Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Walt's Main Street Part Four: Home Away From Home

For the fourth and final topic of “Walt’s Main Street,” I want to talk about a little hideaway that sits on top of the Fire Station in Town Square. In preparing for this specific portion of the tour, I was fortunate enough to be able to converse directly with Diane Disney Miller. She shared some wonderful stories with me, which I was delighted to share with the tour group, and will happily share with you now.

Part Four
Home Away From Home

It’s no secret that during the creation of Disneyland, Walt had a private apartment constructed so he could spend more time at the park. And to cut down on his commute from the Studios in Burbank, he even had a heliport added to the property, which initially was located in the parking lot behind Tomorrowland.

Walt enjoying a helicopter ride
Photo courtesy of the Disney History Institute

After Disneyland opened, if the lamp in the apartment’s front window was on, it let cast members know that Walt was in the park. It is perpetually on now to symbolize that Walt’s spirit is always there. When Walt was around, however, there was one other tip that let cast members know he was in the apartment: the doors to the Fire Station would be closed. Walt was up there to rest or to work. It was hard to do either with kids constantly ringing the bell downstairs, or shaking the fire pole (which for a while was not blocked off).

Disney’s Academy Award-winning set decorator Emile Kuri beautifully decorated the apartment in the Victorian style. In addition to supervising the decoration of Disney’s groundbreaking exhibits for the 1964/65 New York World's Fair, Kuri took home the Oscar in 1955 for his art/set decoration on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Walt added some of his own touches with items he had picked up in antique shops all over the world. A beautiful phonograph could be found close to the front door, complete with a charming green hood adorned in Morning Glories. On the other side of the apartment, there was a late 19th century music box from the Regina Music Box Company. Both antique music players were fully functional.

Edison phonograph

The tiny apartment had a bathroom, a kitchenette, a small changing room, and couches that folded out into beds. In the kitchenette you could find things like baby bottles for the grandkids, cans of chili, and a sandwich grill so Walt could whip up a quick grilled cheese. There was (and still is) a terrace outside, which was also decorated by Kuri. Walt and his family would enjoy buffet lunches out there, and often watch the parades.

During the latest episode of Coffee with Kurtti, Jeff Kurtti told a story about how one early morning on Main Street, some workers saw a man sauntering down the street in his pajamas, bathrobe and slippers. That man was Walt Disney. As Walt approached the workers, he informed them that he had the keys to the Sunkist Citrus House, and invited them in for orange juice. I asked Diane if she had heard that specific story. “No I hadn’t,” she replied. “But that sounds just like Dad.”

Chat with Diane

One day the family was together in the apartment, and Walt saw Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen out on Main Street. He yelled down to them through the window, “Hey come on up!” When they were in the apartment he showed them the pole, and dared them both to slide down it. They accepted Walt’s challenge, and everyone got a kick out of it. I asked Diane if Walt ever slid down it, and she replied, “No.” I then asked if she ever used the pole, and she did not. In fact she stated she only ever saw Parker and Ebsen use it.

I had heard the story about the sounds of the Jungle Cruise being audible from the apartment a few times before, but I have to admit, when Diane told it to me, I still chuckled. “Ron and I spent the night there once with the kids. The apartment is on top of the firehouse, and right on the other side is where the jungle ride is. And they don’t disconnect the sound. So all night long you heard the natives going ‘Ah-ahh-ahhhh!’ You hear the gunshot, the hippo, you know. And the sound goes on periodically all night long.” At that point I was chuckling, but she pressed on. “It was not a peaceful night.”

With one of my favorite filmmakers, Jerry Rees, in front of Walt's apartment.
The red arrow indicates where the Jungle Cruise is in relation to it.

Diane also reminisced about the times they watched parades together as a family from the apartment’s terrace. “Those were very personal things,” she said. “I think the thing that is important is, that was their [Walt and Lillie’s] spot. They spent a lot of time there. He loved to get up early and walk the park, before anybody was there. And as soon as the Aunt Jemima Pancake House opened, he would go and have pancakes there.”

Before our chat ended, Diane shared one last memory with me. “Every afternoon when the sun was going down, the Disneyland Band would come down Main Street and gather around the flagpole, and play some very patriotic music as they lowered the flag. Dad loved that,” she said. “He would get very emotional when he watched that happen. The American flag meant a lot to him.”

Flag Retreat Ceremony on Main Street, present day
Photo courtesy of Orange County Daily Photo

Stories like Walt with the early morning workers, and family gatherings in the apartment, always make me smile. I love pretty much all of the Disney parks, but Disneyland will always have a special place in my heart, because it still has Walt’s fingerprints all over it. I hope you enjoyed reading about “Walt’s Main Street” as much as I enjoyed sharing it with you.

I'd also like to add that a lot of the furniture from Walt's apartment can be seen in person at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. If you're ever in the Bay Area, definitely consider paying us a visit.

But before we go, please say hi to my final group during the Yesterland Tour, the enchanting Group B!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Walt's Main Street Part Three: Still Around Today

In part two of the “Walt’s Main Street” series, I wrote, “In Walt’s day, Main Street was home to several places we still know today.” And I meant it! So, let’s talk about a few of them.

Walt’s Main Street
Part Three: Still Around Today

At over 4,000 square feet, the Emporium is easily the largest retail establishment in all of Disneyland. The shopping mainstay has been in the same location since opening day. Besides being Disneyland’s largest shop, it’s also the most cherished. Not only has it withstood the test of time, it has also showcased a few stories for us. In 1969, Disneyland featured Peter Pan dioramas in some of the Emporium’s windows to promote the film’s impending re-release. Little did they know then that a tradition was born, and throughout the decades scenes from many of Disney’s animated classics have been recreated with charming detail.

Peter Pan diorama
Photo courtesy of Disney By Mark

Main Street Cinema, which also opened with the park, didn’t always show cartoons as it does today. For about its first 30 years, it featured films from the silent era, some dating back to film’s earliest days. In the 1980s, the format was changed to showcase early Disney animation instead, and Mickey’s most famous animated short became the new headliner.

The Main Street Magic Shop did not open with the park, but was very much around with Walt, debuting on Main Street in 1957. When it did open, it was not Disneyland’s only house of sorcery. Merlin’s Magic Shop, which did open with the park, was located over in Fantasyland (it closed in 1983). While it’s true that Steve Martin famously worked in the Magic Shop on Main Street, the fact is he actually split time between both locations. The Magic Shop has long been considered a Main Street staple, with its amusing products and its dazzling marquee.

In part one of this series, we learned that the building that houses the Refreshment Corner (formerly the Coca-Cola Refreshment Corner) in Disneyland was inspired by Marceline’s own Zurcher Building. What we didn’t learn was that when the building was outlined in alternating red and white bulbs, they ended up with an odd number of bulbs, which meant there would have to be two whites in a row (or two reds). Walt wouldn’t let that happen of course, so a half white, half red bulb was created.

Love this little touch
Photo courtesy of Finding Mickey

The Refreshment Corner has been around since day one, and is possibly best known for being the longtime host to Rod Miller, the amazingly talented ragtime piano player. Rod himself retired a few years ago, but ragtime piano can still be enjoyed in that location. And Rod’s talents can still also be enjoyed these days, if you know where to look. I ran into him at the Walt Disney Family Museum in 2011, and he was gracious enough to play "Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" for me. What’s amazing about Rod is he doesn’t read sheet music. He just uses his ear.

Rod Miller at the WDFM

It’s hard to picture Disneyland’s Main Street, especially at night, and not see the Penny Arcade’s brilliant fa├žade enticing you to part with your copper change. Like most of the aforementioned locations, the Penny Arcade opened on July 17, 1955. And for its first seven years, it was home to Disneyland’s first shooting gallery; only this one didn’t operate via infrared like the Frontierland one we know today. Guests fired real live .22-caliber weapons at both moving and stationary targets. Patrons into less explosive entertainment could (and still can) choose from a variety of mechanized parlor games, such as: watching a hand-cranked silent film, testing their grip against Uncle Sam, or finding how much pain they can tolerate in Electricity is Life, where brave souls grasp two metal handles and hold on as the electricity level slowly increases. The popular fortune-telling machine featuring Esmeralda is still prominently featured at the arcade’s entrance, and in the back you can still find the wood and brass musical Orchestron, which Walt purchased in Germany before Disneyland even opened.

While no one can say which Disneyland establishments will never be replaced, it’s hard to imagine a Main Street without any of the stores mentioned above!

And here we have the fantastic Group A from the Yesterland Tour.

Stay tuned for the fourth and final installment of Walt’s Main Street, as we learn a few little-known facts about Walt’s apartment from Diane Disney Miller herself.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dueling Disney: Tom Sawyer Island

Welcome to the third installment of Dueling Disney. This time ‘round, we’d like ya’ll to join us for a good ol’ fashioned hoot n’ holler over a little plot of land that can only be reached by crossing the mighty Rivers of America...


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Walt's Main Street Part Two: Early Shopping

Part one of my recap left off at just some of the inspirations for the original Main Street, U.S.A. In part two, let's explore a little early patronage...

Walt’s Main Street
Part Two: Early Shopping

What hasn’t changed since Walt is that Main Street, U.S.A., is a miscellany of commerce. Retail shops line both sides of the street offering eager guests a variety of clothing, jewelry, toys, collectibles, and food. What has changed, however, is the type of wares one can acquire. In Walt’s day, Main Street was home to several places we still know today (we’ll cover that in part 3). But what existed on Main Street in Walt’s day?

For those of you who have seen the wonderful film Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years featuring Steve Martin, you probably remember two of the more unusual places. On the east side of Main Street, which is the right side if you’re walking towards the castle, and just past Disney Clothiers, there’s a storefront with its own little porch. In 1955 that building was known as Intimate Apparel, aka the Corset Shop, aka The Wizard of Bras. In fact one of the bras available for purchase was the Strapless Whirlpool Bra, and its claim to its clientele was that it “Makes the most of you.” As to why that storefront is the only one on Main Street with a front porch, there are three theories. Some have said it was to act as a buffer to the hustle and bustle of Main Street, making the recessed building’s window displays just a little bit harder to see than the others. The second theory is that the porch offered refuge for weary gentlemen who may or may not have been interested in perusing brassieres with their better halves. The third theory is far less sophisticated: coincidence. Some reports have indicated that the building was designed before it had ever been decided that it would house brassieres. Whatever the reason, the porch still exists today, and is one of the more relaxing places to sit in the park. The building is also home to Disney Legend Rolly Crump’s Main Street window. Next time you’re in Disneyland, pay it a visit. Intimate Apparel closed in 1956, and the neighboring Glass and China Shop took over its retail space.

Intimate Apparel: "Making the most of women" for a little over a year in Disneyland

The second unusual location mentioned in the Steve Martin film was the pharmacy. The Upjohn Pharmacy opened with the park, and was located on the west side of Main Street, in the building currently occupied by New Century Jewelry. Now you couldn’t exactly fill a prescription there, but you could obtain some pills. Little packs of all-purpose vitamins were given out for free. And the rest of the pharmacy was used to display turn of the century pharmaceutical equipment and medicine, which actually included a jar of leeches.

Pharmacy interior

Yum, Leeches!
Photo courtesy of davelandweb

The Pharmacy was just one of several examples of actual establishments you would find on the Main Street of a small town in the early 20th century. Just like, a bank. The Bank of America, located where the Disney Gallery currently resides, opened with the park, and had the distinction of being one of the only banks in the entire country open on Sundays. Like the pharmacy, it wasn’t a completely functioning bank. You could however open a BofA account, cash checks, and even get checks with images from Disneyland on them.

Right next door to the Bank of America was a realtor’s office. Town Square Realty operated from 1955 till 1960, and was actually home to a working realtor. The realtor sold land in the Apple Valley, a sparsely developed area 85 miles northeast of Disneyland. Besides purchasing land there, you could get a free park map, or free prepackaged pouches of bona fide California dirt!

Town Square Realty, located next to the Bank of America
Photo courtesy of matterhorn1959.blogspot.com

A few of the other early establishments included:

Cole of California Swimsuits: Fred Cole, a former silent movie actor turned swimwear mogul, once occupied the very last shop at the end of the west side of Main Street. The small shop wasn’t a mainstay however, only operating from 1956 to 1957.

Do you know why there is a seemingly random Wooden Indian in front of the 20th Century Music Shop? Well, from opening day, all the way up till 1990, the 20th Century Music Shop was then a shop called Fine Tobacco. Walt Disney, after all, was a smoker. Plus it made sense as like many of the aforementioned businesses, a small town in the early 1900s would have more than likely contained a tobacco shop of some kind.

Fine Tobacco
Photo courtesy of Yesterland

Main Street’s first casualty came in the form of a baby shop. Grandma’s Baby Shop, specializing in infant items and apparel, opened with the park, but lasted only two months. While sad for grandma, it was a win for Disneyland, since the long-standing Silhouette Shop took its place.

In the late 50s, in the alley on the east side of Main Street that leads to the lockers, there was a Coin Shop (which also sold stamps). It was located right next to a pen shop, which was creatively titled, The Pen Shop. Other than selling pens, you could also view replicas of historical documents, or receive a handwriting analysis.

A handwriting analysis, stores that don’t sell anything, free dirt; it’s hard not to see that when Disneyland first opened, it was much more about “the show.” The majority of Main Street establishments that were around with Walt have since retired to Yesterland.

There are a few, however, that remain. And we’ll go over those in part 3!

But first, may I present the charming Group D from the Yesterland Tour...

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Walt’s Main Street Part One: Inspirations

On Sunday, February 3, I was one of four presenters involved in MiceChat’s Yesterland Tour in Disneyland. The tour was designed to give guests a small glimpse into what Disneyland was like in Walt’s day. Four presenters each manned their own stations, while groups of roughly 25 guests cycled through each stop. Sam Gennaway (author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City, and the upcoming The Disneyland That Was, Is, and Never Will Be) was stationed on the second floor (outside) of Innoventions in Tomorrowland. Dave Avanzino, an artist known to Disney fans for his shadowbox artwork available at Disney art galleries, was stationed between Casey Jr. and Dumbo in Fantasyland. Jeffrey Epstein, D23 marketing manager best known for his “D23’s Disney Geek” video series, was next to the petrified tree in Frontierland. And as for myself, I was hanging out next to the hub at Pixie Hollow, and was talking about Main Street (I couldn’t be on Main Street due to the impending parade).

Due to time constraints, I was only able to go through about 75% of my prepared material. I have decided to break my presentation up in four parts, and include one photo I took with every group in each part of the recap. That way those who took the tour can see the rest of the material, and those who didn't, you get to see it, period!

Walt’s Main Street
Part One: Inspirations

Hello everybody. My name is Keith Gluck, and I’ll be speaking to you about Main Street U.S.A., as it was through Walt’s eyes. Some of the stuff I’ll be going over opened with the park on July 17, 1955, some of it came later, but before Walt’s untimely passing in December of 1966. First, however, I want to touch upon some of Walt Disney’s inspirations for Main Street.

Walt Disney once said, “Main Street, U.S.A., is America at the turn of the century. The crossroads of an era. The gas lamps and the electric lamps, the horse drawn car and the auto car. Main Street is everyone’s hometown… the heartline of America.”

"And I think I'll put my private apartment... here."
Photo courtesy Orange County Archives

So where did Main Street’s inspirations come from? First and foremost, Walt drew probably the most from his experiences as a boy growing up in Marceline, Missouri. He lived in Marceline for just 5 years, between the ages of 4 and 9. But that experience stayed with him for the rest of his life. In fact Walt’s daughter Diane Disney Miller once said that well into her teens, she assumed her father had spent his entire childhood there, as much as he reminisced about his days in that small town. He called upon much of that experience when designing Disneyland, Main Street in particular. For example…

  • The Santa Fe Railroad ran through Marceline. When Disneyland first opened, the company that sponsored the railroad that circled the park was… the Santa Fe Railroad. At the time the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad only had two stops: Frontierland and Main Street.
  • Walt’s first experiences with the magic of movies took place in “Cater’s Opera House” on Kansas Avenue in Marceline. The Opera House, at the foot of Main Street in Town Square in Disneyland, still exists today. And in fact, while it was originally designed to be a lavish theater, it didn’t start out that way. For the first six years Disneyland was open, it functioned as an actual lumber mill, churning out materials for the rest of the park. It wasn’t until 1965 that it fulfilled its destiny, and became home to the amazing audio-animatronic hit from the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair called, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, which after a hiatus is back entertaining guests today. 
  • Eight years before construction began on Disneyland, Walt took a trip to Marceline and shot motion-picture footage of it. A few of the buildings on Main Street are 2/3 replicas of real buildings that existed in Marceline. One example is a place Walt knew as the Zurcher Building, which inspired the Coca Cola Corner. It has been in Disneyland since opening day, and is now known as the Refreshment Corner.

Zurcher Building, Marceline, MO
Pic courtesy of Yesterland.com

Refreshment Corner, Main Street U.S.A.

After Walt, a tribute was added on the East side of Main Street, down the alley just before you reach the lockers. Once there, look to your right. You’ll see an unassuming little hotel that goes by the name of… Hotel Marceline. I hear it’s a wonderful place to stay. Clean, quiet, and it now has electricity throughout.

Speaking of electricity, there was another place that must have had a very strong influence on not only Disneyland, but Main Street as well. When Walt left Marceline at the age of 9, his family relocated to Kansas City, MO. They lived on East 31st Street, which was only 15 blocks away from an amusement enterprise called Electric Park. While hardly any of its attractions bore much resemblance to what would wind up in Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom, it’s hard not to notice the few similarities. For example, every night there was a fireworks show. Also, the park was surrounded by a train. But for the purposes of this section of the tour, I’d like to point out that the entrance to Electric Park contained buildings. Buildings that were outlined in thousands of brilliant light bulbs. All told there were over 100,000 electric lights contouring the structures throughout the Kansas City amusement park, and as I’m sure you’ve realized by now, that is not unlike Disneyland’s Main Street after the sun goes down.

Electric Park, Kansas City, MO
pic courtesy of http://library.umkc.edu/

Before the tour I had the privilege of speaking to Diane Disney Miller about her father, to see if I could get any extra little tidbits specifically for my presentation. I asked her what she knew about Walt and Electric Park. She informed me that either Herb (Walt’s older brother) or Herb’s girlfriend had shown Walt how to sneak in (Walt's father Elias would never allow for such an extravagance as an amusement park visit), and that he was fascinated with the place. Walt even told his sister Ruth, “I’m going to have one of these someday, but mine’s going to be clean.”

That's it for Part One! Below is a photo with my first group of the day, the wonderful Group C.

Now THAT'S a good-lookin' group!

Come back soon for Part Two, where we cover early Main Street shopping.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Dueling Disney: Main Street, U.S.A.

The people have spoken! While there is no way we have enough content to do a (quality) weekly column, we have decided to make Dueling Disney a bi-weekly series. This time Jeff and I talk about our respective Main Streets. Let the best one win!