BLOG: Disneyland California – The Story Leading to Magic Kingdom's 50th Anniversary

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The Chronicles of our Magic Makers

By Isabelle De Roy and Mélanie Lucas - 16 July 2021 

Disneyland California – the story that leads us to the 50th anniversary of Magic Kingdom!


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©Disney

Disneyland Park in California is the only park that Walt Disney will have visited in his lifetime! Inaugurated on July 17, 1955, it was built in less than a year by the teams from Walt Disney Imagineering (WED Company) company created to design and build Disneyland.

It is said that the idea of a family amusement park would be a dream of Walt Disney and would have come to him while he was sitting on a park bench watching her daughters having fun on the carousel horses of Griffith Park in Los Angeles, while all the adults around were waiting! Moreover, at the Walt Disney Museum in San Francisco, we find this « fameux » park bench so iconic in Disney history! 


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©Disney 

After enjoying great success with his designs and above all, his animated films, Walt Disney's brain is bubbling with ideas! Having a passion for trains and miniatures, wanting to combine all his passions, he decides to embark on this fabulous project that is the construction of a new amusement park, a place where young AND old could have fun together! He wanted to use a portion of the lands of his animation studio in Burbank, California, but he has so many ideas that he quickly realizes that he will run out of space! So he buys a plus large lot 30km from Los Angeles, which will become Disneyland! He draws quickly plans, sketches of what he wants and dreams for his park, but it is impossible for him to do everything alone. This will lead to the creation of the WED Entreprise in 1952. Financed by his personal assets, after several plans and planning works, he laid the foundation stone of the park on July 21, 1954. So he barely has a year left to complete the construction since the opening is already announced for July 1955! What's more, as he very often changes his mind and returns regularly to the board drawing, the workers must readjust and even undo the constructions already started.

Quickly, Walt Disney realizes that the costs will be exorbitant. To finance part of the construction of the park, he launched October 1954 the program Le Monde Merveilleux by Disney on the ABC channel, a program hosted by himself. Thanks to this, it will have regular funding and as it also features footage from the construction and the future spectator park, he thus makes sure to make it the advertising!

The park opened on July 17, 1955. Main Street's concrete has was laid the day before and is not even completely dry! We wait around 6,000 people for the inaugural day… more than twice as many will want to attend rush and we will be close to disaster. A plumbers' strike will prevent to supply the park with water for several hours, the guests will force the fences and several attractions will break down. Nonetheless, it was a immediate success and in a few months, more than a million visitors will wander on Main Street. There are classic attractions such as Jungle Cruise, Mad Tea Party or Peter Pan's Flight. At the end of the 1950s, a monorail will be built and will pass through Disneyland and several rides will be added over the years years. With the advent of technology, some of the most famous park attractions will be built like Haunted Mansion, It’s a Small World or Pirates of Caribbean. A new park, Disney California Adventure, will be also built in the 2000s, just across from the original park. We finds in the Walt Disney Family Museum models of the evolution of the park. 


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©Disney/Pixar

Quickly, as soon as Disneyland opened, Walt Disney realizes that he will run out of acreage in California to scale his projects as desired. There is little land left around and above all, several promoters, having seen the success, bought all the land available to build businesses and hotels. He will therefore have the idea of build a second park, in an environment more suited to his dreams. The Florida then attracted more than 20 million tourists a year and above all, it is far enough away not to compete with the original Disneyland.

He travels to Florida to scout and finds the Orlando area particularly interesting, with the highways, the airport and the many lakes and marshes, for the development of its future project. Between 1963 and 1965, with the help of various front companies, he bought to numerous owners over 27 443 acres of land, in secret, in order to avoid price inflation and overbidding, before announcing in 1965 the creation of the Walt Disney World Company. An Orlando newspaper had discovered the secret buyer of the huge territory and so Disney took advantage of it to announce a press conference that will reveal his plans for the creation of a second Disneyland, in Orlando. 


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Unfortunately, Walt Disney died in 1966, before the inauguration on October 1, 1971 of Magic Kingdom and what will be the first park at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, the first phase of his grandiose project. He will therefore not see the evolution of the magical world of which he will have dreamed so much! 


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