Last week I discussed the history of Disney California Adventure (DCA). I told you how this park came into existence and was panned by the critics and the general public. I also recounted how CEO Bob Iger committed $1.1 billion to the park and transformed it from an embarrassment to a success story. Today I will discuss the actual park, land by land, and show you side-by-side photographs of how this park was turned around. Let’s start with the entrance.
As I mentioned last week, DCA was built on a tight budget. This was evident from the moment you approached the park. The only thing of interest in this area was the name CALIFORNIA spelled out in giant letters.
Flanking both sides of the turnstiles were two mosaic murals. One side represented Northern California and the other Southern California – a fact lost on most guests. In the distance, the Golden Gate Bridge could be seen.
The letters, mosaics, and bridge were arranged in such a way that if viewed from a distance, they would resemble a giant postcard advertising California. This fact was also lost on just about everyone.
In reality, the mosaics were very beautiful. But from a distance, their intricacy was lost and they simply looked like two-dimensional cutouts. Once guests got close enough to really see them, they had other, more important things on their minds – like getting to the rides. Thus, most people never really took the time to enjoy these pieces of art.
The turnstiles were also unimpressive. Simple iron gates beneath a minimal structure greeted guest. It was uninspiring at best.
These less than stellar landmarks set the tone for your visit. There was nothing to really “wow” you before entering the gates. All entertainers know, you need to “grab” and impress the audience immediately if you want them to like the act.
To remedy the situation, the Imagineers revamped the entire entrance to DCA. Nothing of the old was kept. Now guests are greeted with a replica of the entrance to the old Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles. This is the same design that greets guests at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida.
Although almost all sections of DCA received some sort of upgrade or addition, the bulk of the money was spent building Cars Land and transforming Sunshine Plaza into Buena Vista Street. Let’s start with Sunshine Plaza.
Sunshine Plaza was Disney California Adventure’s version of Main Street. This was the first “land” guests encountered when entering the park. The two landmarks here were the Golden Gate Bridge and the Sun Icon.
The monorail that once cut across the Disneyland parking lot would now be passing along the north end of DCA. As relocating the monorail track would be prohibitively expensive, it was decided to build a bridge across Sunshine Plaza. And since the Golden Gate Bridge is often used as the symbol for California, this was the obvious choice for the monorail overpass.
Personally, I liked the Golden Gate Bridge. I thought it was fun and clever. However, it did not fit with the future theming of this area and had to be removed.
At the far end of Sunshine Plaza was the Sun Icon. This was supposed to be the “weenie” that drew guests into the park in the same way that Sleeping Beauty Castle draws guests down Main Street. Unfortunately, the Sun Icon did not promote the oohs and aahs that the Imagineers had hoped for. In fact, it was the butt of many jokes. Some liked to call it the Golden Hubcap. However, the Sun Icon did have one redeeming quality, a wave machine at its base. Using a computer to regulate the water, the motion was ever changing and displayed a number of different wave patterns. Sadly, most people missed this feature.
I always had trouble with the Sun Icon being the park’s weenie. I realize that the Imagineers were trying to convey that California has a wonderful climate and there is always “fun in the sun” to be had here. But California is the Golden State. Florida is the Sunshine State.
Along the main thoroughfare of Sunshine Plaza were a number of shops selling the typical Disney souvenirs and goods. Here, the “postcard” theme was continued as you were surrounded by larger-than-life postcards and other huge props. But once again, the designs look two-dimensional and cheap. The whole postcard idea was lost on most guests. The only shop exterior that exhibited any class was the Candy Store.
The one area of Sunshine Plaza that I felt was truly imaginative was a replica of the California Zephyr.
The California Zephyr was the name given to a passenger train route that ran between Chicago, Illinois and Oakland, California. The California Zephyr began service in 1949 and was operated jointly by three railroad companies. In its heyday, it was one of the most celebrated train rides in the United States.
At DCA, this famous train played host to two restaurants and a shop. Inside the engine and the sleek passenger cars were Baker’s Field Bakery (a play on the California community of Bakersfield), Bur-r-r Bank Ice Cream (a play on the city of Burbank), and Engine-Ears Toys. The number on the engine is 804-A. This was the designation of the final westbound train from Chicago that arrived in Oakland on March 20, 1970.
Since Sunshine Plaza failed to inspire guests, it was one of the areas of DCA that would receive a complete makeover. In the spirit of Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland and Hollywood Boulevard at Disney's Hollywood Studios, Sunshine Plaza would be transformed to resemble a real street. In this case, a street Walt might have encountered when he arrived in Hollywood in 1923. As the Golden Gate Bridge and the California Zephyr came into service in 1937 and 1949 respectively, they both would need to be removed. The new land/street would be called Buena Vista Street. This name comes from the address of the Disney Studios in Burbank, 500 S. Buena Vista Street.
All of the buildings in Sunshine Plaza were either radically redesigned or razed completely. In their place, a beautiful new community grew. And like its sister streets at other Disney parks, it is convincing and filled with details. Everywhere you turn you make a new discovery. Buena Vista Street also pays homage to Walt Disney with multiple references to this great man. No other Disney park begins to honor Walt with so much style, grace, and elegance as can be seen on Buena Vista Street.
Let’s begin our journey down Buena Vista Street with a look at the flagpole. Here you’ll find the Dedication-Rededication plaque. The fact that Disney felt it necessary to rededicate this park shows they believe this is a beginning of brighter days for Disney California Adventure.
Near the flag pole the Disney folks have buried a time capsule to be opened in 25 years (June 15, 2037).
The first structure we’ll take a look at is Oswald’s, the local service station. As I’m sure you know, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was an early character of Walt’s – a character he lost all rights to when he was legally outmaneuvered in 1928.
Next door is the Chamber of Commerce. This edifice houses Guest Relations in the same way City Hall does on Main Street at Disneyland.
On the corner we have the Los Feliz Five & Dime. The name “Los Feliz” refers to a neighborhood located in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles. Portions of Buena Vista Street were modeled after this neighborhood as this was the location of Walt’s original animation studio before moving to the nearby Silver Lake community and eventually to Burbank. This shop and all the others along Buena Vista Street sell the usual collection of Disney souvenirs, home goods, and clothing.
As mentioned earlier, the Golden Gate Bridge did not fit with the new theme of Buena Vista Street. Still, some sort of crossover was needed for the monorail. The Imagineers chose to model their second viaduct after the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge. Remember, one of Disney’s early studios was located at 2719 Hyperion Avenue.
The second half of the block, beyond the bridge, is filled with a marvelous department store called Elias & Company. As you know, Walt’s father was named Elias.
The interior of Elias & Company is stunningly beautiful. It looks like the inside of an elegant department store of a bygone era. Unfortunately, of the 2,500+ pictures I took at the Disneyland Resort, this is the only picture I captured inside this wonderful store.
Moving back to the beginning of Buena Vista Street, I’ll now walk you up the west side of this thoroughfare.
The first building we encounter is the Sepulveda Building. This structure houses restrooms and lockers. Sepulveda Boulevard is a major street in the Los Angeles area and runs 43 miles from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach.
One of the new attractions added to DCA is the Red Car Trolley. Modeled after a transportation system that once boasted over 1,000 miles of track in Southern California, this scaled down version runs from Buena Vista Street to the Tower of Terror. About five years ago, I wrote an article explaining the Red Car’s history and how its presence can be seen at Disney's Hollywood Studios. To read it, click here.
This next picture is of the Buena Vista Street Trolley Station. The following is of the trolley running along this same roadway.
There are two Red Car Trolleys. They both leave their respective station (Buena Vista Street and Tower of Terror) at the same time. They pass one another along Hollywood Boulevard in the same manner as the horse-drawn trolleys pass on Main Street. A third, intermediate station can be found on Carthay Circle. The trolleys actually receive some of their power from the overhead electrical lines.
The next picture shows the trolley’s “passing” tracks on Hollywood Boulevard. The second photo is of the Tower of Terror Station.
Inside the Red Car are a number of “period” advertisements promoting other DCA attractions. Here are just a few of the amusing signs.
The Red Car also plays host to entertainment throughout the day. The Newsies and Mickey Mouse often ride the trolley to Carthay Circle and then put on a show for those in the area.
Behind the Buena Vista Street Red Car Station is Mortimer’s Market. This spot sells fresh fruit and other healthy snack options. As you know, Mortimer was the name Walt wanted to give his newly created mouse but his wife Lillian convinced him that Mickey was a better choice.
Before checking out the next building, I want to point out a small detail found in the gutters. The drains are authentic to the era. If you look closely, they read “DUMP NO WASTE – DRAINS TO WATERWAYS.” In the 1920’s there were no water treatment plants. All street drains flowed to the Los Angeles River then out to the Pacific Ocean.
In many communities, it was permissible to extend a basement or loading area underneath the sidewalk, even though this was city property. Thick pieces of glass would then be imbedded into the overhead concrete to act as a skylight for the room below. These skylights can be found in several sections of Buena Vista Street.
As we continue down the west side of the street we come to Julius Katz & Sons. Julius was an animated cat that interacted with a real girl in Disney’s “Alice Comedies” of the early 1920’s. Thus, we get the name Julius Katz.
The next structure is the Atwater Building. The name “Atwater” comes from Atwater Village, a district of Los Angeles and a section of town that Walt and his animators often frequented.
The Atwater Building pays homage to Walt’s animators and his wife Lillian. On the first floor we find an art supply store with window signage that says, “Atwater Ink & Paint." Lillian was an ink-and-paint artist when she first met Walt.
Another sign on the first floor lists the “nine old men.” These were Walt’s core animators who worked on such classics as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Pinocchio,” and “Fantasia.” A sign on the second floor of the building says “Learn to Draw – Upstairs.”
The next two buildings house Trolley Candy Treats. As the name implies, this is the spot to satisfy your sweet tooth.
The last building I’m going to mention along Buena Vista Street is the Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe. This name refers to Walt’s classic, “Three Little Pigs.” The Three Little Pigs was released on May 27, 1933 and won the Academy Award the following year for Best Short Subject – Cartoons. The Three Little Pigs is still considered to be the most successful animated short ever made.
The south end of Buena Vista Street terminates at Carthay Circle. In the center of this roundabout is a beautiful art deco fountain.
Across from the fountain is a statue of Walt and Mickey named “Storytellers.” The statue represents Walt as he may have appeared in 1923 when he first arrived in California, ready to make his mark on the world. Unlike the Partners statue at Disneyland which is placed high upon a pedestal, Storytellers was placed at ground level, giving him the persona of an average Joe, ready to work hard to achieve his dreams. In addition, the Partners statue is larger than life. Storytellers is scaled correctly to make Walt more “human.” Both Walt and Mickey have suitcases, indicating that they’ve have traveled a long distance to reach the land of opportunity.
Storytellers is flanked on both sides by the following plaques.
The gem of the new Buena Vista Street is the Carthay Circle Theater which replaces the Sun Icon as the street’s new weenie. This building is modeled after the original Hollywood theater located at 6316 San Vicente Boulevard. This movie palace was the spot where “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” premiered on December 21, 1937.
On the first floor of DCA’s Carthay Circle Theater is a beautiful cocktail lounge. Elegance radiates from every corner of this salon of yesteryear. The bartenders here have created some unique concoctions to wet your whistle. But if you want to be authentic to the period, you might want to try some of the following drinks that were all the rage in the 1920’s: Old Fashioned, Mary Pickford, Sidecar, Bee’s Knees, and French 75.
The first floor is also the spot to check-in for your lunch or dinner reservations for the Carthay Circle Restaurant located on the second floor. The décor of this dining establishment reflects the refinement and romance of Hollywood’s Golden Age. With the right imagination, you can feel like a glamorous movie star or a high-powered film producer. This location is stunning beyond words.
For you trivia buffs, take a look at the ceiling. Located within an elaborate dome are paintings reminiscent of Snow White background cels. Although the heroine herself cannot be seen, the lovely world in which she lived has been meticulously recreated.
Seating is available in the main dining room, two open-air terraces, and the Premiere Room, a private dining room that can accommodate parties of up to twelve people. Guests ordering an entrée along with either an appetizer or dessert receive a ticket that allows them access to a priority location for that night’s performance of “World of Color.”
This completes my look at the old Sunshine Plaza and the new Buena Vista Street. In my opinion, the Imagineers outdid themselves. Buena Vista Street is beautifully executed and stunning to behold. Just “being” on this roadway is a pleasure. I can’t say enough good about this transformation. Applause, applause.
This ends Part One of this series. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.
The previous post in this blog was The History of Disney California Adventure.
The next post in this blog is Disney California Adventure Part Two of Six.