a clear slide into home plate.” He added, “It wasn’t a bad solution. It was a first-class property. The land was clearly available. We had a good relationship with the City Manager of Anaheim. And, we could afford it – well, not me.”
Price and his boss, C.V. Wood, presented the findings to Walt and Roy. Walt immediately selected the Harbor Boulevard site but moved it down a quarter of a section to farther away from the freeway. The site was 160-acres and was held by seventeen different property owners.
“No one had ever heard of Anaheim, except on the Jack Benny program,” said Price. “He had a skit where the announcer would say, ‘Now leaving for Anaheim, Azusa, and Rancho Cucamonga.’ But I showed it to Walt, and he took one look at the plan and asked me if I was sure. I said, ‘Yes, without a doubt.’” Price proudly boasts that, “Today, the center of Southern California’s population is exactly four miles from Sleeping Beauty Castle.”
According to Price, Orange County was preferable to the other areas in Southern California because, “It was cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, with predictable and fairly light rainfall.”
The deal was concluded in August 1953 and the property costs approximately $4,500 per acre. It was all the Disney brothers could afford at that time.
Price was an incredibly ethical man and never took advantage of the insider knowledge that he gained while working for his clients. After he completed the location study for the Disney brothers, he identified one triangular property that was not part of the initial purchase program. So he checked with Roy to see if it was something they wanted to buy and Roy declined. He told Price that it would be all right for him to purchase the property if he wanted to. The price was right, about $17,000. However, Roy’s advice to Price was it would be a bad investment. Roy felt that once the park opened, the property values around Disneyland would plummet. After all, Roy figured who in their right mind would want property next door to an amusement park? Buzz never did buy the property.
C.V. Wood is one of the most mysterious characters in the creation of Disneyland. C.V. stood for Cornelius Vanderbilt. Wood rarely shows up in official histories of the park. Wood was appointed the Construction Manager for the Disneyland project and was fired right after the park was finished. He was a critical player in getting the park built and it would not have happened without him. Price described Wood as, “One of the strangest, damnedest, boldest, smartest, most shameless and colorful characters ever to careen through this business. He walked in the worn footpath of P.T. Barnum. He was the quickest numbers man I ever had for a client.” Wood had a tendency to tell off color jokes and Walt was not amused. Walt had to wait until Disneyland was built before firing him because Wood was good at getting the job done.
On April 2, 1954, plans for the construction of Disneyland were announced. Anaheim seemed far out in the country at the time of Disneyland’s construction. The Santa Ana Freeway had not yet reached Harbor Boulevard when construction started. The freeway would not be completed until about three months after the park had opened. From Burbank, the drive would generally take at least two hours. Forty miles of the trip would be on surface streets weaving through construction zones along the old Anaheim-Telegraph Road. Even after the park had opened, nobody knew about the Harbor Boulevard exit and it was easy to miss the turnoff. The directional sign was only about 100 yards before the exit.
Art Linkletter described his first trip to the Disneyland construction site in Inside the Dream this way, “We were driving through little villages I’d never heard of. We were driving through orange groves and dirt roads, when Walt finally announced that we had arrived at the site.” Linkletter added, “I didn’t tell him what I really thought – that he was out of his mind.” However, due to Disneyland’s success, Anaheim would end up becoming one of the fastest growing cities in the United States by 1960.
I'll step off my soapbox to give you a breather until next week, when I will present more evidence in favor of a Buzz Price window. Well folks, what do you think so far?
Join MiceChat and SAMLAND in support of the Buzz Price Ryman Arts Endowment Fund and its agenda to make a real difference in the life of gifted young artists:
The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) Foundation, along with the Ryman Arts program has teamed up to create the Buzz Price Ryman Arts Endowment Fund.
The Ryman Arts program is entirely free of charge, competitively based and seeks
out the most talented high school artists in Southern California – over 4,000 have graduated.
Every Saturday, students from 90 different high schools join together to draw and paint and
learn techniques from professional artists and teachers. The program was created to
honor the memory and achievements of Herbert Ryman, who drew the very first overall
sketch of Disneyland and every memorable Disney project – from Epcot to Tokyo and
even Paris – until his retirement in 1988. Herbie loved to pass on his knowledge and
know-how to young artists – he was an inspiration.
As Imagineer and Disney Legend Marty Sklar said, “There are few things in life that
you know are so obvious and “right” that we don’t have to spend even a moment
wondering, “Should I do this?” The idea of the Themed Entertainment Association and
its members creating a scholarship endowment in the name of Buzz Price, to encourage
talented young artists to become part of our industry, is certainly one of those moments.”
Won’t you join us by writing a check to the TEA Foundation earmarked for the
Buzz Price Ryman Arts Endowment Fund? You can also visit the Ryman Arts Buzz Price Scholarship web page to learn more about Ryman Arts or to donate online.
Themed Entertainment Association
150 E. Olive Avenue, Suite 306
Burbank, California 91502