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Let's take a stroll down Liberty Street

Jim Hill

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Let's take a stroll down Liberty Street

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"To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world."

You'll find the famous plaque that actually has this inscription on it in the Town Square area. Right at the base of the flag pole. And -- after many people read Disneyland's official dedication -- they look up and see Main Street USA all around them and think: "Well, this must be what Walt was talking about. A part of the park that celebrates ' ... the ideals, dreams and hard facts that have created America.' "

Well, not exactly.

Truth be told, Main Street USA (as well as the theme park's Frontierland area) was originally supposed to be just the start of Disneyland's American adventure. Soon after the "Happiest Place on Earth" opened up in July of 1955, Walt envisioned adding two other areas to the Anaheim theme park that would have paid tribute to U.S. history: Liberty Street (which was to have celebrated America's Colonial period) and Edison Square (which was to have illustrated what it was like when electricity first arrived in the American home).

Today, I'm going to take the liberty of writing about just one of these proposed Disneyland additions: Liberty Street. Which was to have occupied that large backstage area you'll find between Main Street USA and Tomorrowland.

Copyright 1959 Walt Disney Productions

Mind you, Liberty Street wasn't the first Disneyland addition to be proposed for this particular piece of property. Back in the Fall of 1955 (literally months after "The Happiest Place on Earth" opened to the public), Walt announced plans to add International Street to the theme park. Which would have allowed Southern Californian tourists to tour a Danish toy shop, eat at an English pub, even gather in an Italian public square to view ethnic song & dance.

Sounds like a fun idea, don't you think? And -- yes -- Disneyland's International Street was the inspiration for Epcot's World Showcase section some 25 years later.

The only problem was ... It was awfully hard to fit a miniature version of Europe onto this tiny piece of backstage property. So Walt asked his Imagineers to please try again. Which was -- in the late 1950s -- WED came up with yet another idea for this part of the park: Liberty Street.

"So how would the Imagineers --circa 1959 -- have gone about recreating Colonial America?," you ask. Well, why don't we take a stroll up Liberty Street and find out?

Copyright 1959 Walt Disney Productions

Had the Imagineers actually gone forward with their original construction plans ... As we walked past Main Street USA's Maxwell House Coffee House, we would have noticed a new street off to the right that veered off of Town Square at a 45 degree angle.

This is Liberty Street. And -- as we step over its threshold -- we immediately leave turn-of-the-century middle America. Our new location is the East coast of the United States circa 1775. And the attention to detail that you would have found here was just astounding.

Take -- for instance -- the paving material that we're walking on in this part of the theme park. Those are cobblestones. And directly ahead? Do you see those tri-masted schooners tied up at Griffin's Wharf.

 Copyright 1959 Walt Disney Productions

As you walk up the street, you immediately find yourself immersed in Colonial America. To your left, you'll pass the glassblowers shoppe as well as "The Forge," which is where Liberty Street's blacksmith works.

As you walk to the end of this artfully designed cul-de-sac, you notice that Liberty Street eventually opens up and becomes Liberty Square. Here, to your left, you'll find a recreation of Paul Revere's silver shoppe as well as the printing press used to churn out editions of the "Boston Observer" newspaper.

Copyright 1959 Walt Disney Productions

And -- in the center of the square -- you'll find (of course) the Liberty Tree. A proud old oak tree that has -- high up in its branches -- thirteen glowing lanterns. Which represent the original thirteen colonies.

Beyond the Liberty Tree is the entrance to Liberty Hall. Which was where Liberty Street's two big attractions were supposed to be located: The "Hall of the Declaration of Independence" show as well as the "Hall of the Presidents of the United States" show.

As you came through the front door of Liberty Hall, you found yourself in a giant foyer surrounded by dioramas which recreate famous scenes from American history. Were you to enter the auditorium on your left, you would have found yourself inside a 500-seat theater where the "Hall of the Declaration of Independence" show was presented.

Copyright 1959 Walt Disney Productions

Now that the "HOTDOI" show was pretty ambitious, at least by 1959 standards. It was compromised of three scenes deliberately staged to look like famous paintings from the Revolutionary War era. This show was to have featured sculpted, life-size figures that -- while they weren't quite Audio-Animatronic -- were still capable of some rudimentary movement.

FYI: The famous paintings that the Imagineers wanted to recreate as part of the "Hall of the Declaration of Independence" show were J.L.G. Ferris' "The Drafting of the Declaration of Independence" (Which showed Ben Franklin & John Adams consulting with Thomas Jefferson as he wrote the Declaration); John Trumball's "Signing of the Declaration of Independence" (Which showed all of our founding fathers in Philadelphia's Independence Hall as they made ready to sign the Declaration) and Henry Mosler's "Ringing of the Liberty Bell" (Which showed what happened after John Hancock & the rest of the crew in Philly had actually put their John Hancocks on this doc).

Meanwhile, across the foyer in the "Hall of the President of the United States" auditorium ... Well, obviously, this was the proposed attraction that would eventually serve as the inspiration for WDW's "HOP" show. But again (because this was in a pre-AA era) the Imagineers planned on using dramatic lighting, stereophonic sound as well as sculpted figures that were capable of some movement to give the illusion that George Washington and the rest of our chief executive were somehow alive.

The problem was that -- in order to properly pull off all of the presidents to be featured in the "HOPOTUS" show as well as all the founding fathers to be found in the "HOTDOI" show -- the Imagineers had to take a giant leap forward with the type of technology that they were typically using at the Anaheim theme park's attractions. So the historic & respected figures that would appear in these two Liberty Street shows could appear with all the dignity & decorum that Walt was insisting upon.

Which is why Disney didn't immediately push his Imagineers to go forward with construction of Liberty Street. He knew that it would take the Imagineers a number of years to come up with all the necessary technological advances that they'd need in order to make the "Hall of the Declaration of Independence" show as well as the "Hall of the Presidents of the United States" show possible.

But Walt was a patient man. He was willing to wait. Which is why he quietly stood by as 1959 gave way to 1960. Which -- in turn -- gave way to 1961, 1962 & 1963.

Mind you, WED was still actively pushing forward with development of Liberty Street 's two main shows. That's why the Imagineers had built a full-scale mock-up of the Lincoln figure for what was then-known as the "One Nation Under God" show.

Of course, this was the same Lincoln figure that New York World's Fair promoter Robert Moses saw when he was touring WED with Walt one day (As Moses was trying to get an update on all the shows that Disney was preparing for the 1964-65 Fair). Moses got one brief glimpse of the robotic Abe in action, then insisted that he must be allowed to present this "winkin', blinkin' Lincoln" at the Fair.

Walt initially balked at Robert's request, insisting that it would be years before the robotic version of our 16th president would be ready to be seen by the public. But Moses insisted. Which is why -- little more than a year later -- "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" opened at the 1964-65 World's Fair as the centerpiece attraction at the State of Illinois pavilion.

"Great Moments" proved to be so popular with the public that Walt immediately decided to bring the show back to Disneyland. The only problem was ... There really wasn't enough time (or enough money. You see, at this time, Walt & Roy were in the process of secretly buying up all the land they needed to build Disney World. Which is why every extra cent they had was being plowed into the purchasing of Central Florida swampland. But I digress ... ) to give Honest Abe a proper setting (I.E. Go forward with construction of Liberty Street).

Which is why the robotic version of our 16th president performed (on and off) for the next 40 years. Until last month, that is. When "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" closed to make way for the new Disneyland museum exhibit. Which will help celebrate the 50th anniversary of "The Happiest Place on Earth."

You know, it's kind of ironic that the Imagineers opted to shut down "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln." Why for? Well ... Because the display cases in the pre-show area of this Main Street USA attraction was one of the only public places where you could actually see concept art for this proposed Disneyland addition, Liberty Street. (Special thanks to David Michaels AKA Darkbeer for providing the original photograph of that concept art that proved to be so useful in the production of today's article).

Anyway ... As you well know, Liberty Street never really got built at Disneyland. Mind you, this proposed addition to "The Happiest Place on Earth" came surprsingly close to coming off the drawing board. As recently as the early 1980s, the "Disneyland Preview Center" featured concept art for a "Hall of Presidents" attraction. Along with a show description that insisted that Liberty Street would soon be open for business in Anaheim.

Sadly, the closest we ever got to Disneyland getting a Liberty Street was 3000 miles away. As in: WDW's Magic Kingdom got a somewhat expanded version of this proposed Anaheim addition. Which eventually wound up (appropriately enough) with a much more expansive sounding name: Liberty Square.

Anywho ... That's the story of Liberty Street. If you'd like to hear even more stories about the "Disneyland That Might Have Been," then I suggest that you follow this link over to Mouseketrips. Where I'm sure Scott Liljenquist will be happy to sign you up for this coming weekend's JHM tours.

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