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"Disneyland Through the Decades" offers a different take on this theme park's fabled history

Jim Hill

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"Disneyland Through the Decades" offers a different take on this theme park's fabled history

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When so much has already been written about Disneyland, how would you then go about putting together a brand-new book about the Happiest Place on Earth?

That was the challenge that Jeff Kurtti faced when the folks at Disney Editions approached him last year about possibly putting together a new hardcover that could then be used to commemorate the Park's 55th anniversary. "There have been so many great books & articles that have been written about Disneyland over the years," Kurtti remembered. "So  knowing that whatever I'd do would then be compared to all these earlier books & articles, it was hard not to be intimidated by this assignment."

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But then Disney Legend Marty Sklar pointed out the obvious to Jeff. That many of the truly great books that have been written about this theme park (ex: Randy Bright's "Disneyland: Inside Story " [Abrams, October 1987]) had been out of print for decades at this point. And given that there are new Disneyland fans coming through the door every day ... Well, it's not like they're all going to be familiar with everything that's ever been written about the Park up until this point.

"Which got me thinking: What if I were to put together a book for the next generation of Disneyland fan? Something  that collected some of the very best things that have ever been written about the Park -- essays by Christopher Finch & Gladwin Hill - but also featured some brand-new pieces by Tim O'Day?"  Kurtti continued. "That might be a different way to approach Disneyland's history."

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Mind you, it took Jeff months to assemble all of the necessary material. He dug through hundreds of old issues of "Disney News." Not to mention looking at thousands of photographs that had been taken at the Park over the past 55 years.

But the end result - "Disneyland Through the Decades: A Photographic Celebration" (Disney Editions, April 2010) - was definitely worth the effort. For this 160-page hardcover isn't yet another regurgitation of the Park's history. It approaches the Happiest Place on Earth with a clear eye and an open heart.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"People often talk about how much has changed at Disneyland over the past 55 years. But what I find interesting is how much has stayed the same about the place. The Mark Twain and the Columbia still sail around the Rivers of America. The castle still stands at the end of Main Street," Kurtti explained.

But that said, Jeff recognized that people today see Disneyland in a far different light that the Guests did back in 1955.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"Take the Main Street U.S.A. area. When our grandparents walked through this part of the theme park, they saw this nostalgic representation of the world as their parents or grandparents knew," Kurtti said. "But to kids today, Main Street U.S.A. isn't so much an exercise in nostalgia as it is a part of the fabric that makes up Disneyland. A place where it just makes sense that an All-American street would lead straight to a fairytale castle."

Speaking of nostalgia ... During his research, Jeff has unearthed some real gems. Take - for example - this early early poster for the Enchanted Tiki Room. Or - better yet -- this description of the World of Tomorrow (as Walt had originally planned this part of the Park to be like before Disneyland's construction funds got kind of tight and corners then had to be cut).

A Moving Sidewalk carries you effortlessly into the World of Tomorrow where the fascinating exhibits of the miracles of science and industry are displayed. The theme of the World of Tomorrow is the factual and scientific exposition of Things to Come.

Participating in this are the Industries such as: Transportation, Rubber, Steel, Chemical, Electrical, Oil, Mining, Agriculture, and Foods.

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Among the exhibits, that will change from time to time, are The Mechanical Brain ... A Diving Bell ... Monorail Train ... The Little Parkway system where children drive scale-model motor cars over a modern freeway ... Models of an atomic submarine, a Flying Saucer ... The Magic House of Tomorrow, with mechanical features that obey the command of your voice like a Genie. You say "Please" and the door opens, a polite "Thank You" will close it.

When you enter the gigantic Rocket Space Ship to the Moon, and are safety-belted to your seat, the trip through "space" will be scientifically correct. The roaring ride through the universe will depict the exploding stars, constellations, planets, and comets exactly as charted, and will be no less thrilling.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

In addition to looking back at the important role that the future played in Disneyland's past, Kurtti's also quick to point out how the past is going to pay a big part in this Resort's future. Take - for example - that recreation of the Pacific Electric Red Car that will soon begin rolling through Disney California Adventure Park.   

By mixing all of these images & story threads together, Jeff - with his "Disneyland Through the Decades: A Photographic Celebration" -- has created a rather sophisticated look back at the history of this theme park. One that recognizes the huge impact that The Happiest Place on Earth has had on many of our lives over the past 55 years.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

As Tim O'Day so eloquently puts it in one of this book's closing passages:

What has secured the Park's place in world culture? It is the common bond of families and friends who have grown up with and experienced together the Park's special magic, making it a cherished part of our collective consciousness. It has withstood fads and trends to become a consistent source of joy and inspiration for every visitor. And unlike many other passages of life that cannot be relived, you can always come back to Disneyland Park.

The place that Disneyland Park holds in our society is indelible. Walt Disney himself touched the heart of his park's meaning when he said, "I think what I want Disneyland to be most of all is a happy place - a place where adults and children can experience together some of the wonders of life ... and feel better because of it."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And if it's been quite a while since you last experienced that wonder for yourself ... Paging through "Disneyland Through the Decades: A Photographic Celebration" is the next best thing to getting the chance to visit the Park for yourself.

So even though it's the Happiest Place on Earth that just celebrated its 55th birthday,  why not treat yourself to a present by picking up a copy of this great new Disney Editions book?

Your thoughts?


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  • Nice article, Jim.  Like the new site layout as well.

    Each time that Disney issues one of these new books, I always wonder what someone like Jeff Kurti might find in the studio or WDI archives if the marketing and legal teams would allow him access to everything and the ability to publish whatever he wanted.

  • Your story was featured in DisMarks! Here is the link to vote it up and promote it: dismarks.com/.../Disneyland_Through_the_Decades_Jim_Hill

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