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Disneyland - Walt Disney's "Theme Park" Real
origins had deep roots in Walt Disney's past. He later told inquirers that he
first had the idea for a new kind of amusement park when he took his two young
daughters out for fun on weekends and found that, "
existing kids' parks
and fairs were often dirty, sleazy, money-grubbing places." In spite of the
fact he had never developed real estate or managed a large-scale construction
project, Disney nourished his notions of a new kind of amusement park throughout
the late 1940s and early 1950s. His idea for displaying Disney characters in a
fantasy setting was a bold departure from present-day amusement parks and carnivals
that offered rides, games, and inexpensive food. Instead Disneyland was conceived
as an extension of the Disney brand, and would be the first "theme park"
built in the United States, signaling a major shift in amusement park construction
-and, equally as importantly, in real estate development surrounding major attractions.
his ideas for the development began to expand and take shape, Walt found little
enthusiasm for the project within his own company. His brother Roy, the financial
director of the studio, strongly opposed it, believing that this "fanciful,
expensive amusement park would lead to financial ruin." Most bankers and
investors agreed, feeling that Disney's lack of real estate development and construction
experience was too large a hurdle to overcome. But Walt, confident of his own
vision, sidestepped the studio and began to gather funds by borrowing on his life
insurance and selling vacation property in southern California. He assembled a
staff of designers, planners, and artists and formed WED Enterprises - the letters
were his initials - as a personal corporation to house them.
out of a small building on the Disney Burbank lot, the WED group began a long
process of creative brainstorming. Its members conceptualized, designed, and reworked
Walt's broad ideas. They visited other amusement attractions around the country
to gather data and impressions and flesh out development plans, and with the help
of commercial contractors created a rough construction timetable.
major large hurdles - obtaining financing and securing a location - still blocked
the launching of the park's construction. In July of that year, Walt recognized
his need to seek real estate development expertise and solicited a pair of marketing
studies from the Stanford Research Institute: one would examine the economic prospects
of developing Disneyland, and the other the ideal location for construction.
determining the facility could be profitable, the Stanford group closely examined
a host of factors - demographic statistics, urban growth trends, population concentrations,
traffic patterns, freeway construction, availability of experienced commercial
contractors, weather conditions - before recommending a sight in Anaheim, a rapidly
growing town just southeast of Los Angeles. The study eventually led to the purchase
of a 160-acre orange grove alongside the new Santa Ana freeway; its proximity
to a major freeway meant the park was a short 27-minute drive from downtown Los
Disney had struggled to find additional financing; as he later
recalled, he was told by bankers that "the outdoor amusement business was
a cultural anachronism that had already declined into senility." A few months
later, the financial breakthrough came with a long-term agreement with ABC which
brought the television network in as a major investor. (ABC agreed to carry Disney
television programming, marking Mickey Mouse's first network appearance and the
start of a tremendously profitable partnership for both companies. ABC also agreed
to help publicize Disneyland in return for an ownership stake in the property.)
With financing in place and a location secured, construction began in the
summer of 1953. Commercial contractors and construction companies fell under the
overall leadership of Joe Fowler, an engineer and retired navy admiral who became
construction supervisor, and later park manager for ten years.
was formally opened a year later, on July 18, 1955, to glowing reviews. Unlike
other amusement parks of the day, Disneyland was developed and constructed to
be instantly recognizable as an extension of the Disney brand and the Disney philosophy.
The rides used an array of Disney motifs, costumed Disney characters roamed the
park, and Sleeping Beauty Castle, the looming attraction at the heart of the park,
was instantly recognizable to millions of people since it was seen every Sunday
night on ABC television. Disneyland became, in a sense, the capstone of Walt Disney's
capstone of his career also quickly became the cornerstone of an empire. In its
first six months, one million people visited the park; in its first full year,
three million people passed through its gates. The park quickly generated capital
to finance a vast expansion, and in subsequent years, each time the park expanded
its capacity, revenues increased more than proportionately to the added capital.
In spite of his lack of real estate development experience, Disney had created
park plans that allowed for expansion and resulting construction that would not
interfere with ongoing park operations.
Disney also recognized that Disneyland
would become a destination for vacationers, and his plans left room for hotels
and restaurants to be built surrounding the park - a model that later was used
in the construction of Disney World, where hotels and restaurants are an integral
part of the amusement park; Disney World features more than 20 Disney-owned resorts
on its property, ranging from campsites to deluxe villas. The Disney model has
been been further replicated in Disney theme parks in Paris and Tokyo as well;
Disney's diversification from cartoons and movies into vacation environments now
includes a Disney cruise line as well.
In fact, Disneyland signaled a major
shift in amusement and theme park development and construction. Almost every major
amusement park in the U.S. today is a descendant of and aspires to the Disney
model: a focus on convenience, a superior guest experience, development planning
allowing easy and seamless expansion, and most importantly a "theme"
that gives a park a sense of identity and uniqueness.
By developing Disneyland,
Walt Disney not only changed the fortunes of the Disney Company; he also revived
the dying American amusement park business and made it a multi-billion dollar
industry entertaining millions of people every year. Disney is justifiably celebrated
for creating characters like Mickey Mouse, Snow White and Bambi - but his effect
on real estate development and theme park construction is no less significant.