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Walt's Plans for Liberty and Freedom at Disneyland

Walt Disney loved the United States—America, as it was known then (before the discovery of other countries and cultures in the hemisphere). But the Disney product had been primarily fairy tales and nature films until a cartoon short called Ben and Me was released in November 1953. Then things got real.

U.S. Capitol in Miniature, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln (Photo: Alastair Dallas 2/2/2014)
Ben and Me was about Benjamin Franklin (voiced by Charles Ruggles) and included Thomas Jefferson (voiced by Captain Hook, that is, Hans Conried). Two art directors of the Fantasyland dark rides, Ken Anderson and Claude Coats, were art directors on Ben and Me. The Disneyland television show planned to include segments on American History—one working title was Walt Disney's America—which is how Davy Crockett became a thing. Instilling a love of the ideals that built America was an imperative in the early years of the Cold War, when Senator McCarthy was accusing folks of being Communists and nuclear annihilation seemed more likely than it does today.

Shortly after Disneyland opened, Walt Disney Productions acquired the rights to Esther Forbes' 1943 young adult historical novel Johnny Tremain. Peter Ellenshaw, the recent immigrant from Great Britain, was assigned to research the Revolutionary War and became the project's art director. As with Davy Crockett, the plan was to create multiple episodes for the television show—the same TV writer, Tom Blackburn, was assigned to Tremain. (The project was first released as a feature film on June 19, 1957 and later shown on the television show.) This corresponded with a general shift toward live action at the studio that, in turn, required construction of standing outdoor sets. Enter the architects, set designers, and art directors of WED Enterprises.

Rendering of Liberty Square and Liberty Hall viewed from Liberty Street. That's the Liberty Tree on the right and, I guess, a Liberty Lamppost on the left.
In 1956, as Johnny Tremain was developed, a new area of Disneyland, to be called Liberty Street, began to take shape. A cul-de-sac off Town Square, it would feature New England colonial architecture, the Liberty Tree (from Forbes' story), Paul Revere's Silver Shop, a blacksmith, and Griffin's Wharf.  A large sign at the park told guests to expect International Street in that location, even as WED was designing something completely different.

There wasn't much room for anything but static displays, but Walt thought that would work. He imagined a diorama of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and a Hall of Presidents (all 34 of them). Independent sculptress Katherine Stubergh, creator of life-size wax figures of Davy Crockett and George Russell, would presumably have created the presidents.

Liberty Street with Griffin's Wharf in the distance.
In August 1955, Walt happened to see a large-scale, detailed miniature of the United States Capitol as the traveling exhibit passed through Los Angeles. Completed in 1935 and first exhibited in 1940, the massive model was carved from a single, sixteen-foot diameter piece of French Caen stone (a yellowish, Jurassic limestone found in Normandy).

The highly detailed 1:64 scale model was carved from a single piece of limestone, but it represented over five hundred individual carvings, assembled into eight sections so that the piece could be transported. The model was designed to be dramatically lit with bulbs hidden in coffers and eaves. Upon learning these specifics, Walt Disney bought the model on the spot.

Sculptor George Lloyd and his limestone model
of the Capitol (Photo: Copyright Jordan Sallis)
The sculpture was the work of Welshman George Llewellyn Lloyd (1879-1962). Hardly a publicity hound, much of what we know about Mr. Lloyd is thanks to artist Jordan Sallis and her guest blog post for Disney Geek. (Lloyd is Sallis' great-great-great-uncle.) When Lloyd lost his job at the start of the Great Depression, the Pennsylvania native finally had the time to pursue his long-planned project. He worked as many as sixteen hours a day, and the project still consumed years.

"It has taken me three and half years to complete my model," Lloyd said, "but I have enjoyed every minute of it, and feel that many thousands of people who have perhaps never visited the Capitol will look with interest and pleasure at this work."

The most prominent part of the model, naturally, is the enormous dome added above the rotunda in 1868. The 96-foot-diameter dome rises 288 feet, topped with the nearly twenty-foot-tall bronze "Statue of Freedom." Lloyd's version of the dome is eighteen inches in diameter and fifty-four inches tall. The original building, designed by amateur architect William Thornton in 1792, has been expanded as dramatically as the country has grown over the years. Architect Thomas U. Walter designed the new cast iron dome that was completed in 1868, but the expansion of the nation wasn't finished. The Library of Congress had to leave the building in 1897 and the Supreme Court moved out in 1935.

Liberty Street was announced publicly on Veteran's Day in 1956. It was still on the list of future attractions in 1958. Walt mentioned it to reporters at the opening of the Grand Canyon Diorama, but, as we know, it was never built. Liberty Square in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom (1971) made use of all the research, but it became something different. And Mr. Lloyd's model is still on display at Disneyland, in the lobby of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.
George Lloyd's 1:64 model of the U. S. Capitol on display. (Photo courtesy of Mouse Planet)

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