60 years ago today was the first day of Disneyland.
After so many requests for tours from fans flooded the Disney Studios, Walt wanted to build something for Disney tourists to visit. After considering a few acres close to the studio…..briefly, Walt settled on 160 beautiful acres of orange and walnut groves in Anaheim California.
It’s hard to believe, but Disney had trouble raising the money to build his theme park. But I suppose that 17 million was quite a fortune in 1954. He joined forces with the fledgling television network ABC, who agreed to help fund the park if Disney would broadcast a show in the network. Which, of course he did. Ever heard of the Mickey Mouse Club? For the first five years of operations, Disneyland was owned by the joint venture of Walt Disney Productions, Walt Disney himself, Western Publishing, and ABC. With the popularity of the park, and of course Disney Studios, in 1960 Disney was able to buy the others out of their shares.
Construction on the park, originally called Disneylandia?, began in July of 1954 and was completed exactly one year and one day later.
Disneyland was dedicated at an “International Press Preview” event held on Sunday, July 17, 1955, which was only open to invited guests and the media.
28,000 people attended the event, but only about half of those were actual invitees, the rest having purchased counterfeit tickets….. which Disney knowingly honored.
ABC broadcast the opening day festivities, hosted by a few of Mr. Disney’s Hollywood friends; Bob Cummings, Art Linkletter, and Ronald Reagan. Because it was a live event, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong….and on camera no less. The hosts were caught fumbling back and forth with each other. Disney himself, started a dedication and was interrupted by something off camera. Route 101 had been expanded by 2 extra lanes in anticipation of the traffic the park was sure to bring, but cars were still backed up on the 2-lane Harbour Boulevard. The temperature that day was an unbelievable-for-southern-California 101 degrees. Park guests were constantly tripping over the camera cables and sticking to the asphalt that has just been poured the day before. A plumbers strike forced Disney to choose between working toilets of water fountains. He chose the wiser of the two forcing many park guests to question if the un-working water fountains were just a ploy to get them to purchase drinks. Lines for rides were so long that eager parents actually threw their children over the crowds. Finally, a gas leak closed down several sections of the park for the afternoon.
In later years, Disney would refer to that Sunday as “Black Sunday”.
Admission to the park, by the way, was a dollar for adults and 50 cents for kids.