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Disneyland Article
Disneyland And Imagineering Part 3

Sleeping Beauty Castle
ID:
TMS-2990
Source:
MickeyMousePark.com
Author:
K
Dateline:
January 19, 2015
Posted:
January 19, 2015
Status:
Current
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How to build an Amusement Park in 3 Easy Lessons

When we last left our Imagineers, a final location had been chosen, funding had been arranged, and crews were assembled that would begin by retaining trees and vegetation that could be utilized in the design, and the vegetation that would have to be removed as a non-stop adventure was about to commence that would continue long after the park opened. (I checked, they're still working today.) With the initial crews in place, construction commenced on July 21st, 1954. Aside from the sponsors for the actual attractions, one Alameda family- owned construction company was McNeil Construction. They were responsible for the huge task of the initial removal and grading process and for the reshaping of the topography that was to become Disneyland's areas, or "lands." Johnston Stainless Welding Rods made major contributions as well to basic foundations and structuring. Arrow Development, American Bridge, Lovested, and Todd Shipyards would also come into play in the near, and distant, future.

As far as moving into the design portion, I was thinking of a good "jumping off" point to delve into the actual construction of the park, indeed the Imagineers were involved in every aspect, so humor me. I think that in order to go forward, we need to travel back. Disney had an extreme dislike for the sleazy, carny atmosphere of the bulk of permanent and, definitely, semi-permanent parks and fairs, they being dirty and very transient. So, he looked for ideas and models that he did approve. Very close, geographically speaking, Children's Fairyland was built in 1948, by Arthur Naviet. Admission then was 9 cents. William Everitt, a local architect, built the storybook scenes that were incorporated into the design. Disney was so impressed that he hired several employees from the staff. In the mid-90's, Fairyland achieved non-profit status which entitled them to receive additional financial support. Their mission has always been to promote creativity and imagination for children and their families. A very affordable example of what Disney was aiming for that thrives to this day.

Another model that contributed was Tivoli Gardens, built in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1843, making it the second oldest amusement park in the world. (Dyrehavsbakken is the oldest: try saying that fast.) The Gardens have the distinction of being the second most popular park in the world behind European park Rust, Efteling, and, guess who? Disneyland Paris.

Too Many Cooks? Hardly

Let me say this, before I start "name dropping." First, grab a pencil and a piece of paper. My wife thinks there are too many names: how will everyone be able to keep them all straight?Indeed, there are hundreds and hundreds of Imagineers that contributed to the creation of Disneyland: true artists. I will hit on quite a few as this series continues and leave a great many unnamed, but that does not discount in any way their input, talent, and most of all, passion. But, I believe as we journey forward and I name them and re-name them, they all had one commonality and the only thing you really need to remember, they were all Imagineers.

I want to mention Harper Goff before I go any further, because, as I was forming the outline for this section of the series, I felt that I should emphasize his importance. He was a close friend and a creative genius in his own right from the very beginnings. He was very similar in the way that he thought of ideas, but was willing to work for Walt; or should I say next to him. One of the many aspects of Goff's drive was that he worked all over the park, in every corner. He contributed City Hall designs that were in part based on buildings from his hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado. But his input didn't end with designing. He would literally jump in where- ever needed, not afraid to get his hands dirty, and work to resolve issues that dealt more with the mechanics and functionality of the attractions. He was a leader, but never lauded it over anyone. He was truly the "everywhere man," but always at arms length from his friend and partner. I sincerely believe without Goff, Disneyland would have been a very different place. If Walt was the first Imagineer, than Harper was the second.

Who's the Leader of the Band?

Disneyland is a collective effort, an integration of probably a dozen or two prime concepts. To make this all come together, creative and artistic designers collaborated, but there had to be hierarchy, and there was. At the helm of the creative division was Marvin Aubrey Davis, who was an Artistic Director at Twentieth Century Fox. He moved over to the Walt Disney Company in 1953 as did roughly a dozen other key artists. I start with him because he was one of the key figures in the conceptualization of the park, specifically the themed areas and the "hub." Davis collaborated with Dick Irvine, whom he considered his "number one guy" on the overall design team. A large part of Davis' background at Fox was artistic director on larger scale productions such as "Titanic" (no, not that one), and that involved creating large backdrops which played into the design in a great many areas of the Disney park, above and beyond his overseeing the entire design. That was one of the unique attitudes of the Artistic Disneyland model. There were the creative directors involved in different areas and attractions, but they would also take input from those working for them to analyze what would work best. The flow of creativity was indeed a very large two way street. Disney, himself, wanted that. He would pique the minds of his staff at every level and push them to give their best. "Best" didn't always mean what he would want to hear, but what was the most innovative and detailed; the impression it makes on the guests while they are there and after they leave. A lot of times, the final decision was made on site. That happened over and over in the construction. Thinking "out of the box" was a key component and something he insisted upon.

Richard "Dick" Irvine migrated to Disney in 1952 with several others. He had been Art Director at Twentieth Century Fox, but had worked with Walt in the past. But, before he returned to Disney's team, he had designed for some very significant films: "High Noon" with Gary Cooper, was one, and "Miracle on 34th Street" was another that he is probably best known for, that is shown every holiday season. Although he "officially" moved to the park in the early 50's, he had worked with Disney ten years prior. As a live action art director on "Victory through Air Power," he remained on and contributed to "The Three Caballeros." It should be noted that this was the first film that incorporated live action and animation. This was years before "Mary Poppins." Because Irvine was able to intrinsically understand Walt's descriptions of what he wanted for the park, he was put in charge of overseeing all the collective artists that designed and built Disneyland maquettes. If that wasn't a huge responsibility in-and-of- itself, he was also responsible for finding the artists who were needed to assist. Long sessions went on utilizing storyboards and aerial photography. In addition, maquettes, or small miniature models and larger mockups were incorporated to visualize larger areas to aid in detail. Disneyland was in his blood and it was passed to his daughter Maggie, who went on to become Senior Vice President of Creative Administration. "Thinking" Disneyland

There was a fair amount of psychology that went into the planning. What was most interesting to me was looking at travel and traffic patterns within the park. "Walt wanted to be able to monitor the number of guests entering and exiting by having them move through one central "station," which is, of course, the entrance in front of the Main Street Railroad Station. He was advised by some that this was functionally a mistake, that admission would suffer because it was too far for guests to walk. Walt knew this and looked to his creative advisors to solve the problem. It was at this point that the radial design was suggested. Key staff members had researched other parks and noticed that the simple boardwalk or "main drag" was used and recycled over and over by the majority. Early designs for the park had the castle more forward in the design, through which the guests would enter. But there were also concepts from the very beginning that, I suspect, Walt would not allow to be abandoned. Altered, maybe, but not left out.

Main Street was one of these settings that was in his mind early on. He drew his environment for the area from researching photographs and information that was available. This was the era of the library, so finding information was quite different than today. His own birthplace, and others very similar, figured in only in a general way, not specifically. In the end, the goal was to represent a typical main street with which everyone could identify. But it was a cleaner version of a real main street. Imagine a dirt street with horse drawn buggies; being animals when nature calls, well you know. Rather, it was a small town with freshly-painted (and maintained) storefronts, porches, gas lamps and signs that were of a more "natural" construction, as opposed to neon or flashing signs that become annoying after a long period of time. Signs that were overly bright and of the wrong color were avoided. Signs of this nature cast shadows on the ground that Walt felt contributed to the "carny feel." There was lighting, to be sure, but it was meant to blend and be of a warmer tungsten feel; less obtrusive, more comforting and thus drawing guests into that time period; slower pace and, to some degree, quieter. Next time you visit, take some extra time and look at the design on Main Street.

There were other considerations in the construction of this area.

Stores that were single buildings and other sections were connected inside so it would keep the guests looking at the attractions and, of course, the main place to purchase souvenirs upon their exit. As far as the outer construction, it was decided to use vertical forced perspective to make the buildings appear larger going from 5/8 to 1/2 scale, moving upward. The only exceptions to this are the firehouse, Walt's apartment above it, and the Main Street train station.

I have to recognize all the names that are painted on the window fronts. They are references to creators that built Disneyland and others who influenced it.

Walt had some interesting geometric philosophies that were also integrated. He believed that right angles incorporated into the street design were not "pedestrian friendly," so he had the center streets that are halfway down and cross the main street on both sides to be set at an angle. In more specific terms of traffic he believed that a majority, NOT ALL, guests would tend to gravitate toward the right side of the street looking down toward the castle upon entering, and the left side upon exiting. I'm sure that there may be some who would love to debate this. Regardless, it is a fact in the design of the street. Notice that even today the larger portion of shops for souvenirs and clothing are in fact on the left side. More right-handed people than left? Being a south paw, maybe.

Approaching the hub, the street opens up to reveal the majestic Sleeping Beauty's Castle through the trees that had been preserved. Many feel that looking through the trees gave the castle a more majestic look. Sadly, many have since been removed for technical reasons such as special lighting towers for the parades. I seem to remember lighting from the roof tops was utilized more in the 70's, that were covered when not in use. I know that there has always been a long-standing policy from the beginning that having equipment visible anywhere, if not being specifically used, was not to be allowed. Often times, objects, lights, carts, etc., were camouflaged so they would not be so easily noticed. To go even a step further, equipment that was specific to different lands were decorated to fit their corresponding location. Being a tech nut, those were the things I was always looking for as a kid: glimpses of areas or effects that really weren't meant to be the focus of attention or be seen at all. Anybody else out there trying to peek behind the curtain?

Getting back to the castle; it was modeled after "Neuschwanstein," built in Bavaria by King Ludwig in the 1800's. There is a crest above the drawbridge said to belong to the Disney family. There are a few fairly common urban legends that remain: if you walk through the castle, just beyond the front of the castle, (yes the front of the castle is actually the back facing Fantasyland) there is the gold marker or "spike" in the ground. It has been said that this is the geographic center of the park at the time of initial construction. It was there for a specific reason: it was in fact a survey marker as the centerline for Main Street. At the time of construction, the center of the park would be much closer to the hub close to where the "Partners" statue stands. A variety of stories surround the front/back debate regarding the castle itself. One is the workers were so hurried for the impending arrival of Walt for a progress check, that they placed them on backwards, unbeknownst to him. More likely it was that when they were deciding on its placement, he liked it the way you see it today. The drawbridge is fully functional and has only been lowered twice. It was lowered opening day and upon the re-opening of Fantasyland in 1983, which, I was fortunate enough to see. Walt wanted his castle to gleam with a 22-karat gold finish. His bottom-line minded brother disapproved, so Walt had it done while he was away.

In the next issue in the series we'll meet more of the key figures involved in the creation and continue our tour as the park takes shape. We'll meet the man responsible for "greening" Disneyland. It is signature to the name "Disneyland," something that has always been one of the more subtle but important aspects that set the park so much farther apart and ahead of it's predecessors.

Disneyland in 1955 was quite different from the Disneyland we see today. In this context, what we see today is a very key phrase. We'll discover what was considered the highlight at that time. It was less than a year away and there was still a lot to be done.
 
Attractions Referenced

Main Street Fire House

Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad

Sleeping Beauty Castle

Walt Disney's Apartment

 
Lands Referenced

Fantasyland

Main Street U.S.A.

 
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