It boggles the mind today how fast Disneyland was created. From its initial announcement on The Disneyland Story, it took a mere eleven months for Walt to turn pictures into a full theme park. Today, we’re so used to projects taking years and years and years and years (hey everyone, Guardians of the Galaxy will be coming “at some point!” Isn’t that exciting), the fact that Disneyland went from “it’s coming!” to “open” in less than a year is not even fathomable. The DCA expansion took six years. Avatar took six years. Even tiny little DCA itself took four. The Fantasyland expansion (which is two rides and some buildings) took four. But the entirety of Disneyland? Less than one year.
There are much better authors than I who have regaled tales of Disneyland’s construction to the masses, so I won’t do to repeat them hear. I would recommend you read them, though. Walt’s irascibility is in full form, as he is 100% involved in the process and obsessed over every detail. He sketched the final layout of Tom Sawyer Island, consistently pushed landscape guru Bill Evans to relocate taller and taller trees, insisted that the wagons for the pack mule ride be upholstered with the finest leather, and refused to build an administration building. You can pick up any copy of a Disneyland history book or Walt Disney biography to read all about them (my personal favorites being Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas and How to Be Like Walt by Pat Williams).
Today’s YouTube Tuesday video is a time-lapse (and in color!) film compilation of the construction of Disneyland from various cameras stationed in each of Disneyland’s major lands. It is featured as an Easter Egg in the Disneyland: Secrets, Stories and Magic DVD collection (as part of Wave Seven of the Walt Disney Treasures tin set). The footage is narrated by Tony Baxter (representing WDI), Ed Hobbleman and Walter Magnuson (representing the Disney Studio Inventory Group).
This was quite a find by Disney, as Tony explains in the narration. The footage, believe it or not, was found in a can inside a Pennsylvania salt mine. Yeah. It was a film canister with the word “Disneyland” scribbled on the front, and someone found it and returned it to Disney. While I usually don’t believe in UFOs or ghosts or time travelers, this is some serious X-Files material. How does something like that even happen? Did they also find Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa down there?
The material is presented in three parts: first, an opening section where we get to see Walt walking the property. Second is the time-lapse footage, one segment for each land. And finally, there is some video of Walt, Harper Goff and company overseeing the construction of the Jungle Cruise. Walt was famous for preserving his and his team’s thought processes (he hired stenographers to take detailed notes in every story meeting during the creation of the animated movies, and saved as many original sketches in the archives as he could), and here he realized that the construction of Disneyland would one day be something to study and reference back to. So, he set up numerous cameras and observation towers around the property to film the construction footage in time-lapse as it was happening. What we see here is an American historical landmark in all stages of construction. It’s like going back in time and seeing the building of the cathedral of Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower.
The video does a good job of speaking for itself, however I’ve included a few ancillary thoughts of the footage:
00:05 Amazing (when you watch it in slo-mo) that the roads around Disneyland still exist in the familiar east-west box pattern. Though we can’t tell which streets are featured here, the North/South Walnut, Harbor, and West and the East/West Katella and Ball are surely included in this whirlwind footage.
00:25 It’s so incredible and fortunate today that we have most of this video in color footage. We can see what Walt wore to work in glorious color! Gotta love that red-checkered shirt and white hat. And his cigar isn’t edited out. The narrators discuss the infamous “Walt reel” found in the recovered footage.
01:20 Some rare footage of Roy in color as well.
02:00 Don’t know if this makeshift observation tower was mentioned in any historical books or records. But it just goes to show how efficient the Disneyland planners were. They built an observation deck not only for themselves, but for Walt so he could point out the layout of certain areas and whether he thought they were headed in the right direction. Remember, as Tony describes the actual construction of Disneyland was done in only 7 months! As this is with notorious perfectionist Walt Disney at the helm! Amazing. And it’s followed by incredible 360-degree view of the Disneyland site!
03:10 starts the time-lapse footage, starting with Main Street. A few notes here:
1. Note how the Jungle Cruise foliage had already been planted by the time vertical construction on Main Street started, in order to get the best of a Spring “growth” season
2. Because of the less strict building and construction regulations compared to today, vertical construction on Main Street was completed in only four months! Tony Baxter relates how it took a full five years to build Euro Disney.
3. Tony mentions the split-second appearance of the infamous Town Square Gazebo, which Walt wanted to place in Town Square near the flagpole. However, once it was placed the team realized it blocked Guests’ view of the castle. So, the gazebo was moved to the Magnolia Park section of Frontierland, which is where New Orleans Square is now. As Tony reminds us, this again speaks to the practicality of Walt Disney’s creative design sense. If it didn’t work, it was out, no questions asked, no matter how much operational headache it causes.
4. The Phantom Boats again prove to be the most unreliable mechanics imaginable. Even right before opening, the boats had still not made it to the lagoon!
5. Tony explains that fiberglass was not used too much upon opening, though Disney became obsessed with it afterwards. This was because, in 1955, fiberglass was still a “miracle material” and thus expensive to acquire. So only a few elements of the park were featured in all their fiberglass glory.
6. It’s just funny that Storybookland started out as a literal mud ditch with views of weeds and grass called Canal Boats of the World. The plants, you see, were from around the world. That’ll be a “B” Ticket, please.
7. 32:45 This is how guests are going to be greeted at my house one day.
8. 34:50 An absolutely amazing overlook view of the Jungle Cruise before the foliage fully grew in. As Tony mentions, this is probably the only time you’ll ever see such a clear overlook of the full ride layout.
The footage itself is, of course, incredible. The video presented here is a full 37 minutes of the literally hundreds of hours of material (Tony says he sat through 400 hours. And you thought a Hobbit/Lord of the Rings marathon was bad!). This is Disneyland construction footage in full color. Time-lapse for each land. With color footage of Walt, Roy, Davy Crockett and Joe Fowler walking around. It is truly a fine treasure for the Disney history hunter.
Thanks for YouTubing with us, and we hope you Tube in next Tuesday!
Previous YouTube Tuesday Features: