Today is Disneyland’s 65th anniversary! Our world is in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I know I am not the only one who is extremely sad that we are not able to go to the park today to celebrate with each other. While it’s only been a few months that the park has been closed, it feels like a lifetime. For many of us, Disneyland is home. I don’t know if Walt Disney ever really realized what this park would come to mean to all of his guests, but I am forever grateful to this man who built this magic kingdom for all of us.
Disneyland is my happiest place on earth and I know it is for so many of you as well. I get quite a few people who don’t understand my obsession and passion for this park and Disney in general. I grew up going to Disneyland and have been hundreds of times in the last 29 years of my life. Most people don’t understand how I’m not sick of it yet! Disneyland is a place of memories and imagination. It’s an escape. It’s a place where we can leave behind our worries and step into a world of imagination, music, and most importantly magic. Some people won’t believe it, but there is magic in Disneyland. From the moment I step through the tunnels at the entrance and make my way to Main Street, USA, I am home and I am happy.
The day Disneyland opened on July 17th, 1955 Walt addressed his guests:
“To all who come to this happy place; welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past…and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America…with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”
I would have loved to have been at Disneyland opening day 65 years ago. The opening was by invitation only, given to studio workers, construction workers, the press and officials of company sponsors. Opening day is famously referred to as “Black Sunday” because everything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong. Tickets to the grand opening were counterfeited and 30,000 people wound up in the park. Rides broke down and park stands ran out of food and drinks. Even knowing all of that, I would give anything to have been there!
Here are a few fun facts that the OC Register shared of events leading up to the grand opening of Disneyland Park:
Walt Disney dreamed of building a park decades before Disneyland opened. In 1932, Disney considered building a park on a vacant 16-acre lot directly across the street from his studios in Burbank. The idea was turned down by the city. In the late 1940s, the concept of what would later become Disneyland began to take shape. From the first day of construction to opening day, Disneyland and its 17 attractions took just shy of 12 months to build.
Disney forms a creative team for WED Enterprises (from the initials Walter Elias Disney). It is the precursor design and development division of what is known today as Walt Disney Imagineering.
Disney commissions the Stanford Research Institute to find the ideal location for Disneyland. SRI eliminates areas that are developed or producing oil. SRI takes into account climate, population trends, land prices, and easy access from Los Angeles via California’s growing network of freeways. A total of 71 sites are considered, according to Sam Gennawey, a Disney historian and author of “The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream.”
Disney pays about $4,600 an acre for 160 acres in Anaheim.
Its proximity to a major freeway means the park is less than 30 minutes by car from downtown Los Angeles.
The funding for Disneyland would not come easy. Disney wants to tie Disneyland to his proposed television series, but he is turned down by both NBC and CBS. His brother Roy takes a map of the proposed park to executives at ABC, a smaller network in need of quality programming.
ABC agrees to lend Disney $500,000 and guarantee $4.5 million in loans in return for a one-third ownership in Disneyland and a promise of a weekly Disney television show for the network.
Disney designs the park with one entrance gate, so that people won’t become disoriented in the massive park.
Disney also designs the park to have a “Main Street” with the idea of it being the hub. It also has “weenies,” Disney‘s playful term for a visual element that can be used to draw people into and around a space. The lure of Main Street would be a castle.
Previous movie profits are not enough to cover the cost of building Disneyland. Roy Disney makes numerous visits to Bank of America’s headquarters to get more funding. The bank enlists the help of another bank, Bankers Trust Company of New York.
April 2, 1954
Plans for Disneyland Park and TV show are announced. Disney says the TV series will begin in October 1954 and the park will open in July 1955. The TV show will feature stories around the different “lands” of Disneyland.
The construction begins on July 21, 1954.
October 27, 1954
The TV series opens with “The Disneyland Story,” describing coming attractions of the park and TV show. The shows are introduced by Disney himself.
June 16, 1955
Problems occur with Orange County building inspectors as they have no experience with theme park structures. The inspectors’ doubts are eased through Disney‘s concern for safety. Water is piped in to supply pressure for sprinklers and hydrants.
The Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad makes its first trip around the park. A boy stricken with leukemia sees his dream to ride on Walt Disney’s train come true.
September 8, 1955
Disneyland welcomes its 1 millionth visitor months ahead of predictions.