When he started there was nothing, just 180 acres of orange trees. But he had a dream, a dream that has, in turn, become a dream to many Americans.
"I don't want the public to see the world they live in while they're here. I want them to feel they're in another world," said Walt Disney as he dedicated his wonderland on a sultry Southern California day. That day -- July 17, 1955 -- people first entered the charmed life of Disneyland. By the end of this silver anniversary year, nearly 200 million Americans will have entered those same gates and experienced the wonderful world of Disney.
On opening day the paint was barely dry, the fresh asphalt was soft and Disney, who lived in an apartment over Disneyland's turn-of-the-century firehouse, was temporarily locked inside and nearly missed the dedication. But since then it has been the model for theme parks throughout the world.
Getting to the point of opening was a struggle that nearly put Disney into bankruptcy. As Newsweek magazine reported after the opening: In order to "build Disneyland, Walt and his brother Roy Disney, borrowed to the corporate hilt and then Walt sold his vacation home and borrowed against his pesonal life insurance policies." Still, the project was in jeopardy until Disney signed the seven-year television contract with ABC to produce a weekly, one-hour television show. With the contract money, Disneyland's finances were assured.
Opening day was a smash, with Danny Thomas riding a horseless carriage Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. driving along a miniature version of a freeway, Jerry Lewis mugging on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans bring their family to the Main Street Parade and Bob Cummings, Art Linkletter and then-TV star Ronald Reagon broadcasting the ceremonies to the nation.
Since that day, 187 million people (as of January 1980) have passed through the turnstiles of Disneyland, stopped to marvel at the floral picture of Mickey Mouse fronting the old train station, passed through Main Street U.S.A. and gone on to Adventureland, and Frontierland, and the Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. Disneyland, has, indeed, become the ultimate escape.
"Why do we have to grow up?" asked Disney. "I know more adults who have children's approach to life. They're people who don't give a hang what the Joneses do. You see them at Disneyland every time you go there. They are not afraid to be delighted with simple pleasure, and they have a degree of contentment with what life has brought."
That formula continues to work, as the adult visitors to Disneyland continue to outnumber the children four to one. Presidents, prime ministers, movie stars, athletes -- all continue to visit Disneyland and to enjoy the "simple pleaures," even if those pleasures took millions (current captial expenditures are over $206 million) to produce.
Disneyland's popularity has continued to soar, and today it ranks as the second most popular theme park in the contry, next only to its sibling, the much larger Disney World. Disneyland has about 10.7 million visitors each year, compared to Disney World's 14 million, but it is open fewer days, closing Monday and Tuesdays from mid-September through mid-March while Disney World remains open every day.
Before Disneyland, Anaheim was just a sleepy agricultural center. Today it is a city of 220,000 people, one of the largest convention centers in the United States (there are 12,000 hotel and motel rooms in the area), has a major league baseball team and even lured the Los Angeles Rams down the road 27 miles to play their National Football League games in the "the city that Disney built."
As Disney knew, "You can dream, crate, design and build the most wonderful place in the world . . . but it takes people to make the dream a reality."
Disneyland is facing that reality with confidence in a year of economic uncertainty for the tourism business. With 50 percent of its business coming from within a 100-mile radius, 13 million people living within a round-trip, one-gas-tank drive, and 90-percent repeat business from Californians, the park expect this year to be perhaps its biggest yet, as more and more people decide to stay near home for vacations.
If they are in Disneyland July 17, they will be able to praticipate in the biggest bash in the history of the park, a party that may attract the largest single-day crowd (the record is 82,516, set on Aug 16, 1969) in the history of the park. The celebration will begin at 12:01 a.m. and run for 25 hours, featuring different entertainment every hour, fireworks, special hats and streamers for the crowds and a redidication of the park as it enters its second quarter century.
That second quarter already includes plans for two new lands: Discovery Bay, an 1800's port city much like early San Francisco, and Circusland, where Disney characters will perform in a variety of circus settings. Disneyland is continuing to expand and improve, from 17 major attractions when it opened, to 57 today -- all of them dedicated to making people happy.