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Disneyland Article
Too Many People The Restaurant That Was Scrapped Because It Would Be Too Popular
Julie Tremaine
Not everything Walt Disney dreamed up was popular with his Imagineers, the team of creators who make new Disneyland attractions. And not everything Disney wanted to make was possible to execute, like the restaurant he wanted to build for his wife, Lillian.

Crump, the Imagineer who dreamed up the Museum of the Weird — a project Disney championed that was killed because other Imagineers thought it was too scary — and worked on iconic projects like the Haunted Mansion and It's a Small World, was one of the original Imagineers assigned to the restaurant project. Walt Disney wanted to create a tea room for Lillian Disney, which was originally supposed to be on Main Street U.S.A., and include a show component.

“Eventually it evolved beyond that, and it was decided that it would be moved over to Adventureland, since they were redesigning it, and turned into a Tiki Room,” Crump wrote in his memoir, “It’s Kind of a Cute Story,” with Jeff Heimbuch. “People would come in for dinner and see this magical little show.” Beyond that, no one was totally sure what the show would be.

John Hench, a main art director at WED Enterprises (the original name for Walt Disney Imagineering), came up with the original sketches for the room, which had birds in cages suspended over the tables where people would eat. Disney, though, was hesitant when he saw the sketches. “We can’t have birds in there,” Crump recalled him saying. “...They will poop on the food.”

In that meeting, Crump wrote, the group — including himself, Disney, Hench and others — tossed around ideas. It went from stuffed birds to mechanical birds to an entire show of animatronics where birds would sing to each other. “That was part of the beauty of these sessions,” Crump wrote. “Ideas would come out, and just flow and evolve into these wonderful things that would eventually make their way into Disneyland.”

That’s how Crump was tasked with creating the pre-show area, where diners would wait for their tables, which Disney wanted to be entertaining all on its own. “I remember Walt turning to me and saying ‘Rolly, you better do your homework and find out all about tiki,’ because it was around that,’” he told SFGATE. “So I did.”

Specifically, Disney asked Crump to design tikis that would be a source of entertainment.

“Walt came up to me and said, ‘Rolly, ‘we’re going to have this preshow area for people who are waiting to get into the restaurant,’” Crump wrote. “‘I want to have some Tikis out there, and I want them to tell stories. I want you to design them.’”

He didn’t just design the statues that he modeled on Hawaiian gods like Pele and Maui, with their water and fire features. Crump carved them by hand, using clay that needed to be very warm to be manipulated. That heat came from working directly in the sun in the Burbank parking lot of the Walt Disney Company. Not only that, he carved the statues using a plastic fork.

“You may think that people [who] are sculpting for Disney have got these gorgeous temperature-controlled rooms, filled with north light, to better aid their work,” he wrote. “But no, no… they have a parking lot! I always thought that was kind of funny.”

After the show had been created and the space had been designed, the Imagineers realized they had a problem… a good problem. The tiki room was going to be too popular to be able to handle the demand.

“Walt said, ‘there are going to be too many people for a restaurant, so we’ll make it an attraction,’” Crump told SFGATE. “It couldn’t handle that many people.” Because the space was allocated in the park already, there wasn’t any flexibility on expanding the footprint. “They didn’t have the space to do that,” he added. “It was kind of a jammed area.”

So, the tables were removed from the design, and the restaurant became the Enchanted Tiki Room that’s still in place in the park today.

At one point in our interview, I asked Crump if he was inspired by the tiki bars around Los Angeles, with their theatrical effects and over-the-top decor. He and his wife Marie Tocci, who was also on the call, gently laughed at my question. “I think it was the other way around,” Tocci said. Today, the Enchanted Tiki Room is so beloved that inspired not only Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel, but professional-level home tiki bars around Los Angeles and a real tiki bar in Solvang with touches of Disney throughout.

In an era when Disney is increasingly putting emphasis on inclusion in its moviemaking and on removing problematic parts of its older attractions, the Enchanted Tiki Room would likely have been designed differently today. No caricature accents for the birds, no cartoony pillars of faces chanting in the corners of the room. But when it opened in 1963, the attraction was technically groundbreaking.

“It is an attraction that really deserves a lot of credit, because it was the first all animatronic show that was ever designed and built anywhere in the world,” Crump wrote. “It was a first for Disneyland and a first for the rest of the world, so that is a pretty big deal.”

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