Welcome to Jim Hill Media - Entertainment News : Theme Parks Movies Television

"Disneyland Hotel" takes a detailed look at the history of this Anaheim resort

"Disneyland Hotel" takes a detailed look at the history of this Anaheim resort

Rate This
  • Comments 0

After the war, when Walt Disney Studios was once again making money, Walt returned to his cherished idea of building a theme park. Initially he pictured his theme park across the street from his Burbank studio as a neatly developed 7-acre park. Its name back then was Mickey Mouse Park. The attractions would be simple: a farm for small animals, a lake stocked with fish, an island playground, row boats, a carousel, a miniature train. Later he toyed with the idea of a full-size, narrow-gauge steam engine, along with a steam boat. Soon after he began to section his amusement park into various lands?one with a frontier theme, another for futuristic attractions.

At about this same time, Harper Goff suggested that Walt use the architecture firm of William Pereira and Charles Luckman to create site maps and a master plan. One month later, Luckman came to the Burbank studios with a master plan for the 7-acre park. But anticipating Walt's reaction?that the park was simply too small?he also brought a master plan for a 10-acre park as well. Over the months that followed, Walt wanted to expand his park, including a land for exotic adventures, another for animated fantasies. But as the project developed, he grew dissatisfied with Luckman's concepts. He wanted to develop Disneyland with people better attuned to his cinematic imagination, so in 1953 he fired Pereira and Luckman.

But as with most of Disney's business partners, they did not leave for long. The following year, they were rehired to design the Disneyland Hotel. It would be the first resort hotel built in Southern California in over a decade, a resort influenced by the early plans for Disneyland.

The stories in Donald W. Ballard's fine book, "Disneyland Hotel: The Early Years, 1954-1988," chronicle another part of the Disneyland story?the story of the hotel situated across the street from the park. In it, Ballard does an excellent job of collecting information on the hotel, its owners, and its unique relationship to Disneyland and to Walt. In its best moments, the writing places you shoulder-to-shoulder with Jack Wrather, the hotel's initial owner, as the original hotel rooms open and as Disneyland-fever spreads across America.

Most readers familiar with this site probably already know that Walt solicited other hotel companies, including Hilton, before asking for Jack Wrather's help in building the Disneyland Hotel. They might also know that Wrather, a man who worked in TV, produced The Lone Ranger for eight years and more impressively Lassie for twenty. But Ballard's book moves beyond these surface details to get at the moment when Walt?strapped for cash, desperate to finish his park?persuaded Wrather to build the hotel, his eyes beginning to water with tears.

The book also explores the business arrangement between the two men: the 99-year lease and, to sweeten the deal, Walt's offer that Wrather could exclusively use the Disney name for any other hotels he might build in Southern California?an offer that Wrather never exploited. The book investigates the circle of power around Wrather, which included Ronald and Nancy Reagan, and his marriage to the actress Bonita Granville, who acted in over 50 films. (As a side note, you can see Ronald Reagan interview his friend, Jack Wrather, on the "Disneyland U.S.A." DVD with the Phantom Boats noisily buzzing behind them.)

The book is lavishly illustrated with beautiful photographs depicting the hotel property from its early drive-up motel suites to the later and more recognizable towers. The book features beautiful images of the dancing waters and long-forgotten miniature golf center, where guests can put a ball through both Sleeping Beauty's Castle and the Matterhorn. For me, a child of the 1970s and 1980s, the photos in Ballard's book sent me back to my youth, playing video games in the underwater arcade housed in the hotel marina and to the internationally flavored shops in the Seaports of the Pacific.

But more compelling than the photos is the way Ballard's book provides a detailed assessment of America's growing fascination with Disneyland, step by step, from the first 100-room opening, to the 650-room complex, to the later mega-complex with its distinctive towers. The book chronicles the 1959 park expansion, paying particular attention to the Monorail that in 1961 connects the hotel to Tomorrowland station, and the rejuvenation of Disneyland during its 25th anniversary. The success of the hotel is one of the best barometers of the success of Disneyland: the hotel expands when Disneyland succeeds.

The text is also peppered with cool trivia: the Bonita Tower and Granville's Steak House are both named for Wrather's wife who, after his death, managed his properties. And, of course, it covers how Wrather himself attempted to enter the business of theme parks by leasing the Queen Mary.

The book is published by Ape Pen, who earlier this year, published "Homecoming: Destination Disneyland," which features narrative first-person recollections of Disneyland's early years. Both, in my opinion, are interesting takes on the phenomenon of Disneyland. In 1999 the earliest hotel structures were demolished during the park expansion for California Adventure and Downtown Disney. But the memories of those old structures live on in this book.

You can find the books at Compass Books in Downtown Disney (Anaheim) and on Amazon. Or you can support the publisher by ordering directly from their website: www.apepenpublishing.com The author has also set up his own website that includes many early brochures for the hotel: www.magicalhotel.com

Blog - Post Feedback Form
Your comment has been posted.   Close
Thank you, your comment requires moderation so it may take a while to appear.   Close
Leave a Comment
  • * Please enter your name
  • * Please enter a comment
  • Post