The land "closest to Walt's heart" was fantasyland, as Disney legends and he himself said on several occasions.Main Street was probably the "land" closest to Walt's heart. Claimed to be based on Walt's hometown of Marceline, Missouri, the street bears no resemblance whatsoever to the street Walt knew. Marceline's Main Street was unpaved, the thoroughfare being a dusty, cough-inducing path in the summer, and a nearly impassible mudpie in winter. On either side were telephone poles, not one of which stood perfectly upright. There was no horse drawn streetcar.
But the Disney's street is much more than reality; it represents not what the real Main Street was, but maybe what it should have been.
Disney states that Main Street represents America from 1890 to 1910--the crossroads of an era. What he meant was that electric light helps dispel the nighttime gloom alongside gas lamps (the electric lamps are located in the civic square, where such "modern" elements might first make their appearance; gas lamps line the rest of the street), and horse drawn vehicles share the right of way with internal combustion ones.
Main Street used to feel far more real. Lamp lighters used to light the gas lamps at dusk; you could open a bank account at the Bank of America, and the side streets even had street signs to tell you their names (East Center and West Center Streets). Now, those side streets aren't streets at all; the gas lamps don't even have mantles, and as many have noted, the stores are nothing but Disney shills.
Even the paint scheme has changed over the years, and I chafe against the new scheme every time I see it. Main Street's authentic Victorian palette has been replaced with pale pink pastels, and seemingly every separate brick in any given building merits its own color. The graceful wrought-iron skylines have been altered to hide light standards, and where hiding them would be impractical, they stand, like so many eyesores--in Town Square.
I, too, miss the smooth red pavement--meant to evoke a "red carpet" for Walt's guests.
Main Street used to be such a wonderful introduction to the Magic Kingdom. It's a shame so much has been lost to the non-creative types. But as Tom Sawyer Island evolves into a Caribbean atol in the middle of the American frontier, I shouldn't be surprised that most every vestige of Walt Disney has been cast assunder--including his beloved Main Street--the first land he deemed approppriate to build living space for himself. How long before the second floor of the Firehouse becomes just that much more retail space?