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Showing posts from September, 2018

Where Chemistry Works Wonders For You

Chemistry leads to the future. A future filled with rocket ships, submarines capable of sailing under the polar ice caps, new medicines, fast food, and plastics. No surprise, then, that the entrance to Tomorrowland includes the portal of the Hall of Chemistry.

A bridge over an architectural pool led through the beckoning doorway. Inside, the hall was dominated by a revolving display of eight test tubes—the Chemitron. Each test tube contained one of the "eight basic materials found in nature from which countless chemicals and plastics can be made."

Salt, Sulfur, Oil, Coal, Air, Phosphate rock, Limestone, and Water. You were expecting more periodic table? "Did you know that from coal it is possible to make over a quarter of a million different substances? From plastics to perfumes, from drugs to disinfectants—hundred of the things you use today...and will use tomorrow...are derived chemically—from coal. And thousands more will be found tomorrow."

The Chemitron (spel…

The Incredible Mr. Long

There is a small mailbox next to a dummy door at 110 Main Street. As a teenager, I tried to open that door and—for some reason—I reached into the mailbox. I found a single business card.

Dwight Stanley Long decided to see the world on his 21st birthday, but not like other men might. Dwight turned 21 in 1933, probably the worst year of the worldwide Depression. Like Walt Disney, Dwight had funds when many were poor. He bought a 32-foot ketch, the Idle Hour, and sailed around the world for the next six years as Walt created Snow White and built his Burbank studio.

Long was born in Seattle and studied journalism at the University of Washington. (Long was three years younger than Ken Anderson, who earned a BA in Architecture from UW '34, and the same age as Van France, who was also born in Seattle, but raised in San Diego. Welton Becket graduated UW '27.)

Color movies were brand new in 1933—Walt created the first color cartoon, Flowers and Trees, with help from Technicolor, only …

Dorothy Lamour and New Orleans Street

Dorothy Lamour visited Disneyland for a grand opening on the park's 22nd day of operation. Some attractions, like the Rocket to the Moon, had been quietly opened as they were completed. This was different; this was a press event.

Walt Disney had long been fascinated by New Orleans. My theory is that teenagers in Kansas City, Missouri, romanticized a trip down river to the Big Easy. One of the last facades built on Main Street was Maxwell House Coffee, facing Town Square. Press materials emphasized that the architecture, with its concave stone statuary and wrought iron railing, was inspired by New Orleans. Maxwell House wouldn't open for several months, but the facade was in place.

On Tuesday, August 9, 1955, New Orleans Street opened at the riverbend in Frontierland, on the path leading to the distant freight train depot. Big band singer and film actress Dorothy Lamour headlined the event. Born Mary Leta Dorothy Slaton in New Orleans, she brought her second husband William Ho…

You Can Fly You Can Fly You Can Fly!

The idea of a flying ride themed around Peter Pan was one of Disneyland's most innovative ideas, and its origin story is mysterious. Traditional theme parks featured circular swings—a ring of benches dangled from chains and when the ring rotated, the seats would fly up and out. Dark rides, of course, consisted of motorized benches following a serpentine track past scenes. Someone—maybe Walt Disney—combined the two ideas to create a suspended bench that followed a meandering path. The bench would sway with the curves and dips in the track above.

Walt Disney's Peter Pan was still showing in bargain theaters in May 1953 when Marvin Davis joined Dick Irvine to get serious about designs for a 45-acre Disneyland. When Bill Martin joined them in June, he was assigned to the fantasy, children's section where a Peter Pan attraction of some sort was a given. All three men were film art directors from 20th Century-Fox who thought in terms of sets for a live-action version of the anim…

Automatic Food

Flying cars and drive-thrus were still in the future, but the art directors at WED Enterprises had some ideas for a restaurant in Tomorrowland. The key to food in 1986—the futuristic setting that the land of tomorrow, the world of the future was meant to represent—could be summed up in a single word. Not plastics...the word was automation.

Two visionaries in Philadelphia in 1902, Frank Hardart and Joseph Horn, pioneered an innovation in serving food to people in a hurry, and it still seemed futuristic in 1955. Workers in the kitchen would put finished dishes—a bowl of jello, a plate of fried chicken, a ham sandwich—in cubbyholes. On the dining room side, guests could see the food displayed behind hygienic glass, select it by depositing coins, and put it on their tray.

"The glass-fronted compartments and shiny, nickel-plated fittings created an impression of clean, sparkling conditions and also gave an illusion of effortlessness; all the labor went on behind the scenes," wro…

When Marty Met Frank

Frank Schmidt appreciated Town Square—the clip clop of the horses pulling the street cars and other vehicles, the birds in the Brazilian peppertrees, the lack of railings or "Keep Off the Grass" signs, Vesey Walker and the Disneyland Band playing songs like "In the Good Old Summertime."

Frank was born in 1877 and he was a grown man before the turn of the century. Automobiles, flying machines, electric lights, the phonograph, and motion pictures had all happened more or less since then. He was now 78 and planning his 12-day vacation, and he couldn't think of anywhere he'd rather be than Walt Disney's brand new creation, Disneyland.

Monday, July 18 was way too crowded, but Frank arrived on Tuesday, waited in line, paid his one dollar admission, and fell in love with the place. A combination of nostalgia and a feeling that the real world was inhospitable, perhaps. Frank came to the park eight days in a row before anyone noticed that he'd been there th…

We Build With Logs

"Nous bâtissons avec bûche," one of the French-Canadian craftsmen might say--We build with logs. A crew of hewers were brought to Southern California in order to build the Frontierland entrance using traditional methods and only hand tools. The hewers used adzes, two-handled saws, and axes to shape the logs.

700 twelve-foot Ponderosa pine logs were used to create four blockhouses, a working pair of log gates, a palisade between the blockhouses, and a shed roof cabin to be used as a trading post. A passageway to Fantasyland was opened later, with a gate held open by a rock.


Although much of Frontierland is themed circa 1870, log forts are more typical of the 1700s, which the first guide book, The Story of Disneyland, proudly admits. Examples exist in Vermont and Northern Pennsylvania, particularly. Stands of straight-trunked trees were simply not available in large regions of the land west of the Mississippi settled in the latter 19th century. Forts in the southwest, such as…

Assembling Land from Seventeen Owners

I remember reading that the Disneyland site was "assembled from 17 parcels after negotiations with as many owners, some as far away as Ohio." At the time, I imagined men in black suits going door to door, carrying briefcases full of cash, "negotiating" with orange ranchers.

First, the actual Disneyland property was only twelve parcels, but there were seventeen owners, including one in Alaska and another in Ohio. Most if not all of the sellers were savvy, modern folks who knew that their orange ranches were more valuable as a housing development. Because the state was slowly moving forward on its plan to make Manchester Avenue a limited-access "freeway," the ranches might be even more valuable as commercial property just off the new highway.

Orange County was once aptly named, but by the early 1950s, agriculture was out, suburban sprawl was in. The various cities—Fullerton, Whittier, Anaheim—were racing each other to annex unincorporated county lands befor…

What's a Hose and Chemical Wagon?

Walt Disney created Disneyland, in part, to make sure that youngsters would remember the nineteenth century, just a little. For example, he wanted to show off horse-drawn fire apparatus. It is with some irony, then, that we discuss the horse-drawn fire engine, an original Disneyland attraction, which few remember today.

Until the 1860s, firemen ran to fires, followed in larger cities by a wagon carrying ladders and other equipment, such as axes. Someone had the idea of hanging footboards on the ladder wagons—now firefighters would not be worn out as they began to battle the flames, and the "running board" was invented.

Hook and ladder trucks came next, as city buildings were built taller and taller. The ladders needed to get taller, and often included hand-cranked winches, pulleys and gears to extend and position them, so the wagon got longer. To provide water pressure, there were horse-drawn water towers that looked like medieval trebuchets.

The breakthrough was a steam en…