Walt Elias Disney’s Fantasy Made Real: Disneyland Opens

Walt Elias Disney had a problem. With the success of his popular cartoons and movies, letters were pouring in from people wanting to visit the movie studio. The problem was – there really wasn’t much to see at the studio. His two daughters Diane and Sharon 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.

photo of the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, Anaheim, California

Photo: Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, Anaheim, California. Credit: Tuxyso; Wikimedia Commons.

On 17 July1955, with a gala opening broadcast nationwide on the ABC Television Network, Walt’s dream became a reality when more than 20,000 invited guests poured into Disneyland to gawk and gaze in wonder. Sixty years and hundreds of millions of visitors later, they’re still coming to experience America’s most famous amusement park.

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 sprawling amusement 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. Disneyland opened with 18 attractions.

As Walt Disney told the nationwide television audience in his dedication speech on 17 July 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.

photo from the opening ceremony for Disneyland, Oregonian newspaper article 18 July 1955

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 18 July 1955, page 30

This old Oregon newspaper article describes Disneyland’s grand opening.

Disneyland Opens Gates, Oregonian newspaper article 18 July 1955

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 18 July 1955, page 29

This historical newspaper article reports:

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.

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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.

photo of Walt Elias Disney, 1938

Photo: Walt Elias Disney, 1938. Credit: Alan Fisher, New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.
~ Walt Disney

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Want to Get the Younger Generation into Genealogy? Pass Down Your Old Family Stories

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott tells how he got his grandsons interested in genealogy by enhancing his family stories with articles from old newspapers.

When I was growing up, I was blessed to be in a family that told lots of stories. Looking back, I believe that this storytelling is one of the key reasons I became intrigued with genealogy later in my life. As a young boy, I was frequently being regaled with stories by one family member or another. The stories often involved growing up in “the old country,” sometimes about how much life had changed. Many were family stories that, while based in truth, were often embellished with more than a bit of exaggeration.

I recall very well my Aunt Gladys telling stories of the trouble she constantly found herself in due to the schemes hatched by my mother, and the story of the eye in the back of her head. There was my grandfather telling stories about being a “lad” in Cornwall.  Then there was my Uncle Jim—family storyteller extraordinaire! He was always willing to tell his stories about his time fighting in three wars as a member of the United States Navy, getting marooned on a deserted South Seas island, his various tattoos, or how he was chosen to accompany the giant telescope mirrors manufactured by Warner and Swasey Company from Cleveland all across America on the railroads.

Years later it came as no surprise to me that, as my children were growing up, I took on the role of family storyteller.

Just a week ago, I found myself sitting with my grandchildren and wondering how I could “talk some genealogy” with them. They were visiting us from their home that happens to be practically in the shadow of Disney World, Epcot, etc. It now seems so simple, but at the time it struck me like a bolt of lightning: I should be telling them our family stories! So I began by telling my grandsons all about my favorite amusement park. It was named Euclid Beach Park, located in Cleveland, Ohio, and as a kid it was heaven-on-earth to me.

photo of the author's grandmother and family having a picnic at Euclid Beach Park in Cleveland, Ohio

Scott Phillips’s grandmother Ina and some of her family having a picnic at Euclid Beach Park, date uncertain. Family photo is from the author’s collection.

Going to Euclid Beach Park for family gatherings was clearly the most special event of my year! We’d make a day of it from opening to well after dark, complete with a picnic lunch of my Cornish grandmother’s famous pasty and sausage rolls. As I wove the story, I could tell my grandsons were having a hard time buying into my excitement about what a special place Euclid Beach was. So what could I do?

I grabbed my iPad and off we clicked to GenealogyBank.com to see what I could show the boys about Euclid Beach Park. By the time I was done, everyone in the house was clustered around my grandsons and me. They were all rapt and enjoying the journey back in time, complete with my family stories to enhance them. Yep, the newspaper articles I found were that good.

I was overjoyed to see three generations enjoying what got me excited about genealogy so many decades before: family stories, but this time vastly improved through technology and GenealogyBank.com.

As I clicked, the first story—in a cache of hundreds—was about the season opener of the park in 1905, the crowds that attended, and what a significant event this was.

Euclid Beach Park Opened, Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 May 1905

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 May 1905, page 6

Plus, since it is true that “boys will be boys,” my grandsons were especially enjoying the “action” stories I soon found and read to them about famed naval aviation pioneer Glenn H. Curtiss’s attempt to set a naval aviation record from Euclid Beach Park, a trapeze artist falling to his death from an aerial balloon, and ferry boats smashing into one another.

Steamers Crash Together in River, Plain Dealer newspaper article 17 June 1901

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 June 1901, page 1

Then even I got excited! I found an old article that showed, nice and close up, my very favorite (still to this day) amusement park ride in the world, “The Flying Turns.” The historical newspaper article was complete, showing younger riders in all stages of happiness as they rode this amazing ride, which was a rollercoaster set inside 2/3s of a wooden tube with no rails! Centrifugal force took care of keeping you inside and it was quite the ride.

Crazy Days of Summer, Plain Dealer newspaper article 26 July 1964

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 July 1964, page 107

I was so happy! With just a few easy clicks there we were and Euclid Beach was staying alive for another generation of the Phillips family. Even better, my grandsons were enjoying genealogy without even realizing it. Sometimes stories passed down from generation to generation can be the best!