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“Welcome Foolish Mortals!” As promised, Roger has a column in the “spirit” of the day. A tale of a mansion, gold and silver, and ghosts from the American West. “So, Look Alive!”



From a column on October 3rd, you may recall a fine tale by Jean de Lutèce about the backstory for Disneyland Paris Ravenswood Manor.

Would it surprise you to know that there is history from Nevada’s Comstock Lode that shares many of the same points as that “story”? If you’ve been reading these Ruminations for a while, it shouldn’t.

So grab your favorite bubbling brew, cuddle up with a beloved ghoul friend or two, and let me illuminate you…

What today is the state of Nevada was once a major part of the Territory of Utah. Before the discovery of gold in California, it was pretty quiet. About the only settlements were stations along the trail here and there. A few Mormon immigrant colonies as well. After the findings at Sutter’s Mill, that changed as the rush was on. More and more, folks coming west stopped here and there, finding water and good grazing land for their stock. Some decided to take their chance with fortune and pan for gold in the more promising spots. Not much to show, so they kept on heading west, where greater riches were waiting for them. After all, the streets were paved with gold in California, right?

Here’s a link to the tale of the discovery of the Comstock Lode. It is considered the largest silver deposit in the United States.

What made this ore richer than any other was the amount of gold found with it. The main ore body was almost two miles long and several hundred feet wide in places. An initial asset in 1859 found that this ore was worth $3400 a ton! It was no wonder that people flocked here from both east and west. Miners who had not found their fortunes in California came here hoping to stake their claims, and retire, rich. Between 1873 and 1880, the total value of ore taken from the Lode was over one-half of a billion dollars, so that wasn’t out of the realm of possibility… But much like today’s California Lottery, the odds were not in one’s favor. It was a hard existence for the average Joe and even more so for the average Jane. The frontier was definitely not the place for all but the most hardy of women.

Among those people who actually did strike it rich were the two upon whom our story focuses today. Lemuel Sanford “Sandy” Bowers and Allison “Eilley” Oram Bowers. If ever fortune smiled upon any of the common folk, and then turned them the cold shoulder, they were the ones.

Eilley Bowers is one of the most researched, written and talked about women in Nevada history. She was a continual subject of news reports and writers who sometimes wrote tales of her long, eventful life. Many researchers have tried to uncover more of the facts of her life.

“Eilley” was born on September 6, 1826 in the Royal Burgh of Forfar, Scotland, located in the eastern Scottish countryside. At the young age of fifteen, she married nineteen-year-old Stephen Hunter of Fishcross, Clackmannan, Scotland. After six years of marriage, Stephen converted to the relatively new religion of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

In January 1849, the Hunters decided to move to America and the new Mormon city in the Great Salt Lake Valley. Brigham Young had established this home for his followers just two years earlier. The Hunters immigrated to America by ship from Liverpool, England to New Orleans, then by steamer to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where they joined a wagon train and walked the rest of the way to Utah. Soon after they arrived, the two were divorced for unknown reasons.

Three years later in 1853, Eilley married again, to Alexander Cowan. He was also from Scotland and a devout Mormon willing to do anything for the church. In the fall of 1855, he was called on a mission to the western most edge of Utah Territory. Today this is Genoa, Nevada, but then it was the small settlement of Mormon Station in Carson County, Utah Territory. Most women stayed in Salt Lake City when their husbands went off to settle a new community. As evidence of her strength, practicality, and commitment to the marriage, Eilley chose to make the journey to the Nevada wilderness with her husband and his 12-year-old-nephew Robert Henderson, who had recently been orphaned.

When their first winter approached, most of the Mormons returned to Salt Lake City, but the Cowans stayed in the small settlement. The following spring, Orson Hyde, the local Mormon elder, decided to move the Mormons to the Washoe Valley. Since the Cowans had stayed behind for the winter, they were among the first to arrive in the Valley. Alexander was able to purchase 320 acres of good farming land complete with a small house and corral.

A little over one year later, the Federal government was experiencing difficulties with the Mormon congregation that brought about the possibility of an open conflict with the United States. In order to save his empire, Brigham Young recalled all of his missionaries who had been sent out to settle small communities like the one in the Washoe Valley. Alexander was faithful to the church and agreed to return to Salt Lake City in the fall of 1857. Eilley and Robert chose to stay behind in Washoe. After the problems with the government and Utah were resolved, Alexander returned to Nevada for a short time, but soon went back to Utah alone. Ultimately, they divorced, and in the settlement Eilley received 160 acres in Washoe Valley of the acreage that they had purchased in 1856.

When the Mormons abandoned the settlement of Franktown, some accounts have Eilley remaining on the ranch. Yet, there are records that show her and Robert moving to Johntown (today it is below Silver City) where she could earn a respectable living in 1857. The camp housed around 180 miners who were searching the surrounding canyons and streams for gold.

From various accounts, she cooked and laundered for her boarders. She was known to occasionally provide entertainment during the evening hours with her crystal ball. Little did she know how important that would become in her later years.

The operation had to have been considered one of the higher-class (and hence, more respectable) boarding houses in Johntown since Eilley had a real building in the midst of a tent city. That was a welcome addition to the rustic camp. Eilley and her nephew lived there until the spring of 1859 when gold was discovered on a nearby hill, and the town of Gold Hill was born.

Eilley and Robert quickly relocated to the new town site and built another boarding house. She took advantage of the situation by acquiring several plots of land. An unsubstantiated tale relates that James Rogers had fallen victim to some of the local “tarantula juice” and could not afford to pay his bill to Eilley, and so transferred his claim to her instead.

That August, she married (for the third time) to Lemuel Sanford “Sandy” Bowers. He was an illiterate, but hard working miner who made his way west from Salt Lake possibly as a teamster on one of the expeditions to bring supplies to the Mormon settlements. He stayed on in the area and tried his hand at prospecting, eventually acquiring a claim in Gold Hill that adjoined Eilley’s. Their combined holdings meant the couple was financially stable at this point in their marriage.

(The Bowers claim was a consolidation of the two 10-foot claims located or acquired by Lemuel Sanford (“Sandy”) Bowers and James Rogers on or a few days after January 28, 1859. It was bounded on the north by the unpatented Plato claim and on the south by the patented Bacon No. 59 claim. From the mineral survey plat of the Bacon No. 59 claim it appeared that the Bowers claim lay in the Southeast Quarter of Section 31 and the Southwest Quarter of Section 32, T. 17 N., R. 21 E., M.D.B. & M.)

Soon Gold Hill and the new town of Virginia City were exciting mining towns, with a quickly growing population, producing the most concentrated amount of silver and gold in the United States.

The Bowers were among the first millionaires of the Comstock Lode. Over the next two years, Eilley gave birth to two children. Unfortunately both died as infants, an all too common occurrence in those times.

In celebration of their prosperity, they planned the construction of grand mansion on Eilley’s Washoe Valley property. This new home was completed in 1863 and is considered the finest Nevada example of homes built by the new money class of the Comstock. It was symbolic of the fulfillment of Eilley’s dreams of prestige and respectability. Designed by J. Neeley Johnson, a builder and ex-governor of California, it combined Georgian and Italianate architectural styles. The structure was modeled after a design conceived by Eilley based on her recollection of elegant buildings in her native Scotland. Stonecutters from Scotland were employed for the construction, which eventually cost the astronomical sum of $400,000 to complete.

The two-story mansion is located in a wonderful meadow backing up to the foothills of Mount Rose, and is next to a series of natural hot springs.

Visitors stayed away when the house was new and later when she tried to turn it into a resort. Friends of Sandy Bowers accepted the couple’s invitations, but their wives declined. The “nice ladies” of the day snubbed Eilley Bowers because she was twice divorced, a working class woman and a Mormon — all reflections of prejudices of the era.

The comfort of the family and the entertainment of guests figured in the design of the downstairs library, parlors, sitting rooms, dining room and kitchen. The upstairs originally included a billiard room, but the billiard table’s immense weight put such strain on the floors that it was moved downstairs. Bedrooms upstairs boasted Victorian bedsteads, dressers, vanities and wardrobes.

Now 140 years old, the mansion bears its age well. Carefully fitted stone walls requiring little mortar still stand straight. Deeply recessed, tall windows fill the house with light, their frames so slanted that the slashing storms from the Sierras cannot drive rain or snow beneath the sashes. Restoration removed the ill-conceived and unfinished third floor. Many features survived the decades of neglect including the fountain in front of the house, the marble fireplace mantles, the fitted interior shutters, the intricate ceilings, the carved wooden moldings, the wood-grained paneling, and some of the hardware plated with Comstock silver.

Visiting today, it is easy to be struck by the size of the mansion, as being small. Compare it to the above ground structure of Disneyland’s “Haunted Mansion” in New Orleans Square and you’ll note the similarities. Yet, that is not uncommon for the era. Remember that many people lived in shacks with flimsy walls and roofs or simple tents. In the sense of a permanent structure, it was immense for the day. Comparing it with other local buildings, even the Federal mint building in Carson City seems small today. The largest building in town was the Virginia & Truckee Railroad’s great stone enginehouse — almost a half a contemporary city block in size.

While the mansion was under construction in 1862, Mr. and Mrs. Bowers took their famed European excursion. They hosted a banquet at the International Hotel in Virginia City prior to their departure. They left San Francisco on May 1 bound for New York via the Isthmus of Panama. From there, it was off for Scotland, England and Europe. They enjoyed the good life, purchased treasures for their home and visited her family in Scotland. Local papers shared these adventures of great interest with eager readers.

Among the goals of the European excursion, Eilley dearly wanted to be presented at the Court of Saint James. She made special preparations and purchased an elegant gown in Paris particularly for the occasion. Yet for all their money, the couple lacked social connections and she was to be denied such an opportunity. It is said that Sandy tried to make up for this disappointment for the rest of their stay by finding attractive and unique treasures to distract her.

It appears that Eilley found one of her own in Scotland. When they returned to Nevada in March 1863, the Bowers had a baby girl with them whom they had adopted during their trip. For her own reasons, Eilley did not want the details of the adoption to be made public. The truth of young Margaret Persia’s birth was never known. The Bower family spent several years living in their mansion and generously dispersing the profits of their seemingly endless fortune.

Even though the War Between The States was continuing in the east, the Bowers and the other prosperous residents of the new Nevada Territory (decidedly Union in loyalties) were continuing to enjoy their riches. On October 31, 1864, Nevada became a state (with its motto, “Battle Born”) and followed President Lincoln’s reelection shortly thereafter. Five months later the war ended, Lincoln was assassinated, and the mines of Nevada were entering a period of decline.

As ores began to play out, the Bowers were among those slowly losing the riches they had come to know. Sandy moved back to Gold Hill to try to save the mine, but luck was not with him. In early 1868, he tried to sell a share of the claim. However, before the sale could be completed, he died of silicosis that April. He was buried in a plot on the hill behind the mansion, overlooking the Washoe Valley and Franktown.

Struck with grief as she was, Eilley took over the business affairs with the help of George Waters. The ore was gone and her financial situation was not promising, and in 1870 she sold him all of her interests in the mine.

In 1873, a new and surprisingly large body of ore was discovered, but not on or near the Bowers property. The Big Bonanza brought new life to the Comstock and Nevada. With increased prosperity, the people of Virginia City and the surrounding communities found the need for diversions from their daily toils.

Rather than give up, she revisited her previous professional life in the boardinghouse by making the mansion a resort destination. Nighttime parties and summer picnics became a way of life for Mrs. Bowers. The hot springs and grounds offered a place for all kinds of events. The Virginia & Truckee Railroad completed the line between Reno and Carson in 1872, passing near the Mansion. With trains and the connecting stages from the nearby Franktown station, an excursion to Bowers Mansion was an easily accessible journey for many of the working men and women of the Comstock.

Ads for the parties can be seen in the Territorial Enterprise. One of the balls she hosted was in support of the Women’s Suffrage movement. It was the spot for the annual Miner’s Ball. The Mansion was at its height of popularity from 1873-1875. She was famed for hosting and creating an atmosphere where the grand parties went until the wee hours. People enjoyed the picnics on the grounds. She was known to have opened her doors so that people might see and appreciate the mansion.

During the summer months, the Miners Union, Knights of Pythias, the Pioneers, and many other fraternal organizations often sponsored large picnics. Thousands rode trains, brought their wagons and even walked to these grand affairs. While Eilley was always the gracious hostess greeting guests, this did not greatly assist her financial situation.

At one point, she tried to raffle the mansion, but it had to be suspended, as there were not enough tickets sold to make the venture feasible. She built on a third story to the mansion to bring in more boarders, but this only increased her debt. Things were not going well for Eilley, but the picnics still continued.

A later front view of the Mansion with the ill-conceived third floor.

During this time, twelve-year-old Persia was sent to Reno to attend a boarding school. Perhaps this was to keep her from the dubious party atmosphere surrounding the mansion. When there was a break between parties, the young lady often came home for a visit. In July, 1874, just such a visit occurred. At the end of her time in the mansion, Eilley accompanied Persia back to Reno, but could not stay long as there was another picnic to host that Sunday. After the picnic, Eilley was told to return to Reno. By the time she arrived, it was too late. Persia had died of a ruptured appendix. She was buried on the hillside behind the mansion next to her father. Even with the loss of her daughter, Eilley had to continue on. Three weeks later she hosted a picnic for all the Sunday School children from the surrounding towns.

After the death of three children and her husband, the loss of her mine and her money, and with the approaching loss of her mansion, she began to turn to her spirit friends for support. From as early as her days in Johntown, Eilley had been known to have a crystal ball, but her fortune telling had then been more for entertainment than anything else. Now it was her only means of support. A visit was not considered fully complete without a peek into one’s future by the “Washoe Seeress”. Her ventures forth into the spirit world may have been in search of solace as well for her tortured soul. Having survived the challenges of pioneer life, the toll could have been enormous on her psyche.

In 1876, her debts became unavoidable, and she finally lost the mansion when it was sold at public auction. The new owner, Myron C. Lake, allowed her to stay in the mansion that summer, but then she was forced to vacate. She had retained a small house in Franktown near her beloved mansion, but often stayed in Virginia City and Reno telling fortunes for money.

Eilley had become a wanderer and professional seeress. She continued to live this life until 1882 when she suddenly disappeared from Nevada. She was later found living and working in San Francisco. In 1884 she returned to Reno for a short time and continued to tell fortunes, but she soon returned to San Francisco.

A colored postcard view of the Mansion as it appeared after the sale.

By the turn of the century, Eilley was financially destitute and was showing signs of senility. She was in her mid-seventies and had lived to see most of her friends die many years prior. Eilley began writing letters to everyone she knew trying to get their support in her effort to get money from the government. In the days when Nevada was a territory, Sandy Bowers is believed to have given the government $14,000 to help fight the Indians in the Paiute Indian war of 1860. Eilley only wanted a little back to help pay for her final days and a decent burial. The money never came.

Eilley made one final return to Reno in the summer of 1901 and was put away in the county poor house. During her stay, she proved to be very troublesome for the caregivers. The Washoe County commissioners were called upon to reach a decision in her case. They finally agreed that she was beyond their help, and they provided her a one-way train ticket to San Francisco and bid her farewell. Local citizens added about $30 in donations to help send her on her way.

After arrival in San Francisco, Eilley went to Oakland where she took up residency in the King’s Daughters Home. She died alone on October 27, 1903 at the age of seventy-seven. With the help of Henry Riter, the new owner of the Mansion (operated as a resort until 1946), Eilley’s ashes were returned to Nevada and she was reunited with her husband Sandy and daughter Persia in the family plot on the hill behind the mansion.

Washoe County purchased the Mansion and grounds in 1946 with the help of the Reno Women’s Civic Club and public donations. It is now a county park with swimming pool (fed by the hot springs), picnic grounds and tours through the mansion itself during the summer season. Within the mansion walls, the story of Sandy and Eilley will continue to live on. As well, her spirit is said to haunt the house to this day, having been seen on a number of occasions roaming the second floor.

In August of 2003, a musical theater production, entitled “Eilley” was performed at the Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City. The production was staged by the Gold Hill Theater Troupe. Their more usual venue for performances is at the nearby Gold Hill Hotel, not far for where the Bowers claim is located.

The Bowers Mansion as it appears today.

The Bowers Mansion is located in Washoe Valley, on Franktown Rd., 19 miles south of Reno, on the way to Carson City. Access Franktown Rd. from US 395; the junction is marked with a “Bowers Mansion” sign. For further information on hours and house tours, call 775-849-0201 or 775-849-0644. This link has a great selection of views of the Mansion and grounds as the appear today.

So there you have it… While maybe not quite as colorful a tale as that of the Ravenswood Manor, it is all true. “Give or take a lie or two,” as James Garner put it in his role as Wyatt Earp in “Sunset.”

I’m able to add a personal footnote. I’ve been to the Mansion a number of times, but the most notable visit was a big Walker and Colton family picnic on Labor Day of 1967. I recall a dip in the hot-springs fed (and well-filtered) swimming pool as particularly invigorating, if not just down right unusual…

Next up: Roger visited Paramount’s Great America in Santa Clara, California for the last day of its 2003 operating season, and shares some interesting observations from an afternoon.

And if you’ve enjoyed today’s little nugget of information, why not drop a coin or two in Roger’s Amazon Honor System Paybox? Keep him mining away for more shiny bits of knowledge to appear here in the weeks to come. It’s always appreciated!

Roger Colton

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The Evolution and History of Mickey’s ToonTown



Disneyland in Anaheim, California, holds a special place in the hearts of Disney fans worldwide, I mean heck, it’s where the magic began after all.  Over the years it’s become a place that people visit in search of memorable experiences. One fan favorite area of the park is Mickey’s Toontown, a unique land that lets guests step right into the colorful, “Toony” world of Disney animation. With the recent reimagining of the land and the introduction of Micky and Minnies Runaway Railway, have you ever wondered how this land came to be?

There is a fascinating backstory of how Mickey’s Toontown came into existence. It’s a tale of strategic vision, the influence of Disney executives, and a commitment to meeting the needs of Disney’s valued guests.

The Beginning: Mickey’s Birthdayland

The story of Mickey’s Toontown starts with Mickey’s Birthdayland at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Opened in 1988 to celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday, this temporary attraction was met with such overwhelming popularity that it inspired Disney executives to think bigger. The idea was to create a permanent, immersive land where guests could step into the animated world of Mickey Mouse and his friends.

In the early ’90s, Disneyland was in need of a refresh. Michael Eisner, the visionary leader of The Walt Disney Company at the time, had an audacious idea: create a brand-new land in Disneyland that would celebrate Disney characters in a whole new way. This was the birth of Mickey’s Toontown.

Initially, Disney’s creative minds toyed with various concepts, including the idea of crafting a 100-Acre Woods or a land inspired by the Muppets. However, the turning point came when they considered the success of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” This film’s popularity and the desire to capitalize on contemporary trends set the stage for Toontown’s creation.

From Concept to Reality: The Birth of Toontown

In 1993, Mickey’s Toontown opened its gates at Disneyland, marking the first time in Disney Park history where guests could experience a fully realized, three-dimensional world of animation. This new land was not just a collection of attractions but a living, breathing community where Disney characters “lived,” worked, and played.

Building Challenges: Innovative Solutions

The design of Mickey’s Toontown broke new ground in theme park aesthetics. Imagineers were tasked with bringing the two-dimensional world of cartoons into a three-dimensional space. This led to the creation of over 2000 custom-built props and structures that embodied the ‘squash and stretch’ principle of animation, giving Toontown its distinctiveness.

And then there was also the challenge of hiding the Team Disney Anaheim building, which bore a striking resemblance to a giant hotdog. The Imagineers had to think creatively, using balloon tests and imaginative landscaping to seamlessly integrate Toontown into the larger park.

Key Attractions: Bringing Animation to Life

Mickey’s Toontown featured several groundbreaking attractions. “Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin,” inspired by the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” became a staple of Toontown, offering an innovative ride experience. Gadget’s Go-Coaster, though initially conceived as a Rescue Rangers-themed ride, became a hit with younger visitors, proving that innovative design could create memorable experiences for all ages.

Another crown jewel of Toontown is Mickey’s House, a walkthrough attraction that allowed guests to explore the home of Mickey Mouse himself. This attraction was more than just a house; it was a carefully crafted piece of Disney lore. The house was designed in the American Craftsman style, reflecting the era when Mickey would have theoretically purchased his first home in Hollywood. The attention to detail was meticulous, with over 2000 hand-crafted, custom-built props, ensuring that every corner of the house was brimming with character and charm. Interestingly, the design of Mickey’s House was inspired by a real home in Wichita Falls, making it a unique blend of real-world inspiration and Disney magic.

Mickey’s House also showcased Disney’s commitment to creating interactive and engaging experiences. Guests could make themselves at home, sitting in Mickey’s chair, listening to the radio, and exploring the many mementos and references to Mickey’s animated adventures throughout the years. This approach to attraction design – where storytelling and interactivity merged seamlessly – was a defining characteristic of ToonTown’s success.

Executive Decisions: Shaping ToonTown’s Unique Attractions

The development of Mickey’s Toontown wasn’t just about creative imagination; it was significantly influenced by strategic decisions from Disney executives. One notable input came from Jeffrey Katzenberg, who suggested incorporating a Rescue Rangers-themed ride. This idea was a reflection of the broader Disney strategy to integrate popular contemporary characters and themes into the park, ensuring that the attractions remained relevant and engaging for visitors.

In addition to Katzenberg’s influence, Frank Wells, the then-President of The Walt Disney Company, played a key role in the strategic launch of Toontown’s attractions. His decision to delay the opening of “Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin” until a year after Toontown’s debut was a calculated move. It was designed to maintain public interest in the park by offering new experiences over time, thereby giving guests more reasons to return to Disneyland.

These executive decisions highlight the careful planning and foresight that went into making Toontown a dynamic and continuously appealing part of Disneyland. By integrating current trends and strategically planning the rollout of attractions, Disney executives ensured that Toontown would not only capture the hearts of visitors upon its opening but would continue to draw them back for new experiences in the years to follow.

Global Influence: Toontown’s Worldwide Appeal

The concept of Mickey’s Toontown resonated so strongly that it was replicated at Tokyo Disneyland and influenced elements in Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland. Each park’s version of Toontown maintained the core essence of the original while adapting to its cultural and logistical environment.

Evolution and Reimagining: Toontown Today

As we approach the present day, Mickey’s Toontown has recently undergone a significant reimagining to welcome “Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway” in 2023. This refurbishment aimed to enhance the land’s interactivity and appeal to a new generation of Disney fans, all while retaining the charm that has made ToonTown a beloved destination for nearly three decades.

Dive Deeper into ToonTown’s Story

Want to know more about Mickey’s Toontown and hear some fascinating behind-the-scenes stories, then check out the latest episode of Disney Unpacked on Patreon @JimHillMedia. In this episode, the main Imagineer who worked on the Toontown project shares lots of interesting stories and details that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s full of great information and fun facts, so be sure to give it a listen!

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Unpacking the History of the Pixar Place Hotel



Pixar Place Hotel, the newly unveiled 15-story tower at the Disneyland Resort, has been making waves in the Disney community. With its unique Pixar-themed design, it promises to be a favorite among visitors.

However, before we delve into this exciting addition to the Disneyland Resort, let’s take a look at the fascinating history of this remarkable hotel.

The Emergence of the Disneyland Hotel

To truly appreciate the story of the Pixar Place Hotel, we must turn back the clock to the early days of Disneyland. While Walt Disney had the visionary ideas and funding to create the iconic theme park, he faced a challenge when it came to providing accommodations for the park’s visitors. This is where his friend Jack Wrather enters the picture.

Jack Wrather, a fellow pioneer in the television industry, stepped in to assist Walt Disney in realizing his dream. Thanks to the success of the “Lassie” TV show produced by Wrather’s company, he had the financial means to build a hotel right across from Disneyland.

The result was the Disneyland Hotel, which opened its doors in October 1955. Interestingly, the early incarnation of this hotel had more of a motel feel than a hotel, with two-story buildings reminiscent of the roadside motels popular during the 1950s. The initial Disneyland Hotel consisted of modest structures that catered to visitors looking for affordable lodging close to the park. While the rooms were basic, it marked the beginning of something extraordinary.

The Evolution: From Emerald of Anaheim to Paradise Pier

As Disneyland’s popularity continued to soar, so did the demand for expansion and improved accommodations. In 1962, the addition of an 11-story tower transformed the Disneyland Hotel, marking a significant transition from a motel to a full-fledged hotel.

The addition of the 11-story tower elevated the Disneyland Hotel into a more prominent presence on the Anaheim skyline. At the time, it was the tallest structure in all of Orange County. The hotel’s prime location across from Disneyland made it an ideal choice for visitors. With the introduction of the monorail linking the park and the hotel, accessibility became even more convenient. Unique features like the Japanese-themed reflecting pools added to the hotel’s charm, reflecting a cultural influence that extended beyond Disney’s borders.

Japanese Tourism and Its Impact

During the 1960s and 1970s, Disneyland was attracting visitors from all corners of the world, including Japan. A significant number of Japanese tourists flocked to Anaheim to experience Walt Disney’s creation. To cater to this growing market, it wasn’t just the Disneyland Hotel that aimed to capture the attention of Japanese tourists. The Japanese Village in Buena Park, inspired by a similar attraction in Nara, Japan, was another significant spot.

These attractions sought to provide a taste of Japanese culture and hospitality, showcasing elements like tea ceremonies and beautiful ponds with rare carp and black swans. However, the Japanese Village closed its doors in 1975, likely due to the highly competitive nature of the Southern California tourist market.

The Emergence of the Emerald of Anaheim

With the surge in Japanese tourism, an opportunity arose—the construction of the Emerald of Anaheim, later known as the Disneyland Pacific Hotel. In May 1984, this 15-story hotel opened its doors.

What made the Emerald unique was its ownership. It was built not by The Walt Disney Company or the Oriental Land Company (which operated Tokyo Disneyland) but by the Tokyu Group. This group of Japanese businessmen already had a pair of hotels in Hawaii and saw potential in Anaheim’s proximity to Disneyland. Thus, they decided to embark on this new venture, specifically designed to cater to Japanese tourists looking to experience Southern California.

Financial Challenges and a Changing Landscape

The late 1980s brought about two significant financial crises in Japan—the crash of the NIKKEI stock market and the collapse of the Japanese real estate market. These crises had far-reaching effects, causing Japanese tourists to postpone or cancel their trips to the United States. As a result, reservations at the Emerald of Anaheim dwindled.

To adapt to these challenging times, the Tokyu Group merged the Emerald brand with its Pacific hotel chain, attempting to weather the storm. However, the financial turmoil took its toll on the Emerald, and changes were imminent.

The Transition to the Disneyland Pacific Hotel

In 1995, The Walt Disney Company took a significant step by purchasing the hotel formerly known as the Emerald of Anaheim for $35 million. This acquisition marked a change in the hotel’s fortunes. With Disney now in control, the hotel underwent a name change, becoming the Disneyland Pacific Hotel.

Transformation to Paradise Pier

The next phase of transformation occurred when Disney decided to rebrand the hotel as Paradise Pier Hotel. This decision aligned with Disney’s broader vision for the Disneyland Resort.

While the structural changes were limited, the hotel underwent a significant cosmetic makeover. Its exterior was painted to complement the color scheme of Paradise Pier, and wave-shaped crenellations adorned the rooftop, creating an illusion of seaside charm. This transformation was Disney’s attempt to seamlessly integrate the hotel into the Paradise Pier theme of Disney’s California Adventure Park.

Looking Beyond Paradise Pier: The Shift to Pixar Place

In 2018, Disneyland Resort rebranded Paradise Pier as Pixar Pier, a thematic area dedicated to celebrating the beloved characters and stories from Pixar Animation Studios. As a part of this transition, it became evident that the hotel formally known as the Disneyland Pacific Hotel could no longer maintain its Paradise Pier theme.

With Pixar Pier in full swing and two successful Pixar-themed hotels (Toy Story Hotels in Shanghai Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland), Disney decided to embark on a new venture—a hotel that would celebrate the vast world of Pixar. The result is Pixar Place Hotel, a 15-story tower that embraces the characters and stories from multiple Pixar movies and shorts. This fully Pixar-themed hotel is a first of its kind in the United States.

The Future of Pixar Place and Disneyland Resort

As we look ahead to the future, the Disneyland Resort continues to evolve. The recent news of a proposed $1.9 billion expansion as part of the Disneyland Forward project indicates that the area surrounding Pixar Place is expected to see further changes. Disneyland’s rich history and innovative spirit continue to shape its destiny.

In conclusion, the history of the Pixar Place Hotel is a testament to the ever-changing landscape of Disneyland Resort. From its humble beginnings as the Disneyland Hotel to its transformation into the fully Pixar-themed Pixar Place Hotel, this establishment has undergone several iterations. As Disneyland Resort continues to grow and adapt, we can only imagine what exciting developments lie ahead for this iconic destination.

If you want to hear more stories about the History of the Pixar Place hotel, check our special edition of Disney Unpacked over on YouTube.

Stay tuned for more updates and developments as we continue to explore the fascinating world of Disney, one story at a time.

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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From Birthday Wishes to Toontown Dreams: How Toontown Came to Be



Mickey's Birthday Land

In the latest release of Episode 4 of Disney Unpacked, Len and I return, joined as always by Disney Imagineering legend, Jim Shull. This two-part episode covers all things Mickey’s Birthday Land and how it ultimately led to the inspiration behind Disneyland’s fan-favorite land, “Toontown”. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. It all starts in the early days at Disneyland.

Early Challenges in Meeting Mickey

Picture this: it’s the late 1970s and early 1980s, and you’re at Disneyland. You want to meet the one and only Mickey Mouse, but there’s no clear way to make it happen. You rely on Character Guides, those daily printed sheets that point you in Mickey’s general direction. But let’s be honest, it was like finding a needle in a haystack. Sometimes, you got lucky; other times, not so much.

Mickey’s Birthdayland: A Birthday Wish that Came True

Fast forward to the late 1980s. Disney World faced a big challenge. The Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park was under construction, with the company’s marketing machine in full swing, hyping up the opening of Walt Disney World’s third theme park, MGM Studios, in the Spring of 1989. This extensive marketing meant that many people were opting to postpone their family’s next trip to Walt Disney World until the following year. Walt Disney World needed something compelling to motivate guests to visit Florida in 1988, the year before Disney MGM Studios opened.

Enter stage left, Mickey’s Birthdayland. For the first time ever, an entire land was dedicated to a single character – and not just any character, but the mouse who started it all. Meeting Mickey was no longer a game of chance; it was practically guaranteed.

The Birth of Birthdayland: Creative Brilliance Meets Practicality

In this episode, we dissect the birth of Mickey’s Birthdayland, an initiative that went beyond celebrating a birthday. It was a calculated move, driven by guest feedback and a need to address issues dating back to 1971. Imagineers faced the monumental task of designing an experience that honored Mickey while efficiently managing the crowds. This required the perfect blend of creative flair and logistical prowess – a hallmark of Disney’s approach to theme park design.

Evolution: From Birthdayland to Toontown

The success of Mickey’s Birthdayland was a real game-changer, setting the stage for the birth of Toontown – an entire land that elevated character-centric areas to monumental new heights. Toontown wasn’t merely a spot to meet characters; it was an immersive experience that brought Disney animation to life. In the episode, we explore its innovative designs, playful architecture, and how every nook and cranny tells a story.

Impact on Disney Parks and Guests

Mickey’s Birthdayland and Toontown didn’t just reshape the physical landscape of Disney parks; they transformed the very essence of the guest experience. These lands introduced groundbreaking ways for visitors to connect with their beloved characters, making their Disney vacations even more unforgettable.

Beyond Attractions: A Cultural Influence

But the influence of these lands goes beyond mere attractions. Our episode delves into how Mickey’s Birthdayland and Toontown left an indelible mark on Disney’s culture, reflecting the company’s relentless dedication to innovation and guest satisfaction. It’s a journey into how a single idea can grow into a cherished cornerstone of the Disney Park experience.

Interested in learning about Jim Shull’s original idea for a Winnie the Pooh ride? Here’s concept art of the attraction proposed for the original Toontown in Disneyland. More on [Disney Unpacked].

Unwrapping the Full Story of Mickey’s Birthdayland

Our two-part episode of Disney Unpacked is available for your viewing pleasure on our Patreon page. And for those seeking a quicker Disney fix, we’ve got a condensed version waiting for you on our YouTube channel. Thank you for being a part of our Disney Unpacked community. Stay tuned for more episodes as we continue to “Unpack” the fascinating world of Disney, one story at a time.

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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