What a gift I was given just weeks before my Son-In-Law, my Co-Father-In-Law and I were to go on a Dad’s Disneyland Trip to celebrate the coming of our second Daughter/Granddaughter (our Baby Shower Trip). My Family (Wifey, Daughter, Son-In-Law, and Co-In-Laws) gave me an early Christmas gift of the, limited time, “Walt’s Main Street Story” tour which ends in Walt’s apartment above the Fire Hall in Disneyland’s Town Square. Of course I was taken back by the gift of getting to go into Walt’s apartment (which has always been a dream of mine), and it took about an hour to really sink-in. Of course I headed to the Disneyland Tours web”site and read every word about the tour, but believe me the words on the website don’t give justice to the feelings I had as I entered the apartment. I grew up watching Walt every Sunday night sharing from his desk, sometimes with help from a friend like Mickey or Donald, about the adventure or story we were about to see. I’ve only seen videos of when Walt sat on his desk and introduced America as to the idea of a place called Disneyland, as I was born just six months and five days before the park opened.
Walt’s Main Street tour begins at the Town Square Plaza which looks right down Main Street USA with the Castle framed at the end of the street. The Town Square Plaza was one of Walt’s favorite spots in the park. He loved Main Street USA as it took him back to his childhood days of Marceline, Missouri and he hoped that it would bring back memories for everyone that walks down the street as it was to be everyone’s Main Street USA. Marceline had a huge impact on the rest of Walt’s life though he only lived there until he was five.
Walt started many days in the Town Square looking down Main Street USA and was bothered that his view of the castle was blocked by the gazebo in center of the original hub, so in that first year the gazebo was moved across the street and became the Band Stand in Carnation Plaza Gardens. I have lots of memories of the Band Stand as my Family would go to Disneyland every year (yes, I was spoiled) the weekend after Labor Day; and playing in the Band Stand would be Count Basie and his band (I think my Dad chose that weekend as Count Basie was always there). I found this picture of the gazebo in its original location.
Our tour took us next to the Main Street Cinema which is that jewel that everyone passes, but few stop in to watch a movie. Walt loved the cinema as it was what sparked his interest in making his cartoon’s with animation, so it was fitting that his Main Street USA would have a grand cinema in the middle of town. As you enter the cinema the ticket taker greets you with a smile. What you may not notice is that her and her booth are redressed throughout the year to match the season. Right now she is getting ready for Christmas, and is enjoying a few Christmas cookies while she’s working.
As we continued down the street we were told to look at the windows of the businesses lining the street. The names in the windows all have a special meaning to Walt and/or the building of Disneyland. The first one our guide pointed out was above what is today the Starbuck’s Coffee House. The name on the top pane of this window is “Emile Kuri” with “Interior Designer” on the window pane below, he told us to remember this as he would mention Emile Kuri once more during the tour.
To the right of this window was one for Ron Rodriguez who’s Family owned the orange grove that Walt wanted to buy as a home for Disneyland. Ron resisted a lot of Walt’s offers, but finally gave in as long as Walt promised that the only Palm Tree on the property would always be left on the property as it was a gift to Ron’s wife Betty. The palm tree can be found today between Indiana Jones Adventure and Pirates of the Caribbean where it was placed during construction of the Jungle Cruise and still remains the only Palm Tree inside Disneyland. Another side story to Ron is that he joined Walt on opening day July 17, 1955. His first job was a ticket taker followed by many other positions in the park including “Head of Park Operations”, “Vice President of Disneyland”, then “Executive Vice President of Disney in the West Coast” retiring in 1994.
A funny side story he shared was that Walt too loved to give Lillian gifts, and once gave her a piece of petrified wood, that didn’t really thrill her. So it to now lives in the park next to dock on the Rivers of America.
Making a right turn we entered a court with a flower cart and small businesses including the Hotel Marceline. It was important to Walt that all of our senses were in play while we enjoyed Main Street, so yes there are ever changing smells inserted into the air, music and other sounds to set the mood. One of our guide’s favorites is the sounds coming from the window on the second floor of the Hotel Marceline.
You hear a man humming as he starts up the shower, when all of a sudden he yells as the hot water runs out and it becomes a cold shower. There are also not so pleasant and laughing sounds coming from the Painless Dentist office across the street which offers Laughing Gas to ease the pain.
Our guide pointed out that not everything is as it seems, or was in the original drawings. Take for example this drinking fountain. It is centered in Walt’s Masonry Wall, a wall created by the construction crew so Walt could see how different masonry effects would look and feel. You can find this wall just to the right of the Lockers entrance.
Main Street street lights are right out of the turn of the century charm. Gas Lamps line the sidewalks for the first blocks of Main Street with Electric Lights at the end and around the Hub. Though the original street lights across America had visible gas lines and wires for the electric lights Walt wanted a cleaner look, so he had the gas lines and wires all submerge below the sidewalks and was ahead of his time once more.
Our next stop is one of my favorite spots, The Coca Cola Shop at the end of Main Street. When Disneyland first opened the front half of the park sold Coca Cola and the back half sold Pepsi Cola, which remained until 1990 when Coca Cola struck a deal with Disney. I remember when the Golden Horseshoe Theater was named the Pepsi Golden Horseshoe Revue. Walt wanted the Coca Cola Corner shop to resemble the soda shops from the early 1900’s including a grand entrance marquee. The marquee was to be lined with alternating red and white lightbulbs around the hexagon ceiling, but there was a problem. When the lights were put in it was and odd number of lights so there would be two red or two white lights in a row….Walt’s solution was to have one half red and half white light to keep it symmetrical.
Down the street past the Candy Palace and Penny Arcade is Gibson Girl’s Ice Cream shop. The Gibson Girl was a fashion icon in the 1920’s and depicted the feel of an ice cream shop. The original shop in this location was the Sunkist Citrus House which offered fresh squeezed orange juice. Our guide shared a great story about a construction worker that was taking a break sitting on the curb in front of the Sunkist Citrus House when he saw someone walking down the street, and realized it was Walt in his pajamas and robe….note; it was about 2am. Walt walked up to the worker and asked if he would like some orange juice, and proceeded into the shop and squeezed the worker some orange juice on the Sunkist Commercial Juicer; as he did for who ever he could talk into having fresh squeezed orange juice. Sunkist heard the story and gave Walt a juicer for his apartment, Walt graciously asked for it to be removed as he had more fun using the one in the Sunkist Citrus House.
Elias Disney, Walt’s Dad, had a window too as Walt wanted to honor his Father. The window is a bay window and the only window in all of Main Street USA to protrude from the building; another way Walt honored his Father. We were told that Walt and Elias had a rocky and turbulent relationship, but Walt always respected his Father and knew he was a hard worker and doing what he felt was best for his Family. Elias’s window is above the Emporium at the top of Main Street USA.
We finished our tour of Walt’s Main Street USA at a small door just to the right of the Fire Hall in Town Square. We were asked to put away any cameras and phones as they are not allowed in the back stage areas; or in Walt’s apartment as to be respectful to the Disney Family. We ascended a set of stairs just behind the Fire Hall and entered the apartment.
I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to enter that door; later in the day I was reviewing my heart beat from my Apple Watch and found that my beat went from 85-90 during the walk to 117 as we entered the apartment.
At only a little over 500 square feet, it is smaller than I imagined but you could tell immediately upon entering that it was filled with family, love and joy. The hallway walls from the door to the main room is filled with photos and turn-of-the twentieth century furniture. The main area consists of seating for about ten on the two, sofa pull out twin beds and four Victorian chairs, which we were asked to not sit on; but there were two small Victorian chairs near the kitchenette for anyone on the tour that need to rest.
Note the lamp in the window. Cast Members always knew when Walt was in the park as the lights would be on in the apartment. Today this lamp is always turned on to remind everyone that Walt is still here in spirit. During the pandemic when the park was closed, it was someone’s responsibility to make sure the lamp was still on.
Now remember the window with Emile Kuri, Interior Decorator above the Starbuck’s, well you guessed it was at Lillian’s direction that he decorated the apartment. Most everything in the apartment is the original with the exception of the carpet and some of the wall paper as they were ruined in a flood from a broken pipe. Just like Lucy and Ricky, the Disney’s slept in separate beds which were the pullout sofas that faced each other. On the wall at the head of each bed was a picture of their Mothers with Walt’s Mother above his bed, and Lillian’s above her bed. Next to the sofa on Lillian’s side of the room was a working Victorian telephone that Walt used often for business and pleasure calls.
Also in the main room is a small kitchenette equipped with a coffee pot, toaster and a small grill. The grill was for some of Walt’s favorite foods, grill cheese sandwiches and chili right out of the can. He would simply open the can of chili, heat it on the grill and get a spoon to eat it right out of the can. Also on the counter next to the small sink was a Tom and Jerry Bowl and Cups as that was his favorite drink. By the way Tom and Jerry is a mixture of eggnog, brandy and rum often served during the Christmas season or all year around in the apartment. The cupboards above were filled as you would expect some dishes, glasses, cups, etc.; but the most special items in the cupboard were two glass baby bottles. Our guide shared a story where awhile back he was in Walt’s apartment with Patrick Disney who was sharing a memory of the baby bottles and in the morning he got up from sleeping on the floor between his Grandparents. He got up and looked down on Town Square from the front window of the apartment. He said to his Grandpa “It is quiet out there.” and his Grandpa replied “In just awhile the magic will arrive with our guests”.
Another story he shared took place on July 17, 1955 when Walt joined the Musketeers as they gathered in the apartment. Walt joined Sharon Baird, an original Musketeer, at the window watching the crowds below. It got quiet, and when Sharon looked over at Walt standing next to her there were tears coming down his cheeks; and she knew he was watching his dream come true.
The tour of the apartment ended with the pink (the color of the fifties) bathroom. Just outside the main bathroom was a small dressing area with a dresser. The top drawer of the dresser was always filled with toys for the grandkids. The bathroom itself had pink and white tile floors and pink tiles on the walls. The large shower had four shower heads placed at about 24” from the floor to 6’ from the floor. No one knows for sure why the four shower heads, but there are two schools of thought. One is that an adults body would be sprayed all at once, and one thought is that there would be one shower head at the appropriate level for each Grandchild as they grew.
Our tour finished on Walt’s balcony overlooking Town Square enjoying our favorite Coca Cola beverage and a Walt’s Main Street USA shortbread cookie. This was a time for the guide to go more off script and for us to ask some questions.
One couple asked why on Disney+ they show Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom changing from Halloween to Christmas over night, but it takes about a week for the change to happen in Disneyland; which our guide responded there are two good reasons. Florida’s Magic Kingdom has a much larger cast member staff plus underground tunnels below a major portion of the park; where Disneyland has small above ground staging areas behind the buildings. This year’s Halloween/Christmas switch had started the night before we arrived and only about a third of Main Street was done; and the Christmas Tree had not made it’s grand appearance in the Town Square Park though it was already built and has been backstage for about a month
I asked when Walt and Mickey’s “It all started with a Mouse” statue was added to the hub, and found out that it was added to pay honor to Walt at the same time it debuted at the opening of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom which has the same statue. The “Hub” and I have a lot of memories too, before mobile phones it was and will always be the spot you go to if you get separated and lost from your Family. My Son “In-Law” and I took advantage of the Digital Disney Memory Photographer to capture a memory of our day together.
Our guide shared a moment he had at the “Disney Family Museum” in San Francisco’s Presidio. He, another Disney Cast Member’s friend and his wife were visiting the museum and stopped at a drawing that explained how Walt went through his thought process for movies. The other Cast Member’s wife captured a picture of the two of them the moment they both realized that this drawing of the creation of a movie was Main Street USA and the hub; as Walt’s movies always had a main theme, with branches off the hub; so the hub was just a natural part of the creation of Walt’s stories and Disneyland.
I also asked about the second and larger apartment, at over 2,200 square feet, that was built in New Orleans Square above the Pirates of the Caribbean. My wife, Sandi, and I had visited the Disney Art Gallery a little over fifteen years ago and enjoyed the gallery and the view looking out towards Frontier Land, and the home port for the Columbia Sailing Ship and the Mark Twain Riverboat. The apartment was under construction when Walt passed away, and was later turned in to the Disney Art Gallery in 1987 in 2007 the art gallery was moved to the entrance of the Opera House which is the home of “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln”. In 2009 the space was remodeled back to the original design Walt wanted and Disneyland introduced the “Dream Suite” for the “Year of a Million Dreams”. A few years later the suite was a getaway for children and families for magical moments through the “Make a Wish Foundation”.
I shall never forget the time I had experiencing Main Street USA stories and Walt’s apartment. I hope you enjoyed my memories above and that you too will find the special jewels on Main Street USA and the rest of Disneyland left behind by Walt and his Imagineers.