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Crab cakes and baseball… and that was only the beginning! It was one heck of a week in the East and Roger’s got the tales to tell. So, settle in. It’s a long and interesting week to report on.



Ok boys and girls… It’s baseball season, officially! Started Sunday, April 4th in Baltimore at Oriole Park at Camden Yards with the Red Sox in town to take their chances with the Orioles…

So, let’s start with a little baseball humor — heck, the king of all baseball humor!

And would you believe it? Team jerseys to go along with this! I’m torn between “Who” and “I Don’t Give A Darn!” They even have hats to match, too!

This trip to Baltimore was all Ken Mitchroney’s fault. (And all of these pictures are his, too!) So, credit where credit is due. And despite fun with airlines and weather, it truly was worth every moment spent there.

You see… there is this baseball team with a certain bird as their mascot. Going back to days when he lived in Florida, Kenny fell for the Orioles. There were his team. So much so, that when he got into cartooning, he managed to get some of his drawings into the team offices and found himself doing art, specifically that bird. Most recognizable is the Fun Bird he designed for the Junior Orioles Dugout Club.

So, when in the middle of February, he asked me if I would like to join him for opening day, well… It was an offer I could not refuse. Ken has also done work for the Oakland Athletics drawing their mascot elephant, Stomper. Now I knew that good things seem to happen because of those drawings. Investigating airfares, the best deal I could find with nonstop flights, coming and going, was Southwest from San Jose to Baltimore. I considered several other options (specifically Jet Blue) but they only had flights into Dulles in Washington. Gave up my hard earned cash and had the plans all set to go.

The weeks passed and we both looked forward to the trip. Then things changed a bit as Kenny took on a new position that demanded a change of scenery. Irving, Texas to be precise. So he came home to get a few essentials like his wife, Beth, their cats, assorted household items and the big screen TV. A final clean up of the old homestead (with help from folks like myself) and he was off on the road, bound for the Lone Star State.

That departure was bright and early on the morning of Tuesday, March 30th. His route from the Bay Area to Texas required a detour through Utah for some business along the way, and then he was back off across Highway 70 to Colorado and then on to Irving. They all managed to make it in late Thursday, appropriately arriving on April Fools Day. Then it’s another busy day at work on Friday, complete with the arrival of some seventeen boxes from home. (Thanks, UPS!) So by the time his flight to Baltimore was scheduled to depart for the east, he was really ready to go for some industrial strength relaxation.

Now for me, things were slightly less hectic in the week before. Between medical appointments for myself and the cat (a good cold, complete with sneezing and a runny nose! Yuck, kitty snot…), there was enough to keep us busy. So I found myself up until the early hours of Saturday morning packing for the oh-dark thirty flight out of Norman Minetta International Airport. Thanks to a short shift at work the night before, I was all set to go when flight time rolled around.

Now on a Sunday morning one might think that a flight from San Jose to Baltimore wouldn’t be very crowded. Well, I’m here to tell you that is just plain all wrong! Not only was every seat full, there was a large number children (under ten including a gaggle of newborns) making the flight as well. But the airport had surprises to share. One of the better ones was Max’s Deli. It’s the fast food version of some great restaurants here in the area. Armed with a fine turkey and havarti dill cheese on rye sandwich with great red onions and marinated red and yellow bell peppers, I was ready for anything! (Boy did it smell good, at least to me, every time I opened my carry on bag! Yeah, onions!!!)

The flight was uneventful until we neared Utah. I enjoyed the view from over 35,000 feet as we crossed Nevada. In particular, I spotted the open pit copper mines and towns near Ely along with the remaining portions of the Nevada Northern Railroad. (One of the better… make that the best, preserved railroad facility of the twentieth century at the Museum in East Ely.)

Not long after, our pilot came on the public address system to let us know about turbulence ahead. He wasn’t kidding either! With some of the best ups and downs and side to sides since my last visit to Big Thunder Mountain, it was one heck of a ride across Utah and Colorado. Things didn’t smooth out until we were well east of Denver.

Spring forward, fall back. So I got out all the electronics and made sure they all were time zone adjusted. (The cell phone had to wait until BWI as I was a good boy and kept it turned off like they asked. I noted that some folks didn’t now and then. Talk about your electronic leashes!) The battery on the trusty iBook is good for about two hours on a full charge so I puttered away on this column now and then as long as it lasted. Then the iPod took over and kept me distracted for the rest of the flight.

That sandwich and other snacks came in handy as the flight crew handed out snack packs full of carbs and sugars. While the total flight time was only a little longer than five hours, it seemed to go on forever. The final approach into BWI seemed to last over a half hour from start to touchdown. Passing through a fairly heavy cloud deck, I should have gotten the clue that weather was not going to be my friend that evening.

I expected cooler weather and packed a sweatshirt, long sleeve denim Henley and wore the big heavy jacket. I should have packed gloves, a scarf, hand-warmers and a polar suit. Weather was predicted to be in the forties, and there was the slight possibility of snow flurries as the evening progressed. Taxing to the gate, the pilot told us that and let us know that wind gusts had been up to 45 miles per hour.

Courtesy of the O’s, Kenny was all set at the Sheraton Inn Inner Harbor. After the quick (and price fixed) taxi ride from the airport, I was ready for some exercise. Kenny obliged and took me on the nickel tour of the Inner Harbor. With ESPN covering this opening night game, start time was 8:05 Eastern Daylight Time. So we had a fair amount of time to kill, and a healthy walk was just the way to do it. Using a series of elevated walkways, one can move (easily and quickly) from the hotels in the area to the convention center to the Inner Harbor.

(Cheerleaders! Again. I come thousands of miles… some kind of local competition. Actually, I was spared the worst of it as I managed to be there for the last couple of hours of events at the Baltimore Convention Center. Checking out of the hotel on Thursday afternoon, it was girl’s volleyball teams checking in. I guess I was spared the worst of it all. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have anything personal against teenage girls. But they do seem to be, well, rude at times, such as when the travel in packs. Kind of like wolves…)

Baltimore is just chock full of things to do besides Orioles baseball. And it seems that we were off to explore a good deal of that in our short walk before the game’s 8:05 p.m. EDT start, courtesy of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball telecast (that was on actually broadcast on ESPN2 thanks to the last gasp of the NCAA basketball finals. (Anyone else find it curious that the ESPN web site is now part of the MSN empire? Microsoft and Disney more closely intertwined than one wants to imagine…)

Along the way on our walk, it became obvious that there was a serious thing about celebrating the 50th year of Orioles baseball in Baltimore. Banners of all kinds (short and tall) hung from various light poles offered images of the Orioles mascot in all of the varieties over those years.

Kenny’s bird (on the right).

The smaller version at Camden Yard with the Bromo Seltzer Tower in the background.
And yes, the tower glows blue (at least at the top) at night.

More on the Bird(s) later… Well, if you’re a nautical kind of guy or gal, then they’ve got you covered here. Let’s start off in the Inner Harbor with the “U.S.S. Constellation”. Launched at the Gosport Navy Yard, in Norfolk, Virginia on August 26, 1854, and commissioned July 28, 1855, the web pages proclaim her as “the only Civil War era vessel still afloat”, and “the last all sail ship built for the U.S. Navy”. That’s a heck of a lot of history… But it doesn’t stop with just this ship!

The Baltimore Maritime Museum is just next door with a few more temptations. The Coast Guard Cutter “Taney” is the “only survivor still afloat of the 101 warships that were present and fought during the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. TANEY was tied up at Pier 6 in Honolulu and was ready to fire within 4 minutes of the attack. It was the last active ship at the battle to be decommissioned (December 7, 1986)”.

The “Torsk” is a Tench class submarine built in 1944. She was a veteran of two patrols and torpedoed the last enemy warships sunk in World War II, as well as serving as part of the blockade fleet during the Cuban Missile crisis.

The lightship “Chesapeake” was once a vital aid to navigation. Today she an integral part of the Museum collection, offering visitors the opportunity to experience that mission as well as her history. As a counterpoint, the Museum also has preserved the 1856 Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse and has it open for visitors.

The city also has the “Pride of Baltimore II” as it’s sailing ambassador. She replaced the first ship of that name (which was tragically lost at sea in a white squall off Puerto Rico in 1986). Both were purpose built in the Inner Harbor as replicas of the 1812-era Baltimore Clippers. This link offers her 2004 itinerary.

Sail Baltimore is the organization that welcomes visiting ships of all kinds to the city. Looking at their 2004 schedule, it’s going to be a busy spring and summer for them — complete with the Fourth of July week Sailibration!

And observant readers may recall a column from last summer on World War II Merchant Marine ships. Yes, Baltimore is also home to the Liberty Ship, “John Brown”. Normally, she’s moored at Pier One on Clinton Street and has a series of interesting cruises set for this year.

Wow! That’s one heck of a lot of maritime heritage activity for one city… And that doesn’t even mention the National Aquarium, the Port Discovery Kid’s Museum, the Maryland Science Center and a whole lot more! Check out the Harbor Pass for all kinds of great deals and discounts with admission to many of these Inner Harbor attractions for a very reasonable price for both adults and children. It’s good for two days, so you can spread out your time and take it all in!

But that’s not all. Would you expect Roger to go anywhere that doesn’t have some kind of rail activity? Of course not!

When I knew I was flying into BWI, I checked the transport alternatives. Kenny suggested a taxi at about twenty bucks from there to the hotel. I knew that Baltimore and the State of Maryland have well invested in rail transit, so I explored all of the possibilities. Light rail (streetcars) does have a route from the airport into and then out of downtown. It even has a big stop right at Camden Yards. And the MARC Train service also has routes from the airport to downtown (to Penn Station), as well as service to and from Camden Yards. (Which came in handy later in the week, but that’s a tale for the next column…)

Amtrak also serves both BWI and Penn Station, but that’s a fair walk to where we were staying. MARC does not offer train service on weekends, so the Sunday afternoon arrival made that a non-option. As attractive as light rail would appear, there is a small obstacle. Seems how the line between the airport and Camden Yards is out of service for a while due to construction to upgrade the line to double track. There is shuttle bus service to take it’s place while this is going on, but a bus ride wasn’t all that attractive. In the end, the taxi won out as the easiest way to and from BWI.

Baltimore is home to one of the nation’s oldest and finest railway museums. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum is located in a former locomotive roundhouse and shop complex on Mount Clare. The Museum has roots dating back to the B&O Railroad’s participation in the 1893 Columbian Exposition with the World’s Rail Way exhibition. To celebrate the centennial of the corporation, it hosted the Fair of the Iron Horse in 1927. From the Museum’s web pages, “This historical pageant, exhibition and trade show took place in Halethorpe, Maryland and attracted over 1.25 million visitors in 3 weeks. The company intended to retain the Fair’s exhibitions and buildings as a museum, but the Depression, a destructive hurricane, and World War II postponed such plans.”

That event has set the tone for every railroad fair or pageant in North America since. This museum is unique in that it was created by the railroad to recognize and promote it’s heritage. While it is owned and operated by a foundation today, that link to it’s past is something no other railroad has done to this level. (The Union Pacific does have a heritage program, and supports a museum in Omaha, but the B&O Museum is much larger in scope and size of both property and collection of equipment.)

Sadly, the B&O Museum faced a challenge no museum wants to take on. The historic roundhouse roof structure collapsed due to the weight brought on by a heavy snow storm over the Presidents Day weekend in 2003. However, reconstruction is well under way, and the Museum is planned to reopen now in November of 2004. We did manage to walk around the property and view some of the collection as well as the construction projects underway.

Now, the city has many other fine attractions. And I know I only sampled a few. But I did enjoy more than my share of seafood during the five days I was in town. There was the Orioles Grille and Bar at the hotel where we dined several times. The Wharf Rat Pub made for a great pre-game lunch. As an English pub, we got food one might expect. Kenny had Bangers and Mash, and I enjoyed a heaping Shepherd’s Pie. English style ales (from the Oliver’s Breweries) are on tap. I enjoyed a hearty wheat style ale called “The Darkness”. And good t-shirts for sale, too!

But the real attraction — food wise, at least for Kenny, is and was Phillips Seafood Buffet. So much so that in six days in town, he ate two dinners and one lunch here. (It was my pleasure to join him for one of those dinners and the lunch.) I signed him up for their “Friends of Phillips” card so he can get all the benefits. A glance at the menu tells the tale much better than I can. But one thing is for certain. I never left hungry, and ate one heck of a lot of crab there.

Crab also came into play on that first night in town. Walking around Oriole Park at Camden Yards, we were in search of a place to enjoy a pre-game snack. Kenny knew just the place, and before I knew it, we were ordering Sautéed Crab Cake sandwiches in one of the stadium’s walk-up dining areas.

Another crab cake, Mr. Colton?

Baseball was the real reason for why we came here, right? It’s spring and time for the nation’s pastime to begin it’s annual rituals. Spring??? Are you kidding? Try a forecast of temperatures in the high Thirties and possible snow flurries! Okay, so we didn’t get any snow, but with forty-five mile wind gusts, it was just damn cold! I packed the big heavy coat, a sweatshirt, long sleeve denim Henley, and more. That night, I should have worn every piece of clothing I brought with me to Baltimore. Again, with the wind, it was just damn cold. We toughed it out until the 8th inning when our Boston fan windbreak disappeared, and then went in search of warmer quarters. We found them temporarily in the team store, but so did everyone else. So, in the middle of the 9th inning, we headed back to our hotel. Turning the corner, we were confronted by Kenny’s artwork being projected onto the side of the B&O Warehouse, some four or five stories tall. Once the shock wore off, we continued on, back to the hotel. We did come back on Tuesday night for a longer visit with the projection team. Very impressive, all in all, with a great bunch of images for the O’s 50th projected until midnight all week.

Big Damn Birds!

Imagine how you would feel seeing your artwork this big?

Baltimore did beat Boston that night, much to the appreciation of all the frozen fans.

Now, I will admit that a visit to the stadium here is a bit interesting for me. Having been to Seattle’s Safeco Field, and Pac Bell Park in San Francisco, it was definitely “de ja vu all over.” The brick façade covering the structure and the ramps and escalators to the upper decks are almost exactly the same in all three stadiums. And while the seating arrangements differ slightly, one can’t deny the similarities between this trio of throw-back ball parks.

Here at Oriole Park, there is the B&O Warehouse, now converted into offices and other uses (such as the Camden Club). At Pac Bell Park (or SBC Park now), right field has McCovey Cove, where kayaks, canoes and rowboats all vie for those home run balls. (The same guy managed to get Barry Bonds home runs 660 and 661 balls there this week.) At Safeco, there is the retractable roof. They make a big deal about closing it at the end of every game. And I’ve always been curious why they don’t sell rides on it! But the concept of a downtown ball park seems to be a good one. In all three locations, it seems to have been good for business with urban redevelopment spurred on by the projects. In Baltimore, it’s spreading into the rest of the city, as we saw during several long walks.

Thanks to the stay in town, we had opportunities to do a bit more, but that’s on tap for next week. As for the Orioles versus the Red Sox, let’s just say it is a great rivalry, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see both teams in contention for their division title, if not the Wild Card spot in the American League Division series, come October. And their fans could easily agree on one point. “Yankees Suck!”

So, here’s hoping you enjoyed this tale from Baltimore. I know there’s a whole lot more we missed, but that’s what another visit can be for…


Now, next week? Well how about you too can cram a visit to Washington D.C. into about 9 hours and manage to visit four parts of the Smithsonian all in the same day. Roger will be back with the tale of how he and Kenny did just that.


Okay folks. We’ve tried letting you know the simple facts. We’ve tried outright begging. For some reason, that just has not worked. Would it really hurt all that much to show some financial support for the Jim Hill Message Boards? A buck or two would do the trick. For the price of that trendy cup of coffee, you can belly up and sponsor this fine area of ongoing social intercourse on all of the Disney and entertainment topics.

Or we can cut through the bull and just say that every small amount helps. Join the team, give a dollar people! Please? It’s either that or more reminders from Roger, week after week… Do your part to make those pesky advertisements go away!

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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