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October 7, 2012

Disneyland's California Adventure's Grand Opening

As TV, radio, and newspapers throughout the country cover the grand opening of Disneyland's California Adventure, and huge crowds vie for tickets, it seems like a timely moment to take a trip down memory lane and visit another grand opening: July 17, 1955, when the first crowds of eager visitors made their way across the drawbridge of Sleeping Beauty's castle into Disneyland.

Back in the early 1950s, Anaheim was a sleepy little town, and the area around it was nothing more than acres and acres of orange groves. Enter Walt Disney, the original Imagineer. Disney's initial idea was to build a park near his Burbank studio for his employees and their families, but those plans changed over time and his dream grew.

He bought over 160 acres of those sleepy orange groves around Anaheim and set about, in 1954, building his "Magic Kingdom." Original plans called for a 9 million dollar 45-acre park, but by opening day the park covered 160 acres and had cost 17 million. Opening day was a gala affair: The ceremonies were broadcast live on ABC with Art Linkletter and Robert (Bob) Cummings as hosts, with celebrities like Ronald Reagan, and VIPs like the Governor of California also in attendance.

In 1955 the park consisted of 5 "lands": Main Street, Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, and Tomorrowland. Many of the rides were not finished. Adventureland had only one ride: the Jungle Cruise. Tomorrowland had more exhibits than rides. Landmarks we are all familiar with were absent in 1955: neither the Matterhorn nor the Monorial had been built yet. There were rides and exhibits that are now long gone: the Aluminum Hall of Fame, Rocket to the Moon, a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea exhibit (a movie tie-in!), and Space Station X-1 in Tomorrowland, and stage coach rides in Frontierland. Fantasyland had rides that are still open today: King Arthur Carousel, Snow White's Adventures, Dumbo, and the kid-terrifying Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, but was missing the Autopia (1956), and It's a Small World (1966).

The park was turning a profit by its second year of operation, and new rides were soon planned. The Viewliner train in 1957 whisked visitors between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. The Matterhorn, Submarine Voyage, and the Monorail opened in 1959.

Walt Disney in front of a still-unfinished Sleeping Beauty's Castle, 1955

The view looking down Harbor Blvd toward Disneyland (now Interstate 5), 1961

wiss dancers (hah!) on stage in front of the Matterhorn, 1959

Disneyland-Construction file. Matterhorn nears completion, 1959

Matterhorn under construction, 1959

This very cool ride had large holes in the sieve-like floor that let through air and set the saucers spinning. Sadly, this ride only lasted about 5 years (potential litigation issues involving small children spitting out of the saucers spring to mind), 1961

Walt Disney at the controls of the Viewliner, a train that ran between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, 1957


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