Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Disneyland and Freeways

One of my non-Disney interests is roads. Their planning, construction, and aesthetics fascinate me, and much of my academic writing has concentrated on opposition to and public problems with various road projects, including the Beverly Hills Freeway (to which Walt was opposed) and the road to Mineral King (oh, wait, did I say this was my non-Disney interest?). The history of Disneyland is intimately bound up with the freeway culture of Southern California, from its origins, to attractions found within and the Park's very success.

Walt's initial plans for an Americana kiddie park across the street from the Burbank Studio got paved over by the Ventura Freeway. That probably worked out best for us Disneyland fans; it was only a 16-acre site! (As an Orange Countian, I wouldn't have fought traffic to get there!) To determine the proper location for Disneyland, the Stanford Research Institute looked at a number of factors, including smog, future population growth, the prospect of government support--and freeway accessibility. The Park sits beside a freeway running from Mexico to Canada; I'd say that's accessible! It's also not too far from the Orange Crush spaghetti bowl (Disneyland in upper left):

The projections of future growth and transportation networks did nothing until such links were operational, of course. The Santa Ana Freeway (then US-101, now I-5) was literally under construction as the Park was opening and required valiant efforts from Disneyland people and local government officials to get it to a usable state. Van France recounts his role in getting the Harbor Boulevard off-ramp finished in Window on Main Street:
By the authority I give myself for doing this history, I'll also give myself credit for completing the Harbor off-ramp two days before opening. Cars would come down the freeway and hit a boulevard stop. Wood warned us, "Without that off-ramp, traffic will be backed up to San Francisco!" The problem was that the contractor's agreement stipulated that no overtime be paid by the state. I went to meet the Superintendent of the job. Fortunately, he was a young guy who understood our problem. Without any paperwork, except [C. V.] Wood's okay, I said we'd pay for any overtime involved. I also threw in a lunch if they could complete it before opening day. That off-ramp was completed two days before opening. A crisis had been averted. We celebrated over lunch and cocktails. I got my off-ramp, and a hangover to boot.
I recall a version of this story where liquor was used as an additional inducement to the construction workers, but I wasn't able to locate it. In an interview I have, Van France argues that there were a lot of things which came together in 1955 that allowed Disneyland to be a success. One such development was the growing freeway system.

It's pretty well known that many of the trees used in landscaping Disneyland for Opening Day were salvage operations from freeway construction projects throughout the Southland. In the words of Morgan Evans, Disneyland's landscape designer extraordinaire, "California's projected freeways, routed unavoidably through residential districts, afforded an unusual opportunity to salvage full-grown trees. Former owners can take some comfort from the knowledge that many fine specimens were literally snatched from the jaws of bulldozers, then packaged and transported to Disneyland for a new lease on life." His window on Main Street reflects this practice: "Evans Gardens / Exotic & Rare Species / Freeway Collections / Est. 1910 / Morgan Bill Evans / Senior Partner."

Evans himself later engaged in the landscaping of freeways. The State of California hired him in 1968 to act as a consultant in landscaping Pasadena's freeways. The one contribution I could find from Evans--oddly enough--was the suggestion that it would be cheaper to buy trees from nurseries for replanting along the freeway than to move and save trees in the freeway right of way. If only there were a Disneyland to take them in!

Freeways plowed right through landscaping, but they also went through structures purchased by the state--and Walt was there to capitalize on it. In Disneyland's early days (to a much less extent today), there were mechanical music machines scattered throughout the Park. One of the few left is the Welte Style 4 Concert Orchestrion in the back of the Penny Arcade, pictured below:

A significant portion of these came from the collection of Albert Clifford Raney, who had a large assemblage of mechanical music machines. In 1953, California was building the San Gabriel River Freeway (I-605) through the Raney estate and Raney's widow, Ruby, decided to sell the collection. Walt was fascinated by the objects and bought thirty of them for the Park; Ruby felt they had found a good home. (Raney was also a collector of saloon art, which went to Knott's Berry Farm.) More can be found about the origins of this collection and the history of one specific piece of it here.

The Autopia's relation to freeways is almost too obvious to bear mentioning. The attraction, of course, re-created the Southern California driving experience for locals and tourists alike. One Guest--I wasn't immediately able to find the article in which this quote comes--was amazed Walt could get people to pay to park, pay to visit, and then stand in line to do what they had to do to get to Disneyland! The attraction's name--Autopia--suggested the idyllic possibilities of an automobile society, although at this time resistance to the freeway construction was growing and smog was choking Los Angeles. (And hey, Walt Disney later opposed the Beverly Hills Freeway!)

The Autopia has a fantasy element, to be sure, but there is also a very concrete link to reality. The James I. Barnes Construction Company, of Santa Monica, served as general contractors for the $6 million Disneyland '59 addition. This means that they not only oversaw construction of a Swiss mountain, an undersea adventure, and a futuristic transportation system, but also the reconstruction/expansion of the Tomorrowland and Fantasyland Autopias. They were well acquainted with road construction. In a linkage too perfect to make up, the Barnes Co. built the four-level interchange in downtown Los Angeles between July 1947 and July 1949--an icon of the Southern California car culture. Major Pepperidge over at Gorillas Don't Blog astutely opined that the Autopia overpasses and intertwined monorail track resembled a four-level interchange. Well, now we know why! What better way to interject a little reality into the fantasy by bringing in the very people who built the original? From the collection of the Historic American Engineering Record:

All of the above doesn't even get into the Monorail's perceived potential use as a solution for urban traffic ills--like the footage created for "Kodak Presents Disneyland '59" that shows a monorail paralleling US-101 through downtown L.A. Various officials toured Disneyland to see the monorail and they were proposed for use elsewhere in Southern California every few years, even connecting Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm! I may get into these monorail proposals in future posts.


Vintage Disneyland Tickets said...

Nice post! I live on those freeways, call me sick, but I actually like them, if you know how to “work” them, they are amazing.

Neat info about the off-ramp! All new info to me -thanks! I like how new it looks in old aerial photos.

How come the "Welte Style 4 Concert Orchestrion" plays pre-recorded music now? It looks like it would still work.

Great Autopia history, more stuff I never knew! Hey, do you know who came up with the name "AUTOPIA"? I've seen a different name on some older concept art.

Anonymous said...

VD Tickets asks:

"How come the "Welte Style 4 Concert Orchestrion" plays pre-recorded music now? It looks like it would still work."

Answer: Money.
Question: Are you surprised?

These mechanical organs have hundreds of pipes and hundreds of moving parts that need to be tuned and regulated on a regular basis. That was not a problem back in 1919 when labor was 15 cents an hour and piano/organ tuners were on every corner, but today it's a very different story.

In addition, the blowers etc. probably take much more electricity to run per hour than a simple RAM-driven audio system.

I was very disappointed when most of these mechanical organs stated to disappear from Disneyland, and the remaining units were silenced. However, there isn't much interest in these instruments except among a very small connoisseur clique, so I would theoretically support Disney's efforts to retire the them ... except units are always replaced with racks of Plush and the money saved all went to buy Pall Pressler a new solid gold back scratcher.

-Katella Gate

Jason Schultz said...

Definitely check out the Mechanical Music Digest Archives for a lot of great information and first-person perspective on the difficulty of getting Disneyland to devote sufficient resources to really maintain these machines.

Unknown said...

Disneyland had it both ways! They celebrated the freeway culture through not only the various Autopias (there were several throughout the Park), but Cir-Car-ama films and so much else in the the Park's culture.

Yet, by 1959 they were posing that resulting freeway traffic as a horror that turns us all into sheep or cattle (hence the monorail as the "modern" solution).

One last note: One can easily overlook it, but on that Disneyland '59 Song of the South-style film & animation superimposition process, the envisioned Civic Center monorails seem to go both directions on the same beamway in rapid succession. I certainly hope they planned a reliable block switching system!

Great stuff you are compiling here!