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.

No comments:

Post a Comment