Welcome to the JHM newsletter. This has been a passion
project of Nancy and I for the past few
months. A way for us to (hopefully) engage JimHillMedia's most dedicated fans
and give them access to additional in-depth storytelling.
So to help kick the JHM newsletter, I've really dug down
deep in my files and unearthed a document that I'm sure will fascinate all of
you theme park history buffs out there. It dates from 1953 and its title page
An Analysis of Location Factors for Disneyland
Prepared for Walt Disney Productions, Burbank, California.
Stanford Research Institute, Stanford, California
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
Yep, this is a copy of the research that Walt & Roy used
when they were looking for just the right site for the Happiest
Place on Earth. Which -- as this report somewhat
blandly states -- was supposed to be ...
... an extensive recreational and educational enterprise to
be known as Disneyland. It is the desire of Disneyland
management to provide a wide variety of entertainment activities and exhibits,
designed and constructed to afford maximum pleasure and comfort for the people
who use the facility.
Now as I read this document some 60+ years after the fact,
what fascinates me is that -- right from the get-go -- Walt & Roy
had a very specific piece of property in mind when it came to possible
construction sites for Disneyland. First and foremost,
this piece of property had to be located ...
... somewhere in the Los Angeles
metropolitan area, in the section bounded by Chatsworth and Pomona
on the north and Tustin and Balboa
to the south.
More to the point, wherever this 100 acre parcel was
located, it had to have clear line-of-sight with Mt.
Wilson. Why For? Because ...
... Television will play an important part in the promotion
and development of Disneyland. Field transmission
generally involves remote UHF telecasting to a master station. The field unit
shoots the program and beams the picture to the master telecasting station,
where it is re-telecast to the viewing public. A direct line of sight is
required. Intervening terrain will cause poor signal reception. If the line of
sight is obstructed, the only alternative transmission method, at present, is a
direct coaxial cable connection involving much greater cost. In the Los
Angeles area, master transmitters are located on Mt.
Wilson; therefore terrain between Mt.
Wilson and any area under
consideration was carefully studied.
Mt. Wilson and the beginnings of its now-extensive antenna farm
As a direct result ...
The Orange County
and Whittier-Norwalk districts were selected for further research. The
preferred area within these districts was a strip on both sides of the Santa
Ana Freeway, west of the San Gabriel River.
Once the search had been narrowed to these specific areas,
the team from Stanford Research began to seek out parcels that might then meet
with Walt & Roy's approval. To find appropriate pieces of land, they did a
complete search of the records of Los Angeles
and Orange Counties
looking for land parcels of adequate acreage. Once that was done, Stanford
Research reps used commercial & industrial realtors to identify owners who
might be willing to sell. And once they determined which owners might be
willing to sell their land to the Disney brothers, the team from Stanford
Research first checked each of these pieces of property by walking the land and
then by doing fly-overs. They also dug down deep -- checking to see how each
piece of property was zone, what sort of utilities were readily available, what
the local tax rates were, etc.
The Santa Ana Freeway back in the late 1940s / early 1950s
Thanks to all of their months of hard work, the Stanford
Research Institute was able to identify forty possible sites for Disneyland
within that narrow strip of land which bordered the Santa Ana Freeway. At
subsequent meetings with Walt & Roy, twenty-four of these sites were deemed
worthy of further investigation. Each of these possible construction sites were
then personally viewed by the Disney brothers. Who reportedly spent one very
long weekend driving around Norwalk,
Whittier and Orange
County. In the end, the choice was
narrowed to just four possible construction sites.
Now what's kind of intriguing about the place where Disneyland
was ultimately build was that Stanford Research found out that this piece of
real estate was actually available for development by accident.
To explain: The Ball Road Subdivision (which was located
adjacent to the city of Anaheim)
was made up of seventeen different parcels which was owned by seventeen
different owners. Given that Walt & Roy didn't want to deal with that many
people when it came to putting together the necessary 100 acre parcel for Disneyland,
they initially passed on this primo piece of property. It was only after an Anaheim
local -- one Mr. Fred R. Wallich -- made Stanford Research aware that several
owners were thinking of converting this collection of orange groves & ranch
homes into a housing subdivision that Walt & Roy circled back on the Ball
Road Subdivision and eventually took an option on the property.
But in the meantime,
the Disney Brothers thought hard & fast about buying the Willowick Country
Club. Which is this 18-hole golf course located just beyond the western limits
of the City of Santa Ana. There
were actually pieces of property available for purchase here: One 98 acre
parcel and a second 19 acre parcel. The only problem was that these two pieces
of property were separated by the Pacific Electric Railroad.
And then there was the then-unincorporated City of La
Mirada, which was made up of 2300 acres just inside of
Los Angeles County
limits. There were actually five potential construction sites for Disneyland
located within this subdivision. And each of them had primo access to then
still-under-construction Santa Ana Freeway via Valley
View Avenue and Imperial
And then there was a fourth potential construction site for
this theme park which was located at the boundary between Los Angeles &
Orange Countries near the intersection of Valley View
Avenue and the Santa Ana Freeway. 170 acres lay inside
of Los Angeles County
while the balance of 480 acres laid inside Orange
The owners -- one Leo Harvey -- was willing to release some 160
acres at the most accessible corner of this piece of property. Which was
bounded by Valley View Avenue,
Orangethorpe Avenue & Hansen Street and was one mile west of Buena
Just think about it. If Fred R. Wallich hadn't made the Stanford
Research reps aware that the owners of the Ball Road Subdivision were thinking
of pooling their pieces of property to create a housing subdivision, Disneyland
could have been built where the Willowick Country Club is located (It's still
in operation, by the way. Just 5 miles west of Disneyland,
Willowick is the oldest 18-hole
public golf course in Orange County).
Or it could of have wound up out in La Miranda on a centrally located piece of
property between the Santa Ana Freeway and the Imperial
Highway. Or just down the street from Knott's
Berry Farm in Buena Park.
And given that we're just months away from the start of Disneyland's
60th anniversary celebration ... Well, I'd love to go check out some of these
spots where the Happiest Place
on Earth was almost built. So do any of your Southern California
theme park history buffs have any tips when it comes to where Disneyland
was supposed to have been built in the City of La Mirada?
Or -- for the matter -- have any clues about where that piece of property that
Leo Harvey once owned could be located? Because I'd love to get shots of these
places the very next time I'm out in Southern California.
At the very least, does anyone want to join me for a walk
around Willowick Country Club and maybe lift a toast at their new 5000
square-foot full-service bar and restaurant to the spot that was almost the Happiest
Place on Earth?
Because that's the whole point of the JHM newsletter, folks.
Nancy and I are going to go really in-depth with this thing. Give you the
opportunity to explore & celebrate some of the lesser known corner of
Disney Company history.
So who's up for a little urban exploration in & around Orange
County? Any takers?
If you want to hear more stories like these, sign up for our monthly newsletter - JHM Newsletter
I can't join in on the fun since I live in Northern California (drats!), but I did want to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the article about potential park locations. I look forward to reading more about it.
Sounds just geeky enough to be fun, Jim - I'm in!
I don't have any definite info for you, but just from a little poking around on the Web, I can give you a couple of guesses to the La Mirada parcels. I was just watching a YouTube video promoting a book on La Mirada history that showed a historical plaque commemorating Biola University's purchase of 160 acres of land on the area in 1955, which became the Biola campus - it's a safe bet that's at least one of the sites. The La Mirada Community Regional Park was established by the County of Los Angeles in 1956 & is about 76 acres - the property could have been available at the time SRI was doing their research. I was going to suggest the Santa Fe Springs Swap Meet location as a potential site - it's right next to I-5 and it was originally known as the La Mirada Drive-In since it was so close to La Mirada, but the drive in was actually established in 1950.