Disneyland Resort - History


Walt Disney's early concepts for an amusement park called for a "Mickey Mouse Park" located adjacent to the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank (presently the site of the West Coast headquarters of ABC). As new ideas emerged, Walt and his brother Roy realized that the Burbank location would be too small for the project, and hired a consultant from Stanford Research Institute to provide them with information on locations and economic feasibility. The consultant recommended a remote location near Anaheim, adjacent to the then-under-construction Santa Ana Freeway. At the time covered by orange groves in Orange County, the consultant correctly predicted that the location would become the population center of Southern California. Since the location was remote in the 1950s, Walt Disney wanted to build a hotel so that Disneyland visitors traveling long distances could stay overnight. However, the park had depleted his financial resources, so he negotiated a deal with Hollywood producer Jack Wrather in which he would build and operate a hotel called the Disneyland Hotel across the street from Disneyland.

Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, with a televised press preview event on ABC. Despite the disastrous event, which would later be dubbed "Black Sunday", Disneyland became a huge success in its first year of operation. The hotel, which opened three months after the park, enjoyed similar success. Walt Disney wanted to build more facilities for Disneyland visitors to stay in Anaheim, but since his financial resources were drained, entrepreneurs established their own hotels in the area surrounding the park and hotel to capitalize on Disneyland's success.

To Walt Disney's dismay, the city of Anaheim was lax in restricting their construction, eager for the tax revenue generated by more hotels in the city. The area surrounding Disneyland became the atmosphere of colorful lights and flashy neon signs that he wanted to avoid (and which years earlier had caused the city of Burbank to deny his initial request to build his project in Burbank.) The Anaheim Convention Center was built across the street from Disneyland's original parking lot, and residences were constructed in the area as part of the city's growth in the late 20th century. Eventually, Disneyland was "boxed in", a factor which would later lead Walt Disney to acquire a significantly larger parcel of land for the construction of Walt Disney World. In later years, the Walt Disney Company gradually acquired the land west of the park, notably the Disneyland Hotel in 1989 following Jack Wrather's death in 1984, the Pan Pacific Hotel (now Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel) in 1995, and several properties north of the Disneyland Hotel in the mid to late 1990s.

After Walt's and Roy's deaths in 1966 and 1971, respectively, the Walt Disney Company would go on to achieve success with the multi-park, multi-hotel resort complex business model of Walt Disney World in Florida, which opened in 1971, while continuing to achieve success with the one park, one hotel business model at Disneyland. In the 1990s, Disney decided to turn the original theme park into a similar multi-park, multi-hotel resort destination. In 1991, Disney announced plans to build WestCOT, a theme park based on Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center, on the site of the original Disneyland parking lot. Its estimated cost was US$3 billion, largely due to the high cost of land that Disney would have needed to acquire. With the new Euro Disney Resort, which opened in 1992, becoming a financial and public relations albatross for the company, Disney was unable to finance the project, and cancelled WestCOT in 1995. That summer, Disney executives gathered in Aspen, Colorado for a 3-day retreat, where they came up with the idea for a California-based theme park, dubbed Disney's California Adventure Park, to be built on the same site slated for WestCOT. US$1.4 billion was budgeted to build the park, a retail district, and hotels.

Construction began in 1998, with much of the property being a construction site until 2001. The original park remained largely untouched during this time. Temporary surface parking lots were set up across West Street with tram service to the main entrance to offset the loss of the 100-acre (0.40 km2) parking lot. Parking lots were also set up on smaller parcels of acquired land Disney east and southeast of the park, primarily used for employee parking and overflow parking. Several Disneyland landmarks were demolished, notably the marquee on Harbor Boulevard, whose three versions had stood at the parking lot entrance since 1958; the last was installed in 1989. Also demolished were the Disneyland Hotel's original buildings from 1955, as well as most of the facilities outside of the three guest room towers. The remaining Disneyland Hotel facilities were extensively renovated to replace the demolished amenities.

Aside from Disney's California Adventure Park, construction on the former parking lot included Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Downtown Disney. A section of the southeast corner of the original parking lot initially remained in use as a parking area, earmarked as future growth space for California Adventure. A Bug's Land, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and backstage facilities were incrementally built into this space, and it was completely built over with the construction of Cars Land. Across West Street from Disneyland Park and the construction site of Disney's California Adventure Park, the six-story Mickey & Friends Parking Structure was built on newly acquired land north of the Disneyland Hotel as the replacement main parking area. The Disneyland Hotel was downsized to accommodate Downtown Disney and surface parking lots. The Disneyland Pacific Hotel was renovated, re-themed, and renamed to match the portion of Disney's California Adventure the hotel overlooks, becoming Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel. Streets were regraded, renamed, re-routed, or eliminated, and the traffic pattern to access Disneyland and the Disneyland Hotel by vehicle, widely known among locals and frequent visitors for over 40 years, was altered. Most notably, West Street was regraded, re-routed near its intersection with Ball Road, and renamed Disneyland Drive between Katella Avenue and Interstate 5.

The city of Anaheim renovated the area surrounding Disneyland, dubbed the Anaheim Resort. The neon signs that lined Harbor Boulevard and other area roads were replaced with shorter, conforming signs. Surrounding streets were widened, repaved, and landscaped, and variable-message signs were installed to assist with traffic flow. Freeway onramps and offramps were reconfigured as part of a larger expansion project on Interstate 5 between State Route 91 and the Orange Crush Interchange. Most construction was completed by early 2001, and Disney's California Adventure Park held "preview" openings in January 2001. Word of mouth reviews from Disney employees, annual pass holders, and American Express cardholders were largely negative. It opened to the public amid much fanfare on February 8, 2001, though the reviews impacted attendance and the company's initial attendance projections for the park were never met. Much of the park's early years were spent attempting to boost attendance. In the short-term, Disney brought the venerable Main Street Electrical Parade to the park, added Who Wants To Be A Millionaire - Play It!, and offered discounted admission and other promotions aimed at boosting attendance. Long-term projects to address the park's early criticisms have included the addition of a bug's land to add attractions geared towards children, and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror as another E ticket. Some of the park's oft-criticized early attractions were closed within the first year of operation, including Superstar Limo, Disney's Steps in Time, and Disney's Eureka! – A California Parade.

After the park's opening, new attractions began appearing at Disneyland Park, including The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters; both were modeled after similarly named attractions at the Magic Kingdom. The original park saw a substantial renovation of the nearly 30-year-old (at the time) Space Mountain, the return of Submarine Voyage as the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, and the introduction of new trains to the Disneyland Monorail System.

In 2007, Pirates of the Caribbean was refurbished to bring its look closer to that of the film franchise. The resort celebrated the 50th anniversary of Disneyland Park from 2005 to 2006 in an 18-month celebration known as the Happiest Homecoming on Earth, part of the larger Happiest Celebration on Earth promotion at all Disney theme parks. It was succeeded by the Year of a Million Dreams promotion, running from 2006 through 2008. The next promotion, What Will You Celebrate?, began January 1, 2009, and offered free admission to visitors on their birthday in 2009. Disney kept this marketing theme in 2010 for its American parks, but no longer offers free admission on a guests birthday.

In 2007, Disney announced a US$1.1 billion expansion project for Disney's California Adventure Park, including construction of a new land based on the Disney-Pixar film Cars, a new evening water show—Disney's World of Color, as well as substantially re-theming and adding new attractions to existing areas. Construction began in 2008, and was completed in phases from 2010 to 2012. Disney's Grand Californian Hotel completed an expansion to add Disney Vacation Club suites, while the Disneyland Hotel started an extensive renovation in the summer of 2009 and completed in 2012. In early 2010, the park was renamed Disney California Adventure. The expansion of Disneyland into the Disneyland Resort later had a similar effect on its sister properties in Japan and France, both of which also were single parks. In 2001, Tokyo Disneyland became Tokyo Disney Resort with the addition of Tokyo DisneySea. The following year, Disneyland Park Paris became Disneyland Resort Paris with the addition of Walt Disney Studios Paris.

A third theme park is still in the proposal stage, which will be located at the southeast corner of Harbor Blvd, and Katella Ave. The name of the third theme park is still unknown. With the third theme park finished, more Disney hotels will be built within the parameter of Harbor Blvd, Katella, and the Interstate 5 freeway. City of Anaheim will begin construction on a streetcar line from downtown Anaheim to Disneyland Resort. Construction on the streetcar line will be finished by the year 2018.

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