Skip to comments.Writer Recalls Opening of Disneyland
Posted on 07/17/2005 6:30:46 AM PDT by Liz
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP (AP) -- When Walt Disney built Disneyland, he supervised every aspect of planning and construction - right down to the paint color inside the railroad station. But there were a couple of things he couldn't control at the opening 50 years ago: the temperature and the turnout.
The sun rose bright and glowing in a cloudless sky on that Sunday, and the mercury climbed higher and higher. By early morning, all roads leading to the park were clogged. Thousands poured through the turnstiles, more than twice as many as had been invited.
The heat and the crowds, along with a Magic Kingdom full of other problems, contributed to what will forever after be called Black Sunday in the Disney organization.
Long lines formed at the rides, forcing visitors to stand in the sweltering sun. Later it was discovered that counterfeit tickets had been used by the uninvited. Adding to the congestion, crashers scrambled over fences and berms in remote areas of the park.
Several of the rides shut down because of overuse, and by the end of the day all the "Autopia" cars had been sidelined. The deck of the river boat Mark Twain was awash; too many passengers had climbed aboard. And a gas leak was discovered in Tomorrowland, forcing evacuation of the entire area.
Refreshment stands quickly ran out of food and drink, and there were few drinking fountains. Women's spiked heels sank into the newly laid asphalt on Main Street. Families waited in long lines to use toilets. A saboteur snipped electrical lines in Fantasyland, bringing all rides to a halt.
Survivors of Black Sunday retain vivid memories of that day, including Disney consultant Harrison "Buzz" Price, who chose the then-sleepy agricultural town of Anaheim as the location for Disneyland.
"I was on the bridge that led to Sleeping Beauty's Castle, and it was full of people," he recalls. "We couldn't move. and the asphalt was sticky. I looked down and saw Frank Sinatra, and he was cursing."
Bob Kurr, designer of the vehicles for Main Street, had been assigned by Disney to oversee "Autopia," a miniature freeway with real gasoline-powered cars.
"It was hotter 'n hell and these cars were suffering from the typical gasoline vapor lock," Kurr remembers.
Walt Disney knew little about the snafus, since he was busy on the live ABC-TV broadcast with his fellow master of ceremonies Art Linkletter, Bob Cummings and Ronald Reagan. The next day he read devastating reviews in the newspapers and heard dismaying reports from his staff.
"Walt was furious," Price recalls. "In a helluva hurry, he fired Woody, the guy who built the park in 18 months."
Woody was C.V. Wood, a former U.S. Army general. While opening day was crumbling, Price says, "Woody was upstairs mixing a lot of mint juleps for his staff; it was kinda like firing-squad day."
Disney's damage control was immediate.
"Walt was personally around the park every day that first week, looking into every situation and then getting something done about it," Kurr says.
He also was mending fences with the press, hosting small groups of reporters and editors for dinner and a tour of Disneyland.
One reporter had suggested that Disneyland had skimped on drinking fountains in order to sell soft drinks. Disney called her and explained, off the record, that a local plumbers strike had been settled shortly before opening day. He had to decide between toilets and drinking fountains.
Within seven weeks, thanks in part to months of national build-up on ABC's "Disneyland" TV show, the park had attracted a million visitors - 30 percent more than had been predicted. And they were spending 30 percent more money than predicted.
Realizing that swarms of journalists from around the world would be reporting about opening day, I decided to try something a little different: How would Disneyland look through the eyes of a pair of young girls?
With the aid of a park publicist, my daughters Nancy and Janet were treated to a tour of the brand-new park dressed in their pastel Easter dresses.
Nancy, who was almost 7, has vivid memories of the old-fashioned railroad that circles the property - "the first train ride of my life" - and the jungle boat "where the guide would crack jokes and make the most of the `threatening' moments."
Janet, who was only 3 1/2, understandably has little recall of that day, although she does remember her shoes "sticking in the hot asphalt and thinking that was great fun."
Editor's note: The author has been covering the world of entertainment for The Associated Press for more than 60 years, including Disneyland's opening day on July 17, 1955.
Purchase this AP story for reprint (link at web site).
I grew up right in the area, too, and I do remember the old ticket system (you couldn't even give away an 'A' ticket). We also watched the fireworks every night from the back yard.
I lived on Antigua near Brookhurst and Ball....
And I was closer to Katella and West St.
50 years ago today we kids in our family missed the TV Opening of Disneyland as our relatives all went Sunday driving that afternoon from Portland, Oregon to Oregon's beautiful Pacific coast. So we listened to it live on car radios in...
1955 Nash Rambler
1954 Oldsmobile 88
1953 Studebaker 2 door coupes.
But by the Fall of that same year we had all moved to Southern California. I was suddenly within bicycle riding distance of WALT's brand new Park, just 15 miles from Long Beach where my family had parked itself. And I took advantage of this with great zeal, balloon tire bike and all.
T'was a Beaut-i-ful move.
WOW! If I remember right West was the street between The Disneyland Hotel and the park....
You're correct. I lived in the residential area between West and Harbor, just south of the park.
My Year 1960 Rancho Alamitos High School Graduation Night Dance
My Year 2000 Rancho Alamitos High School 40th Anniversary Reunion Dance
I'll bet you remember Orange County when it had orange groves. :)
How wonderful for you!!!
Yes, I'll NEVER FORGET that sweet, sweet smell of the organge blossoms of Springtime every where we went in the OC long, long ago.
T'was a Beaut-i-ful move.
My family moved to Santa Monica from upstate New York in 1960. I was six years old. We only stayed six months (my father was a trainee at a defense contractor). But that six months stayed with me the rest of my life.
My parents took me to Disneyland once. I was crazy about science and the space program, and for me the Disneyland experience was a high-voltage blast of the future. I loved steam engines, and their was a real steam engine powering a real river boat. The "moon rocket" ride was my favorite; I think I watched the presentation five times.
The combination of post-war optimism, low-cost energy, the newness of everything on the West Coast, the unbelievable weather, made all of Southern California a wonderland then. A wonderland of freedom, adventure, fun, and optimism. Walt Disney saw that vision and attempted to "bottle it" and charge admission... he called it "Disneyland."
The Skyway was removed in 1994. It used to run from Fantasyland to Tomorrowland.
...in his very own words:
STEVE MARTIN’s tour of his Disneyland/Orange County
Thanks for the ping!
Thank you for the link to Steve Martin’s bio! Very fascinating! His dad was very degrading to Steve! Imagine saying something so mean to his son, after Martin became famous with his movie The Jerk! That movie is a classic!!
Fame and success can’t block out a painful childhood, and all the success in the world can’t make a mean person treat other’s with respect!
RAHS = Rancho Alamitos High School
Freshman STEVE MARTIN’s own
RAHS = Rancho Alamitos High School
Freshman STEVE MARTIN’s RAHS Class of 1962 Web Link
STEVE MARTIN =
Preforms in Washington, D.C’s 4th of July Program - PBS/2011
Happy Memorial Day!!
DISNEY = SECRETARIAT
Thanks AR. I’m touched.
This would explain the Ronald Reagan focus today.
He was the host on opening day.
DISNEYLAND opened 47 years ago today - July 17, 1955...
IOW in three years we will have to endure genuine official disney branded 50th aniversary products.
Disneyland is a great story: even someone who had the success Walt Disney had could not get support for Disneyland and even his own brother and CFO, Roy, wouldn’t sign off on it. Disney sold one of his insurance policies, cashed in his WED stock, and got ABC to put up 1/3 of the cost in return for hosting one live event per month on national television.
True entrepreneurs, Mr. Obama, NEVER quit taking risks and NEVER quit succeeding. And they don’t need no stinkin’ help from the government.
..seeing a Tiki Room Host STEVE MARTIN during my Summer DISNEYLAND work while in College, upon further reflection, was in 1962 not 1961. STEVE always kept to himself during our work breaks, ..gazing out “there”.. focused on something else. Ya think..??
..also dated his sister Rancho Class of 59’ MELINDA MARTIN a couple of times, just before he entered High School in 1959. A real sweetheart of a young lady. So glad she was there for STEVE MARTIN on the family side of things later on..
Circa 49 or 50 wd strolling the parking lot for l a county fair off white ave in Pomona with members of city council. Thinking of building there. City council sez we have the fair don’t need d-land.
Our hs president became a Mickey Mouse. At his house Christmas party I said hey that girl looks like Snow White. He says that IS Snow White.
Fond memories of back lot tour and Disney folks making art and signs for our reunion south of the park.
Friend still in management. Helped open Orlando, France, and Tokyo.
Still go when I get around to it
How Disney’s land was found
Remembering Annette Funicello at Disneyland Park
I think I came back too late. Have to register to see story.
DISNEYLAND - Then & Now - Anaheim, CA (Photos)
Great summary. What a privilege it was to be alive in those times.
Wow-—that’s an oldie.
“Memories are made of this.”
Thanks for the ping!
Loved Disneyland...still have some “E” tickets saved, somewhere. Also loved the log ride at Knott’s Berry Farm.