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The History of Disneyland

When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true. - Jiminy Cricket

When you think of home, I’m sure you imagine the smell of warm chocolate chip cookies, the feeling of climbing into your bed after a long day, and relaxing in your favorite chair. However, completely different images come to mind when I think of home. Instead of imaging the smell of warm chocolate chip cookies, I imagine the smell of musky humid air from Pirates of the Caribbean that I swear would make the perfect scent for a perfume. Instead of imagining the feeling of crawling into my bed after a long day, I imagine the feeling of jumping out of bed in the hotel room early in the morning to hit the parks for Magic Morning. And instead of thinking about relaxing in my favorite chair, I think about people watching at one of my favorite spots on Main Street (I particularly love the benches at the top of the train station, on the porch of Fargo’s Palm Parlor, and the tables at Jolly Holiday).

I know I’m not the only Disney nerd on earth that calls Disneyland home, but you’d be surprised by how many confused looks I get when I tell people that I prefer Disneyland over Disney World. “What? You like Disneyland more than Disney World? But why? Disney World is a vacation destination and Disneyland is not!” Don’t get me wrong, Disney World is still magical in its own unique way, but Disneyland is a place that can never be recreated, and even Disneyland’s sister, Disney World, can’t come close in comparison.

I’m not a huge history fan, but when it comes to Disneyland history, I can’t get enough of it. I think that’s why I love Disneyland so much, and why it feels like home, because of the history.

Walt was the ultimate risk-taker. He moved from Missouri to California when he was 22 with only a suitcase and a small amount of money. He risked everything to start his first animation studio with his brother Roy called Disney Brother Studio where they created Alice and Felix the Cat shorts. Then, in 1934 Walt put everything he had on the line again by starting production on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The film premiered three years later, and it was the first feature length animated film. It was an instant success, and Walt believed he would never produce a film that could compete with Snow White. From the time Snow White premiered to the early 50s, Walt produced countless other feature length animated films. The success of a film always fluctuated. Surprisingly, even popular films like Pinocchio and Bambi lost money.

Although Walt was an incredible business man, he never wanted his business to take away from his family time. He was a proud father of two daughters, and he’d take them out on the weekends to do something exciting. He took his daughters to Griffith Park one Sunday and as his daughters played on the carousel, Walt sat on a park bench, thinking that there should be a place where adults and children can have fun together.

Since that day at Griffith Park, Walt began dreaming up a place where families could have fun together. Walt’s wife, didn’t like the idea at first. “Why would you build a theme park? They’re all filthy!” she retorted. “Mine won’t be,” he replied confidently. To this day, gum isn’t sold at Disneyland because that was one of Walt’s early requests to keep the park clean.

At first, Walt imagined Disneyland to be a couple acres on the new studio lot in Burbank. Over time, the idea grew to become the 160 acre amusement park that it is today. In the year 1954, Anaheim was a small town in the outskirts of LA, a town populated with orange groves.

Construction for Disneyland began in July of 1954. Building and completing the park in a year was nothing short of a miracle. The world started learning more about Disneyland every week on ABC on the Wonderful World of Disney where Walt himself would tell the audience about one of the lands in his new theme park. By the time the park opened on July 17, 1955, Anaheim was no longer the sleepy town that it used to be. Cars lined up for miles on Harbor Boulevard to get into Disneyland and ABC televised an hour long special during the grand opening. The ABC special was an accomplishment just in itself, as it was the longest and most complex televised show to air.

Ten thousand VIP guests were expected to come, but instead, three times as many guests showed up because thousands of counterfeit tickets were being sold. It was one of the hottest days in Anaheim history and women’s heals sunk into the newly poured asphalt on Main Street. Rides broke down at an alarming rate, and there was a shortage of water. The day was famously named Black Friday because it was a complete nightmare. Despite the difficulties of opening day, the park reopened the next day, and the day after that. To this day, Disneyland has only closed three days out of the 61 years it has been open (the day of mourning for JFK, the day of the Northridge Earthquake, and 9/11). The park began running like clockwork, and it grew increasingly popular as the years progressed. Walt particularly loved Disneyland because unlike his films, Disneyland was something that he could always improve and work on. The park was continuously involving and becoming more into the place that he wanted it to be.

Walt loved Disneyland so much that he had an apartment built on the second story of the firehouse on Main Street. On early mornings, he’d walk up and down the streets of his park, expecting everything to make sure it was up to his standards. During the day he made sure that a trashcan was always 30 feet away from wherever he was standing (he concluded that it took him 30 steps to finish a hotdog), and instead of skipping to the front to ride an attraction, he’d wait in line with his guests and listen to their comments about his park.

Ten years after Disneyland opened, Walt concocted an idea for a second park in Florida. He dreamed up the idea for EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) but unfortunately, Walt died on December 15, 1966 of lung cancer before Disney World was built.

Disneyland became a reality because of a dream, and because Walt wasn’t afraid to take risks to make his dreams come true. Disneyland is the only park that Walt Disney himself walked in and everything in the park was to his standards. Disneyland became his home, and it became a home to countless Disney fans over the years.

Even though Walt left us fifty years ago, his legacy still shines at Disneyland. A lamp in the second story window of the firehouse constantly burns in remembrance of Walt, and the bench that he sat on in Griffith Park is displayed in the Oprah House on Main Street.

Hopefully, now you understand a little more why Disneyland is such a unique place. Walt’s dream of creating a place where families can have fun together has come true. After all, Jiminy Cricket famously remarked, “When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true”.

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