Sixty four years ago today, with a nationally televised grand opening, Disneyland arrived on the scene as Southern California’s signature tourist attraction.
In spite of a rocky opening day, the theme park attracted more than 1 million visitors in its first two months in business, offering a spectacle quite unlike any other at the time.
But Walt Disney’s initial vision for the park was even more ambitious than what his company eventually built on 160 acres of orange groves in southern Anaheim. A few years ago, Boing Boing published the animator’s original prospectus for the park, which offered a description of Disneyland to potential investors.
Disney’s brother, Roy, brought this document to New York with him in 1953 when pitching the park (unsuccessfully) to financiers.
Much of the features of Disneyland described in the prospectus will be recognizable to parkgoers today: The basic features of Fantasyland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, and Frontierland are all laid out in the document.
Joining those now-familiar attractions, however, are descriptions of a section of park themed around Gulliver’s Travels and another area called Holidayland, which would have been themed around holidays and was envisioned with ice skating, bobsled rides, and “real snow” at Christmas.
Eventually, a much-scaled back version of Holidayland opened at the park, but failed to catch on with visitors and closed four years later.
Lilliputian Land, the Gulliver’s Travels-inspired section of the park, would have been focused on a village of tiny animatronic characters “who sing and dance and talk to you as you peek through the windows of their tiny shops and homes.” Visitors would also have been able to purchase miniature ice cream cones and the “world’s smallest hot dog.”
According to the Disneyland Encyclopedia by Chris Strodder, Lilliputian Land was eventually scrapped when Disney realized that the technology to make it run smoothly did not yet exist.
Concepts for other parts of the park were even more ambitious. The pitch for Adventureland included “magnificently plumed birds and fantastic fish from all over the world.” Stagecoaches at Frontierland would have ridden past a “working farm” with real animals.
Disneyland’s planners also envisioned elaborate moneymaking schemes to make the park profitable. Those Adventureland fish would have been available to purchase; a mail-order catalogue might have included “a real pony and cart” or a “miniature donkey.”
Most importantly, the park was set to serve as a backdrop for multiple television shows planned by Disney Studios. The longest-running of these, originally given the straightforward title Disneyland, was explicitly framed around the park’s attractions and served both as a tool to finance construction of the theme park and as an hour-long advertisement that reached millions of households once a week.
The Disneyland prospectus reveals that, from the beginning, Disney envisioned his attraction as far more than a standard amusement park.
One part carnival, one part world’s fair, the park presented guests with a mix of rosy nostalgia, familiar intellectual property, and a healthy dose of postwar optimism. Its creator imagined it as a distinctly American experience and one unique to Southern California.
“It will be a place for California to be at home, to bring its guests, to demonstrate its faith in the future,” the prospectus reads. “And, mostly ... it will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge.”
Six decades later, Disneyland is still captivating visitors—and leaving their wallets significantly lighter.