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10 theme parks that influenced Disney

New history of Disneyland recounts the research its creator, his team put into developing California landmark

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Copenhagen's famed Tivoli Gardens (Tim Schnupp/Tribune News Service)
Copenhagen's famed Tivoli Gardens (Tim Schnupp/Tribune News Service) Photo Gallery

Walt Disney spent more than a decade dreaming up Disneyland during his travels to European amusement parks and sent his Imagineers on a series of road trips to visit popular attractions across the United States that influenced the development of the Anaheim, Calif., theme park.

A new history of Disneyland details the classic amusement parks that inspired Walt Disney’s creation of Disneyland in 1955.

The new Disneyland history was created as part of the 17,000-page Environmental Impact Report released in mid-September by the city of Anaheim for Disney’s expansion initiative known as DisneylandForward.

The 309-page Historic Resources Technical Report written by the Historic Resources Group traces Walt Disney’s interest in creating a theme park back to the late 1930s as part of the construction of a new Disney movie studio in Burbank. World War II put plans on hold for a Disney amusement park.

“His original idea was to have something to show people that visited the Disney Studios,” according to the DisneylandForward EIR. “In the late 1940s, Disney resumed his planning efforts.”

In late 1952, Walt Disney founded the WED Enterprises development organization to help him create Disneyland. WED — which stood for Walter Elias Disney — eventually evolved into Walt Disney Imagineering, the secretive creative team that designs Disney theme parks, lands and attractions.

Let’s take a closer look at the 10 classic amusement parks and attractions that influenced Walt Disney’s creation of Disneyland.

Beverly Park

Walt Disney was a frequent visitor of Beverly Park with his daughters in the 1940s.

Disney showed Beverly Park owner David Bradley his plans for Disneyland in 1950 and soon after hired him as a consultant for the fledgling park, according to KCET.

Bradley’s wife, Bernice, a story researcher at Disney studios, worked double duty as Beverly Park’s treasurer and box office manager.

“Our park was very tiny. There was a carousel, a little train ride and another little boat ride for children,” said Bernice Bradley, according to MiceChat. “Walt was out there almost every day, sitting on the end of the bench watching how children enjoyed the rides.”

In 1953, Walt dispatched his Imagineers to the small corner amusement park in Beverly Hills “for inspiration and general reconnaissance,” according to the EIR.

Chicago Railroad Fair

Walt Disney visited the Chicago Railroad Fair in 1948 with fellow railroad aficionado and Disney studio animator Ward Kimball.

The fair featured a Frontier Village, Indian Village and New Orleans French Quarter replica — all elements that would eventually show up in Disneyland. The workers’ costumes and fair foods reflected the individual exhibit themes — traits also adopted by Disneyland.

The fair was encircled by train tracks that transported visitors from attraction to attraction, according to the EIR.

Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village

Walt Disney also visited the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich., during the summer of 1948 with Kimball.

“Shortly after returning from the trip, Disney sent a memo to his production designers about a little village green ringed by shops and idealized building types from the heart of the Midwest,” according to the EIR.

Greenfield Village began in the 1920s as a way for the wealthy industrialist to preserve his childhood home — which was relocated to the early amusement park after being threatened with demolition.

“What followed was the relocation of dozens of historic buildings that presented an idealized view of American history and culture,” according to the EIR. “Ford’s assemblage of buildings celebrated America’s craftsmanship, inventiveness, engineering and work ethic.”

Tivoli Gardens

Walt Disney visited Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark, during the summer of 1951 with his wife, Lillian, and their good friend and TV personality Art Linkletter.

“Walt walked through the amusement park scribbling down notes about the seats, gardens, rides, food and every other detail he noticed,” Linkletter wrote about the trip, according to the business management book “The Idea Hunter.”

Walt Disney Archives director Becky Cline told Business Insider that Walt thought Tivoli Gardens was everything an amusement park should be — from the “gaiety of the music” to the “warm courtesy of the employees.”

“Everything combined for a pleasurable experience,” Cline told Insider.

Knott’s Berry Farm

Walt Disney and Walter Knott were friends who shared a love of trains, dinners together with their wives and a common interest in the burgeoning theme park industry.

The Orange County Archives documents a visit by Walt Disney to the Knott’s Ghost Town glassblowing shop in 1951, according to SFGate.

By 1953, Walt was dispatching his Imagineers to Knott’s Berry Farm for inspiration and reconnaissance, according to the DisneylandForward EIR.

Walt and Disney art director Dick Irvine visited Knott’s Berry Farm to study foot traffic, according to Neal Gabler’s book “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.”

“We’d measure the width of the walkways, the traffic flow and study how people moved about,” Irvine recalled in Gabler’s book. “Even at that time, Walt had in the back of his mind how he wanted to move people.”

The Buena Park theme park inspired several Disneyland attractions — including the Disneyland Railroad (Calico Railroad), Frontierland (Calico Ghost Town) and Splash Mountain (Timber Mountain Log Ride).

Walter and Cordelia Knott were personal guests of Walt Disney on Disneyland’s opening day in 1955, according to SFGate.

Madurodam

Walt Disney visited Madurodam shortly after the Netherlands amusement park opened in 1952.

Madurodam’s miniature cities inspired the Storybook Land Canal Boats attraction that opened in 1956 at Disneyland.

The miniature Dutch buildings and windmills of the Madurodam original were transformed for Disneyland’s Fantasyland attraction into the Seven Dwarfs cottage, the Three Little Pigs homes and Gepetto’s woodshop.

Children’s Fairyland

Walt Disney visited Children’s Fairyland in Oakland in the summer of 1954.

Walt was inspired by the costumed guides, fairy tale sets and live entertainment in Children’s Fairyland, according to the DisneylandForward EIR.

“There was even an Alice in Wonderland attraction, a cartoony castle and a big blue whale,” according to the EIR.

Walt hired Fairyland executive director Dorothy Manes to serve as Disneyland’s youth director when the Anaheim theme park opened in 1955.

Coney Island

Walt Disney’s Imagineers spent June 1954 traveling the United States to “assess the economics and land-use practices of successful amusement parks,” according to the DisneylandForward EIR. The field research stops included Coney Island and the adjacent Luna Park in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Luna Park, which opened on Coney Island in 1903, “structured its attractions around historical, cultural or geographical themes — making it the first true theme park,” according to the EIR.

The family-friendly amusement parks changed the climate of the Coney Island seaside resort that had been previously filled with “gambling dens, brothels, vaudeville theaters and prizefighting clubs,” according to the EIR.

The popularity of Coney Island and Luna Park spawned the development of more than 1,500 amusement parks by 1919, according to the EIR.

By the 1930s, Coney Island’s reputation plummeted again and became increasingly associated with violence, vice and promiscuity, according to the EIR.

“By the 1950s, with the advent of television home entertainment, amusement parks fell completely out of favor,” according to the EIR. “Scholars credit Walt Disney with single handedly saving the American amusement park industry in the 1950s and propelling it to the level of economic and cultural importance that it enjoys today.”

Palisades Park

Another stop on the Imagineers’ 1954 cross-country field research trip was Palisades Park in New Jersey, according to the EIR.

The rival to Coney Island was located on a cliff top overlooking the Hudson River across from the northern end of Manhattan.

Like many American amusement parks, Palisades Park got its start in 1898 as a trolley park designed to increase evening and weekend ridership.

Long Beach Pike

Walt’s Imagineers also visited the Long Beach Pike in 1954 while studying and researching options for Disneyland.

The Pike grew from a beachfront bath house in 1902 to boast more than 200 amusements by the 1950s on a pier that stretched out over the Pacific Ocean.

Walt Disney visited the Long Beach Pike in 1953 with Hollywood actor John Derek — with the two testing their aim at the shooting arcade and checking out the coin-operated 3D movie machine, according to photos posted to the Daveland website.

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