Disneyland’s History

One day Walt Disney had a vision. It was a vision of a place where children and parents could have fun together. The more Walt dreamed of a “magical park,” the more imaginative and elaborate it became.

The original plans for the park were on 8 acres next to the Burbank studios where his employees and families could go to relax. Although, World War II put those plans on hold. During the war, Walt had time to come up with new ideas, and creations for his magical park. It was soon clear that 8 acres wouldn’t be enough.

Finally in 1953, he had the Stanford Research Institute conduct a survey for a 100-acre site, outside of Los Angeles. He needed space to build rivers, waterfalls, and mountains; he would have flying elephants and giant teacups;a fairy-tale castle, moon rockets, and a scenic railway; all inside a magic kingdom he called “Disneyland.”

Location was a top priority. The property would have to be within the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and accessible by freeway. It would also have to be affordable: Walt’s pockets were only so deep.

The site where Disneyland was to be built.

The search for the best spot finally ended in the rural Anaheim, California with a purchase of a 160-acre orange grove near the junction of the Santa Ana Freeway (I-5) and Harbor Boulevard.

Although, Disneyland was expensive. Walt once said “I could never convince the financiers that Disneyland was feasible, because dreams offer too little collateral.” So Walt turned to Television for his financial support. “Walt Disney’s Disneyland” television series offered a glimpse of the future project. This brought the idea of Disneyland into reality for Walt and the American people.

Construction for Disneyland began on July 21, 1954, a meager 12 months before the park was scheduled to open. From that day forward Walt Disney’s life would never be the same.

Some 160-acres of citrus trees had been cleared and 15 houses moved to make room for the park. The area was in semi-rural Orange County, near a freeway that would eventually stretch from San Diego to Vancouver.

Walt discussing the plans of all the different lands

When the real designing came around, Walt was met with inevitable questions. How do you make believable wild animals, that aren’t real? How do you make a Mississippi paddle ship? How do you go about building a huge castle in the middle of Anaheim, California? So, Walt Disney looked to his movie studio staff for the answers. The design of Disneyland was something never done before. There would be five uniquely different lands.


Walt had planed out all the lands, to every detail. Main Street, U.S.A., the very front of the park, was where Walt wanted to relive the typical turn of the century city Main Street. He said:

“For those of us who remember the carefree time it recreates, Main Street will bring back happy memories. For younger visitors, it is an adventure in turning back the calendar to the days of grandfather’s youth.”

Walt made Main Street U.S.A the entrance to a “weenie,” as he called it. He said:

“What you need is a weenie, which says to people ‘come this way.’ People won’t go down a long corridor unless there’s something promising at the end. You have to have something the beckons them to ‘walk this way.'”

Walt also had planed for an “exotic tropical place” in a “far-off region of the world.” Called Adventureland. Walt said, “To create a land that would make this dream reality, we pictured ourselves far from civilization, in the remote jungles of Asia and Africa.”
Frontierland was made to relive the pioneer days of the American frontier. Walt said:

“All of us have a cause to be proud of our country’s history, shaped by the pioneering spirit of our forefathers. . .Our adventures are designed to give you the feeling of having lived, even for a short while, during our country’s pioneer days.”

Fantasyland was created with the goal to “make dreams come true” from the lyrics of “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Walt said:
“What youngster. . .has not dreamed of flying with Peter Pan over moonlit London, or tumbling into Alice’s nonsensical Wonderland? In Fantasyland, these classic stories of everyone’s youth have become realities for youngsters-of all ages-to participate in.”

Fantasyland would feature a large Sleeping Beauty Castle, and a Fantasy Village.
Tomorrowland was created as a look at the “marvels of the future.” Walt said:

“Tomorrow can be a wonderful age. Our scientists today are opening the doors of the Space Age to achievements that will benefit our children and generations to come. . .The Tomorrowland attractions have been designed to give you an opportunity to participate in adventures that are a living blueprint of our future.”

Although, Walt had trouble working on Tommorrowland. He said that “right when we do Tommorrowland, it will be out dated.”

Walt Stayed close to every detail of the Park’s Construction, and he visited the site in Anaheim several times a week. Progress went sporadically despite exasperating obstacles.

The Rivers of America, carved out of sandy citrus grove soil, refused to hold water. The answer was finally found in a bed of native clay: an inch layer on the river bottom formed a pad as hard as cement. Although, minor set backs did follow, progress did continue.

Disneyland under construction in 1955

Plants were planted throughout the park, emptying nurseries from Santa Barbara to San Diego. Detail was made; if Walt Disney didn’t like what his studio designers came up with, he’d do it himself. An example of this is Tom Sawyers Island. He thought his designers had “misunderstood the idea” so Walt took home the plans and the next day had it designed the way it appears today.


Bit by bit, Disneyland got ready for Opening Day. The staff worked around the clock to get ready. The Mark Twain was being moved, deck by deck, down the Santa Ana freeway to get to Disneyland on time. Finally, everything seemed to come together. The “magical little park” was really a $17,000,000 “Magic Kingdom.” Walt’s dream had come true and Disneyland was ready to open.”

Opening day, was a day to remember. Six thousand invitations to the Grand Opening had been mailed. By mid-afternoon over 28,000 ticket holders were storming the Magic Kingdom. Most of the tickets were counterfeit.

Walt Disney was 53 when he dedicated Disneyland Park. It was a memorable ceremony. There in Town Square, Walt could look around and see the fulfillment of his hopes, dreams, and ambitions in the form of a spectacular entertainment kingdom.

Although, Opening Day was a terrible disaster. A 15 day heat wave raised temperatures up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, due to a plumbers strike, few water fountains were operating in the hot weather. Asphalt still steaming, because it had been laid the night before, literality “trapping” high heeled shoes. After opening day, the heat wave continued, and almost wiped out the park.

Beside the terrible opening day conditions, the park did eventually pick up. By 1965, ten years after opening day, 50 Million visitors had come through the gates.

Even though Walt Disney wasn’t able to see how his park and his company prospered and grew into the 21st Century, his legacy still lives on with us. Throughout Disneyland and throughout the entire world, he will always be there.

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