The photo at the top of the page, probably taken in 1960, shows the Disneyland main gate and Monorail track. We are looking north from an empty parking lot (where Disney California Adventure park stands today). Visible above the track are the top of the City Hall, the Matterhorn (completed in 1959), and the Train Station. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.
The Anaheim city planners gave Disneyland a memorable street address: 1313 S. Harbor Boulevard. Any odd number could have been assigned to the 1300 block of South Harbor Boulevard, from 1301 to 1399 — so why 1313? Some Disney historians believe Walt specifically asked for that address. He was not a superstitious man, and he might have found it amusing to defy fate by requesting a doubly “unlucky” number for Disneyland.
I subscribe to a different theory. Here’s a clue: What’s the thirteenth letter in the alphabet? M. Put two M’s side by side and what Disney character do you think of? That’s right, it all started with a mouse.
Animator Ward Kimball recalled Walt’s relentless pursuit of perfection as he built Disneyland: “[Walt] walked over every inch of Disneyland, telling them to move a fence a little more to the left because you couldn’t see the boat as it came ’round the corner. I’d be with him out there, and he’d say, ‘The lake is too small. Maybe we should make it larger. Let’s find out if we can move the train wreck over another fifty feet.’ … [Everything] you see at Disneyland, Walt checked on.”
Walt knew the Disneyland blueprints by heart. He made sure that one of the first buildings completed was the Main Street Fire House, because his private apartment would be on the second floor. He moved in as soon as possible so he could watch his magic kingdom take shape.
He chose retired Navy admiral Joseph Fowler to oversee Disneyland’s construction. Fowler had commanded the San Francisco Naval Yard during World War II, and was once appointed by President Truman to the job of cutting wasteful spending in the Pentagon. Admiral Fowler was known for his ability to solve “unsolvable” problems. Walt found the retired admiral supervising a tract home project in the San Francisco Bay area. Fowler was eager for a more exciting challenge.
Harbor Boulevard at Katella in Anaheim, looking south, June 4, 1955, about six weeks before Disneyland opened. Disneyland, still under construction, is behind the photographer, over his or her right shoulder. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.
The same location as previous photo, Harbor Boulevard at Katella in Anaheim, looking south, May 2016, some sixty-one years after the previous photo was taken. This image is a screen shot of a Google Maps street view.
The problems Joe Fowler confronted began multiplying soon after he was hired. In Adventureland, the mechanical elephants, hippos, and crocodiles of the Jungle Cruise broke down due to abrasive particles in the water, which damaged the servomotors. In Frontierland, the first attempt to fill the Rivers of America failed — the sandy soil drank up all the water (good drainage is great for orange trees, bad for theme parks).
Construction costs spiraled. When Walt broke ground on July 16, 1954, the budget was $4.5 million. By September, it was $7 million. By November, $11 million. By opening day, expenditures topped $17 million.
Walt had set an ambitious goal, choosing July 17, 1955, as Opening Day. He gave himself a year and a day to build his dream — and the odds were against him.
When Opening Day arrived, the asphalt on Main Street was soft and tarry, causing people to get their shoes stuck in the street. Most of the attractions broke down at some point that day. Crowds were out of control. Too many people boarded the Mark Twain riverboat for its first official cruise, causing Admiral Fowler to fear the boat would capsize. A gas main cracked in Fantasyland, causing flames to shoot up from a fissure in the ground. Many attractions throughout the Park opened days or weeks after Opening Day.
But Disneyland itself opened on time, and has been creating happiness and magic for Walt’s guests ever since.
ABOUT JIM DENNEY AND WALT’S DISNEYLAND: Jim Denney has more than 120 books to his credit, and has co-written books with sports stars and Hollywood celebrities. His previous book on Walt Disney, How To Be Like Walt (co-written with Orlando Magic founder Pat Williams) has remained in print for a dozen years, and has garnered 4.8 out of 5 stars in 185 customer reviews on Amazon.com. Walt’s Disneyland: It’s Still There If You Know Where to Look by Jim Denney (Anaheim, CA: Writing in Overdrive Books, May 2017) is available at Amazon.com; Paperback $15.99; Ebook $5.99.
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