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...


  1. I love all the old photographs, Disney history is so interesting! I really hope to get out to see the museum one day, it would be cool to find a race in the area and combine it with a trip to the museum!