If I Were King Of Disneyland
by, 01-25-2012 at 08:56 PM
In Michael Broggie’s Walt’s Words of Wisdom, he noted that as a 12-year old boy he asked Walt Disney directly the question as to why he could accomplish so much. Walt replied by saying:
“Somehow I can’t believe there are many heights that can’t be scaled by anyone who knows the secret of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four Cs. They are Curiosity, Confidence, Courage, and Constancy, and the greatest of these is Confidence. When you believe a thing, believe it all over, implicitly and unquestioningly.”
Think about that one a bit. Great stuff.
Curiosity. Often, when working on a project I am called upon to conduct interviews with the key stakeholder. The interviews are meant to be candid and confidential and are summarized in such a way as to help inform the project team and produce the best results. I like to call this the Curiosity phase.
One line of questioning that I like to use during the Curiosity phase is a simple challenge. For a brief moment, they will become the queen or king of the empire that we are planning for and they possess enormous powers and prestige to make things happen. What do you want to happen? It usually gets a chuckle but it also liberates the participant and can release a very constructive dialogue. Then they are back to normal. Poof!
Walt Disney was a guy who had the power and prestige to make things happen. As I noted in Walt and the Promise of Progress City:
“In 1960, Bradbury suggested to Walt that he should run for mayor of Los Angeles because he was the only man who knew how things work. Bradbury really believed that Walt understood the issues, especially when it came to public transit. Bradbury said, “I’m all for making Walt Disney our next mayor…the only man in the city who can get a working rapid transit system built without any more surveys, and turn it into a real attraction so that people will want to ride it.” Walt’s reply was, “Why should I run for mayor when I am already king?”
With this column, just for the fun of it I have decided to challenge myself and to ask the question, “If I were king of the North American Disney theme parks and I could do just about anything I wanted. I didn’t have to worry about politics or budgets. I just have to do the right thing as I see it. What would I do?”
This column is my response. I challenge to you with the same question. What would you do?
Let’s start with the Mothership – Disneyland.
As we enter Walt’s original creation, the only Disney park that he actually walked through, I think everybody would agree that there is a special charm that has never been duplicated. Main Street USA seems timeless. Although the buildings are painted different colors, the signs advertise different merchants, and what goes on inside of the buildings has changed considerably, the overall feel, the combination of good urban design patterns, and the rhythm of the facades remain.
I will be the first to admit that I really like Main Street USA. You will often find me sitting on the Wizard of Bra porch watching the passing parade. If I owned a time machine, I would travel back to the days when the stores reflected the activities of a small town, thereby reinforcing the illusion. I will have my minions keep working on that invention.
With that said, there are three changes I would like to see my minions implement immediately. The suggestions may be subtle but I feel they are important. First, I would fill in the gap between The Mad Hatter and the seasonal store on the other side of the street. There is the gate where the parade enters and exits as well as a “temporary” wall that has been there since the park opened.
Back in 1956 this gap was originally planned to be the entrance for International Street. Walt Disney wanted to build a winding path of Old World facades with little shops and experiences. There was a colorful sign placed right where the entrance was to be. The idea of an internationally themed experience would later be considered for many projects such as one in Kansas City as well as the World Showcase in Epcot.
For little while, you used to be able to buy a cup of coffee, grab a seat, and watch the other guests entering the park. During the 50th Anniversary the space was used for a huge collage of guest faces that morphed into a giant Mickey Mouse. Today, the space stands empty. It is time to fill in the gap. Space Mountain has taken up a bit of the real estate back there but I think this could be the portal to an intimate, magical experience along the lines of Ollivanders in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure in Florida. Disney has spent a billion dollars on this technology and this would be a good place to use it.
Another priority is something that I think is long overdue. It is time to dedicate a window on Main Street to Harrison “Buzz” Price. I have gone into great deal about the importance of Buzz Price’s advice to Walt and Roy Disney here and here. Main Street would not be there if it were not for Buzz.
According to Disney there are three tests that must be met to achieve this honor. First, you must be retired. Second, you must have achieved the “highest level of service, respect, and achievement.” Finally, there must be “agreement between top individual park management and Walt Disney Imagineering, which creates the design and copy contents.” Buzz has met all of these tests. It is about time.
While we are at it, isn’t it time for a window for Alice Davis? The dolls in it’s a small world and the figures in Pirates of the Caribbean would look less magical if it weren’t for her costumes.
The third change may be subtle to many, but it has always bugged me and I want to return to Walt’s original vision. Walt and Imagineer John Hench understood the art of placemaking and the importance of the sidewalk café. The café provides a unique setting that is special to cities and, according to architect Christopher Alexander, creates “a place where people can sit lazily, legitimately, be on view, and watch the world go by.” A proper café must be near a busy path.
The hedges along the Plaza Inn need to be trimmed. They are too tall. Walt and Imagineer John Hench knew that you had to place the seating on a slightly elevated platform so that you create another people watching opportunity. Those are some of the reasons why John Hench designed this facility the way that he did. It was so important to Walt he even highlighted the site plan during one of his television broadcasts. Right now the hedges are too tall and obscure the view. Bring out the shears. Off with their heads!
I know I said I wanted three things but there is one more thing I must add. I shall miss the Carnation Plaza. For those who remember, the Carnation Plaza was the center of activity back in the day. I remember one year in the mid-1980s where they brought out the world’s greatest surviving big bands. I bought a season pass just to take advantage of this opportunity. One after another; Artie Shaw, Myron Floren, Glenn Miller’s band, etc. playing while the audience danced and ate ice cream. Can one of the old timers remind the young bean counters how much ice cream was sold before they tore out that facility?
Let’s head over the bridge into Adventureland. The obvious opportunity is to reopen the Tahitian Terrace. For over 30 years you could dine on some “authentic” Polynesian food and watch a show featuring hula dancers (one for the dads!) and a fire dancer. Good times. It is a beautiful, intimate space and it added a bit of exotica to the land. With a new Hawaiian resort, Disney finally has the cross-promotion necessary to justify any expense these days.
There is an opportunity to dream big over in Frontierland. For those that have visited The Walt Disney Family Museum and viewed the model of the Disneyland of Walt’s dream, you will notice that there is a hill that crosses over the railroad track and expands Frontierland over on the other side of the berm. This may be an opportunity.
There also seems to be a lot of land if you combine the Big Thunder Ranch and Festival arena and then plow down the soon to be obsolete Fantasyland (aka Wonder Bra) theater. Disneyland is just screaming for another E-Ticket attraction now that the Disney California Adventure expansion is winding down. I don’t have a preference other then a family friendly, highly themed attraction with a super high capacity. Could they pull something off that was not tied into another property like many of the Disneyland classics? Does WDI still have it in them?
Next door, in Fantasyland, I struggle to figure something that I would change. Lately, the park has continually “plussed” the classic dark rides such as Snow White’s Scary Adventures. Keep that up.
I could be convinced to bring back an old favorite. Fantasyland was one of the destinations of the Skyway. The building is a shell of its former self, but it stills stands. Walt was onto something with the original attraction. He knew that people have a fundamental instinct to climb up to some high place and to look down and survey the world. This attraction met that challenge perfectly. As king, the thought of bringing it back must certainly cross my mind. I may be powerful but those folks over at OSHA will still meddle. Not sure if I want to pull the trigger just yet. What do my minions desire?
When I look at the entrance to Tomorrowland from the Plaza Hub, all I can do is shake my head and try not to tear up. What is the Astro Orbitor doing in a hole in front of an abandoned PeopleMover beamway? Why isn’t the spinner up on top of the tower soaring through the clouds where it belongs?
Why did somebody move pieces of Superman's fortress and paint it an awful color to block the entrance? What does this mean? And is there a theme to Tomorrowland anymore? It used to be the world in 1986. Then it became the “World on the Move.” Now it is….
To the right is Star Tours. Okay it is a bus terminal for space travel. Got it. Fits the theme of Tomorrowland. Buzz Lightyear. Oh he is a spaceman(?). Got it. Space Mountain. Perfect. Belongs here. The (un)Official House of Energy Usage and other random displays in Innoventions? I guess Walt did have a display for the Crane Bathroom of Tomorrow display and retro is hip so there is an opportunity to make lemonade out of this lemon. The Innoventions exhibit can go and this prime piece of real estate can become something wonderful. And while we are at it, I think the time for Captain EO has come to fly his last mission. What looked campy and nostalgic is starting to just look old now that the new version of Star Tours has arrived.
We all know we want the PeopleMover back. Is there one among you who disagrees? The PeopleMover in Florida is great but the grade changes and the interaction with the Monorail makes the track layout in Disneyland superior. Bring it back. It added a kinetic energy and the opportunity for a preview of the wonderful things in store.
If this cannot be done, then I would recommend the following. For many, our collective image of an urban future would look something more like the spaceship in Wall-e or the world of Blade Runner. Large electronic signs, a gentle push toward conformity, bright, safe colors, and all of the sharp edges have been removed. Imagine the underside of the PeopleMover beam coated with a digital sign display. Something similar the Freemont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas but on a smaller scale.
Time to check out some ideas for the new additions – New Orleans Square, Critter Country, and Toontown.
What I would like to see for New Orleans Square is a return to small unique shops. After experiencing the clever shops and the mix of exclusive merchandise at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, I was impressed. You wanted to spend time in the shops and you knew that if you found something you better buy it because you will not know when you will be back again. New Orleans Square used to have the One-of-a-Kind Shop featuring beautiful antiques. Disney never expected the store to be a big moneymaker. However, it sure added to the atmosphere and gave Lillian an outlet to sell some of the stuff she didn’t want anymore. Unless somebody at Disney allows me to spend the night at the Disney Suite when I was a mere mortal, I would prefer to have the Disney Gallery back and to share that splendid view with other guests.
As we wander back toward Critter Country, the change I would make should be pretty obvious. The MBA experiment known as Winnie the Pooh must be retired. We understand why the attraction was built - a chance to sell Pooh plush. The changeover may have even sold a few more of those disgusting Tigger Tails but, compared to the version in Florida and the one in Tokyo, it seems Anaheim got the short stick. Even on the busiest days there is no line. No wonder.
Those who read Samland frequently know that I have a soft spot for Toontown. I feel it was a great addition to the park and exceeds in design compared to its function as a reliable place to see the characters. The queue for Roger Rabbit may be one of the best in any Disney park. There is little I would change. Maybe it is time to turn the effects on the Miss Daisy back on. Poor Chip n Dales Treehouse could also use a remodel.
I debated long and hard on whether or not to comment on Disney California Adventure. I have decided that it is still too early. I am pleased with what is proposed and have enjoyed watching the project progress. I will soon pack my dirigible and take a flight over Walt Disney World. In the meantime, what would you do if YOU were king or queen of Disneyland?
Sam is the author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City, an amazing book that explores how Walt Disney—the master of fiction—was determined to bring new life to the non-fiction world of city design and development and, in doing so, fundamentally improve the Great American way of life. Walt and the Promise of Progress City is available today on Amazon.