Walt’s Fantasy Made Real: Disneyland Opens
Walt Disney had a problem. With the success of his cartoons and movies, letters were pouring in from people wanting to come visit the movie studio. Problem was: there really wasn’t much to see. His two daughters loved amusement parks, and that gave Walt his brilliant insight: he decided to build a Disney-themed amusement park to delight children and parents alike.
On July 17, 1955, with a gala opening broadcast nationwide on the ABC Television Network, Walt’s dream became a reality when more than 20,000 invited guests swarmed into Disneyland to gawk and gaze in wonder. Fifty-seven years and almost 600 million visitors later, they’re still coming.
Disneyland was extravagant and dazzling, unlike anything that had been created before. It cost $17 million and a frenetic year of construction to build after Walt Disney bought 160 acres of an orange grove in Anaheim, California, and tore down the 11,000 orange trees. The park featured four main areas: Adventureland, Frontierland, Tomorrowland, and Fantasyland, to represent Walt’s dream of celebrating the past, the future, and the power of the imagination.
As Walt Disney told the nationwide television audience in his dedication speech on July 17, 1955:
“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.”
The following copyrighted newspaper article describes Disneyland’s grand opening. It was published by the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) on July 18, 1955:
Disneyland Opens Gates
22,000 Tour Children’s City
Anaheim, Cal. (AP)—The $17,000,000 Disneyland, a combination world’s fair and Arabian Nights dedicated to the delight of children, opened Sunday.
A year ago these 160 acres contained 11,000 orange trees. Sunday 22,000 invited guests swarmed through the gates and were dazzled by the wonders of yesterday and tomorrow, concocted by the imagination of Walt Disney and his fellow creators.
“It was nip and tuck but we made it,” sighed Disney. Dressed appropriately for the hot weather, he greeted arrivals in light blue slacks, white shirt with red polka dots and Tahitian straw hat.
Rush in Last Minute
Everywhere there were signs of the last minute rush. A painter put final touches on the marquee of the Disneyland opera house. Workers unloaded crates in the turn-of-the-century stores along Main street and a crane hovered over the mad tea party ride.
Among the notables ogling the sights: Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Irene Dunne, Gale Storm, George (Superman) Reeves, Robert Cummings, George Gobel, and, of course, Fess Parker, who played Tennessee’s Davy Crockett in the Disney TV series.
Among the dignitaries on hand for the nationwide telecast of the opening were two governors, Goodwin Knight of California and Frank Clements of Tennessee.
Fittingly enough, the guests were greeted by a floral pattern outlining Mickey Mouse, the star who started Disney’s empire.
The guests walked into a city square of the 1900 era, bounded by an old-time railroad station, city hall and fire station, opera house and other vintage merchant houses.
Boats Carry Visitors
Walking further into the city square, the previewers came to the hub of Disneyland, from which extend its four great realms. In one direction was Adventureland, dominated by a large Tahitian hut containing a dining room. Nearby the guests piled aboard such riverboats as the Amazon Belle, Ganges Gal and Nile Princess for a spine-tingling ride past wild hippos, elephants and crocodiles, all plastic replicas. The ride ended with a dash under a waterfall and emptied the passengers outside native bazaars.
A huge wooden log stockade guards the entrance to Frontierland. Here the onlookers were impressed by Davy Crockett’s museum, an Indian village with real redskins, a Golden Horseshoe frontier saloon and an outdoor New Orleans café. At a dock alongside a realistic river was the 103-foot paddle-wheeler, the Mark Twain.
Tomorrowland offered the aspects of a world’s fair with its cascading fountains and futuristic buildings. The guests saw imaginative exhibits of the world of tomorrow and children drove tiny gasoline-powered autos on a miniature freeway. They were also whisked on a rocket trip to the moon via a realistic movie.
Swans Sail Quietly
But, as Disney himself agrees, the greatest of the realms is Fantasyland. There the Disney creators have lavished their most vivid imaginations. Children passed over the moat, in which swans sailed serenely, and through the towering sleeping beauty’s castle.
Inside the courtyard was a splash of color and more delights than a child can imagine.
A King Arthur’s carousel of 72 leaping horses whirled in the center and all around were rides featuring famed Disney characters. There was a flying circle of Dumbo elephants, Mr. Toad’s motor car ride, Casey Jr.’s ride, etc.
For more information, visit the official Disneyland website.