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Roger Colton shares personal experiences from the Annual Private Car Excursion from Emeryville, CA to Reno, NV and back.



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Photos in this column by Steven R. Boyett, Dasha Clancey and Roger Colton

Okay, so it’s a trip report. But, it’s not just any trip. Sit back and read about what has become something of a tradition with this bunch of misfits that I call friends…

About seven years ago, a friend working at Pixar Studios in Point Richmond was talking about getting a group of friends together to take a trip from Los Angeles to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. The thought came along that they could take Amtrak’s “Sunset Limited”, get a couple of bedrooms, drink and play cards there and back.

And then I opened my big mouth. I suggested they could do the same thing aboard a private railroad car locally. Naturally, I didn’t expect them to take me up on the offer.

Silly me.

It has never been easy to fill one car, and two was really tough last year. A lot of folks have been in and out of work, being animators, artists, and etceteras. While I like this group, I was somewhat of a mind to make this the last such trip, and concentrate my efforts solely on groups (all paid in advance).

Taking a page from some friends in marketing excursions, I let these folks know that this would be my last public private car excursion.

From the start, some of them were going, and paid right away. Others? Well, there were teeth to be pulled.

The usual trip starts with a number of passengers we expect. The car I had planned to use, the “Tamalpias”, seats 16 passengers comfortably for a day trip such as the ride from Emeryville to Reno. It has a dining room table that will seat eight. Two seatings for lunch plus the crew meal can make for a long afternoon for the chef and the dishwasher. (Don’t worry, they are well paid for what they do.)

We usually have a chef, a bartender and a porter aboard. The car owners usually send a mechanical rider to attend to the car’s needs. For once, I decided I would go along in the role of steward and schmooze with the passengers. Add in a crew spouse or two and we find our car now holding 24 people; a bit more comfy than intended. Not to worry, however…

Our trips run up to Reno on a Saturday and back again on a Sunday. Friday afternoon is shopping and setting up the car for the weekend. If all works out right, we strip and clean the car Sunday night.

This year, I got a leg up on things by getting the bar supplies all ready to go well in advance. There used to a grocery delivery service here in the San Francisco Bay area known as “Webvan”. I miss these guys. It saved a half a day or more of shopping by being able to order online and have the stuff delivered right to the car. It came in these green plastic tubs.

When “Webvan” folded up shop, I managed to find these tubs on sale at a local grocery outlet for all of $3 each, and got ten of them. Not only do they offer clean and secure storage, they have great advantages above and beyond the usual cardboard boxes liquor is usually stored in.

So… I had shopped off and on in the weeks leading up to the trip, and had the bar supplies about 90 percent ready. I also use the tubs to store clean linens and the railroad silver I use for a trip. The trunk of my Buick can hold four of the tubs and the back seat, six more. Funny how that works just right.

At one on Friday afternoon, I’m in place for my chef and bartender to arrive and begin their own brands of magic. The pantry accepts the booze, sodas, beer, wine and etcetra; the kitchen all of the chef’s supplies.

So I leave them to their labors, and head back out to the suburbs in search of another treasure. If you think the Los Angeles freeways can be fun, I heartily recommend the MacArthur or Interstate 580 freeway eastbound leaving Alameda County on a Friday afternoon and evening. I think someone at Cal Trans (our beloved highway department) stayed up nights dreaming up the horrors that await unwary travelers along this route. Merges, junctions and lane reductions can make a thirty-mile trip take the better part of two hours.

My quest is to make it back to Livermore before my dry cleaners closes it’s doors for the night. In what had to be a karmic moment, I had the good fortune to locate some original Pullman porter uniform jackets on eBay on Tuesday afternoon. Making a generous offer, I had them overnighted to me so that I could get them cleaned and have the sleeves hemmed. (These jackets were worn by porters when greeting train passengers on the platforms before boarding.) Seems that these six had been in storage for some twenty-five plus years in what I can only call “mint” condition. My cleaners did not let me down, and I had two now in hand, ready to see service the next day.

Some last minute shopping and I’m back off to Oakland and the Amtrak coach yard. By midnight, I am snuggled safe and warm in a lower berth where I will sleep the next seven hours without the usual bumping by the third shift switching crew. Seems that someone got things right on the second shift before I got back, and most of the cars are all in place for the next day’s train to Chicago.

The “Tamalpias” sits in the Oakland Coach Yard getting ready for another trip with Porter Jeff Ferris.

As the sun rises, so do I all set for a quick shower. Bad timing on the part of a coach yard laborer as he comes to fill the cars water tank for the trip. When he opens the tank vent, all of the air pressure escapes from the water system, and I am left standing in the shower with a head full of shampoo. The tank does not fill quickly and I don’t have the time to wait. So I towel off as best I can, and get ready for our departure.

As the Steward, I’m kind of the quarterback getting the team all set for the game. A quick check of the pantry and the kitchen show me that the bartender and the chef have things well in hand. The porter has been setting out snacks for the passengers, and getting ready to stow luggage in the master bedroom of the car.

At about 8:45 a.m., we roll on our way out of the coach yard headed for the first stop of the day at the Emeryville Amtrak Station. Normally, we find our car on the rear of the train. It’s a classic moment when the train comes to a stop with our private car right in front of all of the passengers waiting to board this train bound for Chicago. And we get to direct them for the long walk up to the Amtrak coaches and sleeping cars.

Not today. This time, we are the first of three private cars directly behind the Amtrak sleeping cars. Behind those other two cars are nine boxcars, probably full of US Mail headed for Denver and Chicago. So our eight passengers boarding here get to make the long trek down the platform along with everyone else.

But we certainly are ready. The bartender and the porter (Jeff and Jeff, or Ollie and Hello as they are most usually identified) are at the ready on the platform in their new blue Pullman Porter coats. I’m also suitably attired in my white dinner jacket as we greet our guests.

Jeff Ferris and Ollie Beaudry are neat and spiffy in their new jackets.
Chef Ben Heine takes a break between them.

This group includes six first time passengers aboard a private railroad car, and a few making their first train trip of any kind. Impressed they are by both the staff and the car.

At 9:35 a.m. we hear two blasts of the air horn on the front of the train and it begins to roll, seemingly without effort. It does not seem all that long before the train is up to speed at over sixty miles per hour along the shores of the San Pablo Bay. A quick first round of smart cocktails includes the usual Irish Coffees along with Bailey’s Irish Crème and Coffee.

Features of note along the way include the first of 18 tunnels we pass through headed for Reno, one of California’s most toxic EPA Superfund sites, the California Maritime Academy (part of the State College system) and it’s training ship, the Golden Bear, the new Carquinez bridge under construction, and the town of Port Costa. If you ever were forced to read Frank Norris epic, “The Octopus”, Port Costa should be familiar as it was the major port for sailing ships carrying California grain to ports around the world. Today, rotting pilings show were docks once stood and the town is more of a curiosity than a business district. Some fine restaurants and antique stores attract visitors, as does the bar in the Warehouse. It’s a hangout favored by local bikers, and I don’t mean anyone wearing spandex bicycle pants.

Martinez was once home to baseball god, Joe Dimaggio, and if you believe the bar room tales, also the place where the Martinez Cocktail (a.k.a. the Martini) was first poured. It’s the county seat for Contra Costa, and has a somewhat new Amtrak depot with a platform just long enough for us to fit without blocking a street crossing in downtown.

Here we do the show all over again and greet the remainder of our passengers. The crowd here is a veteran one with only one new passenger getting the show treatment. She is well up to the task, dressed for the role, and right at home being treated royally.

Miss Maureen Halderson with her escort Mister Steven Boyett await the
arrival of Train #6, the “California Zephyr”, on the platform at Martinez.

Leaving Martinez, we cross the longest railroad bridge west of the Mississippi over the Suisun Bay. Off on the right is the Ready Reserve or Mothball fleet. This used to be the home of Howard Hughes “Glomar Explorer” (a ship used by the CIA to retrieve a Soviet submarine from the ocean floor at the height of the Cold War), but now has the battleship USS Iowa as it’s most noted guest. Also docked here are various World War II, Korean Conflict and Vietnam era ships of all kinds including a helicopter carrier and a former Hawaiian inter-island cruise ship (seized by the IRS for back taxes).

The train reaches the highest speed of the trip (79 miles per hour) as it crosses the Suisun marshes. One spot of note at a spot known as Cygnus is a small fenced in area. It’s not all that unusual, except for the chain link fence topped with razor wire. That and it is about the size of a railroad freight car.

Which is just what it is. Think of one of the most toxic substances you can. Imagine if it caught fire just by being exposed to oxygen, and you have the chemical here — liquid phosphorous. In the mid-sixties, this car was one of several that derailed here one day. The only way to safely handle it was to dig a deep hole in what passes for ground here (mostly peat — yes, just like the peat moss you use in your garden), and put the car into it. Then they covered it with a whole lot of cement and fenced off the area. Possibly, the car is still burning, slowly, after all these years. So, the fence keeps the curious, man and beast safely away.

Ken and Beth Mitchroney enjoy an Irish Coffee on the open platform
of “Tamalpias” as the train speeds along west of Davis.

Our next stop is in the small town of Davis. Home of another of the state’s universities, this one specializing in agriculture, and veterinary medicine. It’s also a city, fiercely into alternate transportation with bicycles taking the lead. (It’s also home to Murder Burgers — to die for — or so the signs say.)

A short time later, the CZ arrives in the state capitol, Sacramento. The classic station is one of the few remaining Southern Pacific structures of its kind still used as intended when built. The area is slated to under go redevelopment before the end of the decade. To the west of the station is a redevelopment victory with the Old Sacramento complex now drawing tourists instead of bums. The California State Railroad Museum is set to expand here with the creation of the Museum of Railway Technology set to occupy historic structures that once were the Sacramento locomotive shop facilities of the Southern Pacific. From the 1870’s up to the 1940’s, steam locomotives large and small were constructed for service across the Espee system as well as for other railroads. In to the 1960’s, passenger and freight cars were also built here, and until the late 1990’s, diesel locomotives were overhauled here. The MORT will allow the Museum and volunteers a place to restore and maintain railroad equipment under cover and offer visitors the opportunity to view the processes.

Leaving Sacramento, the train follows the historic Overland route as it heads east along the 1860’s transcontinental railroad line. Our next station stop is at Roseville, adjacent to the Union Pacific’s J.R. Davis Facility. This freight yard was rebuilt from the ground up in the late 1990’s and is actually several freight yards that work together to expedite than handling of cargo throughout the UP’s I-5 Corridor in all directions — North to Portland and Seattle; East to Chicago and then on via Conrail and Norfolk Southern to the eastern seaboard; West to Oakland and the Pacific Rim ports; and South to Southern California, Mexico and other southern destinations over the Sunset Route. It’s one busy place.

The small depot here recreates the look and feel of typical Espee stations from all over the west. Yellow or ochre is trimmed with brown and a green asphalt shingle roof for a classic look. Across the track is stored some of the snow-fighting equipment that is put into service during a typical Sierra winter. From flangers used to keep ice away from the rails, to the Jordan spreaders used to push accumulated snow back away from the tracks, to the big blowers, the Rotary Snow Plows. These machines can throw snow over 100 feet from the rails and see service only when the other equipment can not keep up with an unusually heavy snowfall. When they go into service, it is truly a site to see, and they draw railroad enthusiasts out into some of the worst weather, in hopes of getting that one good photo of them at work.

Meanwhile, back on board the “Tamalpias”…

We’re about to serve our first seating for lunch on this 1923 Pullman business car. Built for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, Car #33 served as the rolling office of a division superintendent. Aboard the car, there was a master bedroom with a full-sized bed for his use. His secretary, male, also had a room where he could attend to the necessary business at hand (with an upper and lower berth for sleeping). Another bedroom served as a guest bedroom (also with an upper and lower berth). The car also has a full shower for the use of the passengers. A formal dining room served eight people meals prepared by a chef in the kitchen aboard. A room for the crew has a smaller upper and lower berth than the other bedrooms as well as a shower. On occasions, a porter would join the chef aboard to serve as needed.

The first seating for lunch enjoys their Waldorf Salads in the dining room of the “Tamalpias”.

The rear of the car has an observation lounge and an open platform for viewing the railroad as a train traveled over the division. From here, the superintendent could see the railroad firsthand. In the day the car was in service, it was one of the last places a railroad employee wanted to be. If you were summoned, odds were high that is was to explain your actions or the inaction’s of your subordinates. A section of track may have drawn the complaints of passengers, or a customer may have had issues with the way his shipment was handled.

The “Tam” (short for Tamalpias, a mountain in Marin County, north of San Francisco) was retired from service by the Santa Fe in the 1960’s and sold to a private individual. From there it ended up a corporate possession, finally in the hands of a bank. A consortium purchased the car, and it has been in charter service for the last fifteen years. It’s wood interior is a moderate color, harking back to a day of civility. All of it’s systems have been upgraded to meet Amtrak’s modern mechanical standards, and it has traveled across the US and Canada. It can sleep eight passengers on longer trips requiring overnight travel.

Leaving Roseville, we have climbed into the Sierra foothills, passing through some of the historic Gold Country. At our next stop in Colfax, trains of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad once traveled to Grass Valley and Nevada City. Our route is somewhat paralleled by Interstate 80 as we head for the Donner Summit. The original single-track railroad was modernized in the 1920’s with the addition of a second track on a lesser grade for the eastbound or up-hill trains.

Lunch today was a fine meal, prepare by our chef, Ben Heine. Starting with a Waldorf Salad, and homemade soup with tortellini, the entrée was a Tuscan style Steak with mushrooms, accompanied by snow peas and water chestnuts with garlic mashed potatoes. Dessert was tiramisu, prepared by Ben aboard the car. Selected beverages also complemented this fine meal. Our second seating was completed before we reached the Donner Summit and the three-mile long tunnel under the crest of the Sierra.

The CZ climbs east through the snow on the Donner Summit.

The crew enjoyed its meal as the train left our next stop at Truckee. Once a railroad and lumber town, today it is the gateway to the Lake Tahoe basin and some of the fine area ski resorts. Squaw Valley was the site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games (complete with Walt Disney supervising the opening ceremonies). The Espee ran many special trains here from both east and west.

The Truckee River flows from it’s exit of Lake Tahoe at Tahoe City through the town of the same name and then east past the sites of long gone paper mills through Reno and eventually empties into Pyramid Lake. Some of the best trout fishing in the state is found along the scenic stretch we travel along. During the early summer months, the occasional river rafters take advantage of white water, and occasionally moon the passing trains. Not today… It’s in the mid forties and snow on the ground in places.

All too soon, we are arriving in Reno. Time to finish up lunch and get bags ready to go for the shuttle bus to the hotel. While the CZ drops it’s passengers in downtown Reno, we’re headed one more stop to the east. Where once was naught but marsh and open fields, now is a thriving community almost 100 years old. In 1904, the Espee (as part of a change in its route and easing of grades) moved the division point on the railroad from Wadsworth to Sparks. Some buildings were taken apart and shipped on flatcars west to the new town site. The most notable was the station and division headquarters building that dated back to the 1870’s, and it still sits today right where it was moved to in 1904. Passengers waiting for the CZ here usually don’t realize the history they are exposed to.

The Espee was once the major employer in the area as the railroad based a major complex here. From east and west, trains would arrive and depart after being serviced, and crews changed. Large brick buildings housed the repair and service shops where skilled machinists, boilermakers, carpenters and other assorted craftsmen worked around the clock to keep the railroad running.

Today, the yard is different, but still busy. Trains still come and go, but the repair and servicing shops are silent. The roundhouse gave way to a freeway interchange in the mid 1960’s, and the shop buildings hold RV storage and other businesses. Crews still change here, with their trains still coming from the east and west as they have for almost 135 years.

As we come to a stop, the shuttle busses for the hotel are waiting just behind the station. In short order the passenger step off the “Tam” and then claim their luggage. We’re headed for John Ascuaga’s “Nugget” hotel and casino. While many folks prefer to stay downtown in Reno, this group has come to enjoy the “Nugget” and its own brand of hospitality. And as usual, I have family connections to the place. Various cousins worked for John way back when all there was here was a coffee shop out on “B” Street (now a trendy “Victorian Avenue”), and no casino.

No time to waste here. Everyone gets checked into their hotel rooms without incident. So… Ken Mitchroney, a veteran of almost all of the animation studios, has donated a unique vehicle to the National (a.k.a. Harrah’s) Automobile Museum. So… the bulk of the group is headed off to Reno to view it during a special after-hours tour. While the crew is hard at work finishing clean-up on the “Tam”, an exploration of the Citifare bus system takes us on the Route 11 (such a lucky number) along what used to be Highway 40. In the days before the Interstate, US 40 was a tough act taking travelers from Oakland over the Sierra on some interesting roads. A fair amount of it still exists today and lucky are those who attempt to cross the summit when weather permits and some great scenery awaits as well as some fun roads.

Next week: The trip continues along with more bemusing side bar information.


Michele survived her one-night trip to Honolulu, and was seduced in to returning later in the year by the gift of four room nights from the hotels she visited. So… I guess I’ll be off to Hawaii sometime in October or November. Not to worry as I’m already planning to visit a railway museum at Ewa. Oh, the pain… Oh, the fruity rum drinks…

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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