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Hello, Goodbye

The hectic weeks of Spring Break are over, with the week after Easter Sunday going down as one of the busiest weeks of all time for Disneyland attendance. While the parks themselves were very busy in March, the PR departments in Anaheim and Burbank have been even busier trying to spin the Small World story we were first to report on in the last update about adding Disney characters to the beloved old ride.

Meanwhile, Spring also brought a frenzy of activity in the Imagineering (WDI) workrooms now dedicated to California Adventure's (DCA) extreme makeover. The funds from the billion dollar budget have finally started to flow into Imagineers hands just as a rather remarkable L.A. Times editorial this past weekend let the Disney company know they were not amused with this troubled project.

In this update we'll get you up to speed on the latest round of changes to the DCA plans, and share some news about the future of Disneyland proper and the adjacent Disney hotels once the misfiring Year of a Million Dreams mercifully dies nine months from now.

Got that expensive bottle of POM juice properly chilled? Is the croissant heated and slathered with preserves? Got the coffee brewing for later on this morning? Well then, lets get started with today's update! (Special thanks by the way go to David "Darkbeer" Michael for the kind use of his photos today.) - Al

Goodbye SunCal

DCA fans and detractors alike were abuzz with excitement on Saturday, October 13th when they first read here that the DCA extreme makeover that we had been detailing would finally be officially announced the following Wednesday. And the excitement reached a fever pitch that Wednesday afternoon after Jay Rasulo and Bob Iger spread out a virtual buffet of sketches, models and storyboards explaining all of the new attractions, shows and expansion areas coming to DCA in the next five years.

But in the six months since that big announcement, what has become apparent inside the halls of WDI is that they really weren't ready to spill the beans just yet. The last six months has seen changes to the overall plan, with another elimination round cutting out some of the additions announced in October, while some of the other remaining concepts get beefed up and expanded upon. It's important to realize as you read about the latest changes to the DCA plan that Burbank and TDA really had their hand forced on this DCA makeover by people and events that have already changed dramatically in just the last six months.

Don't let the door...

Remember that back in October the city of Anaheim was still in a rather nasty fight with Disney over their plans to rezone the Anaheim Resort District for up to several thousand new units of housing. Back then, SunCal, a big housing developer out of Irvine, was still sending their blustering lawyers to city council meetings and still funding political campaigns slamming Disney in the national press and the local community alike.

Disney was backed into a corner and forced to defend itself as the biggest investor and employer in Anaheim, and it had to prove to people that it was committed to big time growth for the Resort District as a whole. We've detailed in previous updates Disney's strategy of announcing Anaheim expansion plans in purposefully spaced out announcements, and the October announcement of DCA's billion dollar makeover was obviously one of the biggest.

Who could have guessed then that just six months later SunCal would be on the brink of collapse with creditors, contractors and local municipalities alike all beating down their door for overdue payments owed to them? In the midst of this ongoing financial crisis for SunCal, the Anaheim property at the center of the debate was abandoned and their political action committee stopped receiving funding and closed up shop. That left the Anaheim city council with no choice but to declare Disney as the victor and amend the city bylaws to prevent any housing from ever going in to the Resort District.

In just a few short months the hotly contested housing issue that was driving so many of the press announcements out of TDA suddenly shriveled up and died. It was a classically happy ending to the story that could have only been written by the fairytale factory at Disney.

But what that meant was that the October announcement on DCA really was rolled out a tad too early. There was still plenty of details to hash out and logistics to plan, even though the models and sketches shown to the media were impressively detailed. And while the overall budget for DCA of over a billion dollars has worked its way through Disney's corporate governance channels and is now in the hands of WDI, the individual budgets for specific structures, attractions and shows was still far from hashed out back in October.

Goodbye Walt

We'd told you in previous updates about other minor elements of the plan that had been changed or deleted, like the drive-in movie restaurant in CarsLand that has been shelved for opening day, or the saga of the 3-D theater in Hollywood that went from Philharmagic to digital flex theater to remaining as MuppetVision for the foreseeable future. Since then there have been some other recent changes to the plan, although most of it signals good news for all but the diehard Walt fans.

The most recent change from what was announced by Jay Rasulo in October involves the plans for the Carthay Circle Theater in the new 1920's entry plaza. The theater will still be built, but when the area debuts to the public in 2011 you won't be going inside. Originally the plan for the recreation of the theater where Walt Disney premiered Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in 1937 was that it would house an elaborate and impressive new "Walt Disney Story" exhibit and show.

Empty empty empty

The plan was to take the Walt Disney Story concept (which debuted in the Disneyland Opera House in 1973) and pump it full of 21st century technology and healthy funding. A fancy lobby would be full of Walt memorabilia and Disney curios, with a very lavish art deco theater showing a multimedia show about Walt's vision for the new art forms he continually created throughout his career. The original dollar funding for the interior of the building was to be upwards of 40 million dollars, with additional funding used for the creation of the show itself. But that was before WDI took the plan to the planners and managers at TDA.

The Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) folks took one look at the plan and almost immediately started asking questions about the need for such an attraction. This Carthay Circle Theater presentation would cover the same subject material and likely have much of the same imagery as previous versions shown in the Disneyland Opera House, most recently as The First 50 Magical Years show that is still playing to crowds that dwindle by the month. The TDA planners began to seriously question the need for yet another theater show in a park roundly criticized in visitor surveys as being too light on rides and too heavy on shows and movies.

Surely the show dedicated to Walt would be mobbed in the first few months by the hardcore fans, as the average tourist ran right past it on their way to CarsLand. But once the initial buzz wore off, TDA was very concerned that this was a facility that would die a slow and painful death and be more popular as a venue rented out for corporate cocktail parties rather than substantially adding to the public allure of the newly rechristened park. Some serious haggling went on over the winter between the Imagineers dreaming of creating yet another tribute about Walt's life and the more realistic managers in TDA who were worried about operating a theme park that people would actually pay full fare to get in to.

Clang clang clang

The nail in the coffin came with the ballooning budget for the elaborate Pacific Electric Railway Red Car system to be installed from the DCA entrance back through the Hollywood section. When the Imagineers realized that running high capacity electric trolley lines down the middle of a busy theme park full of kids holding Mylar balloons would prove to be a real design challenge, the costs for the installation of this custom built trolley line began to skyrocket. With the Red Car attraction needing more money, and with the Walt Disney Story receiving lots of pushback from TDA, the decision was made to abandon plans for another tribute to Walt in Anaheim.

The Carthay Circle Theater will still be built, and it will still be a faithful reproduction in all its 1920's glory, but when the new main entrance debuts in 2011 the building will be an empty façade. There are plans to include a couple of pocket spaces along the side of the building for stores or food locations, but the bulk of the building originally meant to house a lavish lobby and grand theater will remain empty for now. Perhaps in the future some new concept to fill the space will be pitched and approved, but the last thing TDA wants right now for DCA is yet another theater show.

Hello Abe

The good news is that this has given a new lease on life to the Disneyland Opera House, and attention has turned yet again to what could be done with that theater.


Bringing back Mr. Lincoln and revamping the leftover 50th displays into a more general exhibit about Walt's vision for Disneyland is the current choice, although a decision or funding has not been approved yet.

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© 2008 Al Lutz

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