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Where Disneyland almost was (and what's now in the works for the Happiest Place on Earth)

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Where Disneyland almost was (and what's now in the works for the Happiest Place on Earth)

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It's been an amazing eight days here in Southern California. I've met with a lot of great people while I was out here. And these folks then shared tons of tremendous stories. Many of which I'll be posting on JHM & the Huffington Post in coming weeks.

But before I blow town, I did want to let you guys know that I was mostly successful in my search for where Disneyland was almost built back in the mid-1950s. Working off of that "Analysis of Location Factors" report that Stanford Research Institute prepared for Walt & Roy, I was able to visit two of the other possible construction sites that the Company also considered for its very first theme park before ultimately settling on the Ball Road Subdivision (i.e., that large chunk of property at the corner of Harbor & Katella).


Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of Harbor Boulevard .. I have to admit that I do find it kind of intriguing that the Disney brothers did once consider building their family fun park on another piece of property that was Harbor Boulevard adjacent. And by that I mean, if you turn at the corner of Fifth Avenue & Harbor down in Santa Ana, just a half mile or so down the road, you'll eventually find the Willowick Country Club.


Photo by Jim Hill

Looking over this centrally located piece of property, I don't imagine that all that much has changed since Disney Legend Buzz Price & Co. did their initial site survey back in 1953 (Though I'm betting that -- 60+ years ago -- there wasn't a gated community directly across the street from this golf course).


Photo by Jim Hill

Anyway ... Willowick Country Club is pretty much exactly what you'd expect. It's an 18 hole golf course with carefully maintained grounds.


Photo by Jim Hill

The property is now bounded on one side by a pretty sizable water control project as well as a bridge for traffic.


Photo by Jim Hill

And given the radio station that's located right on the grounds of this golf course (not to mention that trio of broadcast towers which cozy up to Willowick's driving range), it's clear that this piece of property has great line-of-sight for Mount Wilson. Which would have been ideal from Walt's plan to regularly broadcast TV shows from Disneyland Park.


Photo by Jim Hill

But given that drivers would have to chug down Harbor quite a ways before they then turned onto Fifth ... Even though (thanks to the 405) Willowick was relatively easy to get to, Walt & Roy decided to take a pass on this pretty piece of property.


Photo by Jim Hill

Instead, the Disney brothers took a long hard look at what was then known as the Leo Harvey site. Which was at the corner of Valley View Avenue & Orangethorpe Avenue.


Photo by Jim Hill

Looking at this alternate-site-for-Disneyland today, it's easy to see why Walt & Roy considered it. I mean, the freeway is right nearby. Which means that would-be Guests would have had no problem getting to this theme park.

And given how centrally located this proposed-construction-site-for-Disneyland is, it's easy to understand why so much of the land bounded by Valley View & Orangethorpe is so heavily developed these days.


Photo by Jim Hill

The bulk of this 650-acre site is now occupied by a massive JC Penney warehouse ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... which trucks trundle in & out of day and night, loaded with goods that are soon out on the 5th and/or 91, zooming to customers all over the country.


Photo by Jim Hill

As for the pieces of property that Walt & Roy looked at in & around the then-incorporated City of La Mirada ... Given that the Disneys reportedly looked at five sites in this corner of Los Angeles County, I need to do a wee bit more research / legwork before I can then post definitive pictures of where Disneyland was almost built in La Mirada.

And given that I had been spending so much time on this trip visiting the places where the Happiest Place on Earth was almost built, I felt it was time that I actually looked at the Disneyland Resort itself. Which is why I found myself walking the perimeter of this piece of property yesterday afternoon.


Photo by Jim Hill

I know that a lot of people weren't all that happy with the original version of Disney's California Adventure theme park. But you have to admit that the reimagining / reconfiguring all of the land around the Disneyland Resort as this lush garden district worked out beautifully. That -- for the most part -- all of those ugly electric power towers that used to march straight across Disneyland's old parking lot ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... are now largely hidden in plain sight by some artful use of greenery.


Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of parking lots ... I have been hearing increasing rumbling from within Disney Parks & Resorts that the Simba parking lot ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... (You know. The one that backs up against Katella & Walnut?) ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... may soon be closing so that construction can then begin on this massive multi-story parking structure. That -- it is hoped -- will then help the Resort address its increasingly serious we-don't-have-enough-room-for-our-Day-Guests-and-their-cars-on-our-busy-busy-days problem.


Photo by Jim Hill

Mind you, the upside of this pending parking structure construction (which -- admittedly -- will seriously disrupt things around the Resort for 18 months to two years) is that it will then allow The Walt Disney Company to seriously increase capacity at Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park, allowing them to add lots of new rides, shows and attractions. Not to mention finally getting serious about possibly turning the nearby Toy Story parking lot into a third theme park for the Disneyland Resort.

But hey, you didn't hear that from me   ...

Your thoughts?

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  • wheres the meat in this article?   This is stuff that has already been discussed on several other Disney Sites.   I miss the old days of Jim Hill.

  • I'm surprised that you were near "corner of Valley View Avenue & Orangethorpe Avenue." I live close by.

    The pending Simba parking lot construction is certainly news to me. I haven't heard of this rumor before. Were you the first to report this? Maybe they should conceal the power lines underground.

  • My understanding is that Disney is planning a huge parking structure on the east side, across Harbor from bus and taxi drop off.  Is it possible that the Simba lot would not become parking in that case but an expansion of Disney hotel properties?  Either a new hotel or recreational facilities for the existing hotels?

  • Thanks for the site photos, Jim - it'll be interesting to see if you can nail down where Disneyland could have been built in La Mirada.

    I'm a little suprised that Disney's considering a parking structure on the Simba lot - They've been talking about adding a structure to the current Timon lot for a while now, and it'd seem to make more sense to route traffic from the 5 off of Disney Way into a structure instead of directing traffic on surface streets for a mile or two (Disneyland Dr. or - yikes! - Katella Ave.). The Simba site would seem more like an ideal location for another Disney hotel or a DVC property - I'd love to know why they'd want to build a parking structure there instead...

  • Walt did look at that site with Anaheim City Manager Keith Murdock and liked it.  Unfortunately, Walt and the rest of his group then drove to Knott's Berry Farm for lunch and loudly discussed the site.  At an adjacent table was a realtor from Garden Grove who listened intently and the next day he obtained listings on a few of the key parcels.  Walt was angry beyond words.  Murdoch located two other sites that Walt didn't care for at all.  One was near a cemetery and Walt didn't want guests driving by a cemetery to get to Disneyland.  Finally, the site where Disneyland is today was picked after making arrangements to close off a public street, Cerritos Street.

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