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Landscaping the World - Disney's Hollywood Studios

Jack Spence Masthead


Last week I discussed the landscaping found in Epcot. I pointed out how important this aspect of theme park design is when telling a story and creating a mood. Today I'm going to look at Disney's Hollywood Studios and discuss how plants and trees help this park become more than just a collection of rides and shops.

In reality, the Studio uses landscaping to a much lesser degree than the Magic Kingdom. This is because the Imagineers' initial plans for this park called for it to be a working film and television production center. Yes, there was Hollywood Boulevard and the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, but much of the original Studio was nothing more than soundstages. Still, landscaping played a part in this park.

The first landscaping visitors usually notice when arriving at the Studio are the many assortment of palm trees. Since the Studio is supposed to be located in Hollywood (Los Angeles), it was only natural to include this ubiquitous plant everywhere. However, the true story of palm trees and Hollywood might surprise you.


Palm Trees

Palm Trees

Palm Trees

Palm Trees


There is only one palm tree native to Southern California (Washingtonia filifera) and it grows nowhere near Los Angeles. Palm trees didn't become a part of the Southern California scene until the turn-of-the-twentieth-century gardening craze prompted home owners to plant this ornamental tree in their front yards. It wasn't until the 1930's (the same era as Disney's Hollywood Studios) that we saw municipalities begin planting palm trees in earnest. In 1931 alone, the Los Angeles Forestry Division planted more than 25,000 palm trees, many of them still swaying above the city's boulevards today.

Southern California cities planted palm trees to help promote their communities as the ideal place to live and work. Civic leaders wanted those living on the East Coast to believe that Los Angeles was a tropical paradise, even though in actuality, it was a semi-arid desert. And their efforts paid off. People believed the hype and moved to the area by the thousands.

Today, many of these palms are approaching the end of their natural life spans. Because these trees require a large amount of water that the area simply doesn't have in abundance anymore, the L.A. Department of Water and Power has said that it will not replace most palms as they die. Instead, they will look for trees better suited to the dry climate, trees that require less water and offer more shade.

Out front of the Studio is a large planter featuring topiary Sorcerer Mickey and his brooms. For many years, this topiary sat out front of the Hollywood Brown Derby. This is a good example of how the Imagineers are forever changing and moving things to keep the parks fresh and new.


Mickey Topiary

Mickey Topiary

Mickey Topiary


Sid Cahuenga's One-of-a-Kind-Shop is named after the Cahuenga Pass which is located near the Hollywood Bowl. It represents the bungalow style of residential architecture that began in the 1920's. Since this is a house rather than a commercial building, it features a garden and white picket fence that was typical of the time, including animal statuary.


Sid Cahuenga's One-of-a-Kind-Shop

Sid Cahuenga's One-of-a-Kind-Shop


More palm trees are seen lining Hollywood Boulevard. These are Mexican Fan Palms.


Mexican Fan Palms


Southern Live Oak grow like weeds in Central Florida and Disney uses them frequently. One good example can be seen shading the Director's Statue found at the end of Hollywood Boulevard.


Southern Live Oak

Director's Statue


Before the addition of Sunset Boulevard and the Sorcerer's Hat, the plaza in front of the Chinese Theater created a giant Mickey by using Echo Lake and planters strategically placed. Remnants of this Mickey still exist today, but for the most part, he has been obliterated.


Mickey From the Air


Anchoring both sides of the Chinese Theater forecourt are two very unusual planters. Beside these planters are smaller pots holding oddly pruned bushes.


Chinese Theater Planter


On Sunset Boulevard, the landscapers have place flower pots atop stone fence posts. Additional pots flank the many openings leading into Sunset Market.


Sunset Blvd Planters

Sunset Blvd Planters


Behind Catalina Eddie's we find a Victory Garden.


Catalina Eddie's

Victory Garden

Victory Garden


During World Wars I & II, Victory Gardens (also known as War Gardens) were encouraged by various governments, including the United States. Citizens were asked to plant fruits and vegetables in their backyards, apartment terraces, and rooftops. This additional produce would help lower the price of food that the U.S. War Department needed to buy to feed the troops. The money saved could then be spent elsewhere in the military. It's estimated that these gardens produced up to 40 percent of all the fruits and vegetables consumed nationally during the war. And in addition to the tangible benefits, the gardens were considered a morale booster. Since Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards at Disney's Hollywood Studios are set in the 1930's and '40's, it makes sense that you'd find a Victory Garden here.

Rock 'n' Roller Coaster is housed in a building that resembles a soundstage. To help disguise and soften this building, the Imagineers have planted more palm trees and shrubbery along the side of the structure.


Rock 'n' Roller Coaster


The Imagineers have kept the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in a state of arrested decay. In other words, the building has been neglected, but any further deterioration has not been allowed to continue. This can also be seen in the gardens that surround the hotel. The flower beds are overgrown and no longer manicured, yet they have not reached the point of total disarray.


Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror


The grounds outside the Beauty and the Beast Theater are well maintained and layered.


Beauty and the Beast Theater


Over and over again, you will see simple flower beds at the Studio. Once again, this has to do with the fact that this park was supposed to be a working movie and television center and many of the structures were uninspired. The planters help reduce the harsh exteriors.


Wall Planter

Wall Planter

Wall Planter


Over in the Echo Lake area we find the Academy of Television Arts and Science Hall of Fame display. On the wall behind the awards is a beautiful example of climbing plants being trained to grow in a design. I thought you might enjoy seeing an early picture of this pattern and then the fully grown version.


Television Arts and Science Hall of Fame

Television Arts and Science Hall of Fame


The Fifties Prime Time Café is housed in an "office building" that uses the International Style of architecture. This motif came into being during the 1920s and 1930s and represents the beginnings of modern architectural design. Being an office building, the planters and plants here reflect a business-like decorum.


Fifties Prime Time Café

Fifties Prime Time Café

Fifties Prime Time Café


Just a few yards away from the Fifties Prime Time Café we find the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular attraction. Although most of the Raiders of the Lost Ark story takes place in the mountains of Nepal and the arid desert of Egypt, many viewers associate this movie with the film's thrilling beginning which took place in the jungles of Peru. To that end, the area surrounding this stunt show are thick with tropical growth. Not only does this growth set a mood, it also provides a natural barrier between the theater and the adjacent walkway.


 Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular

 Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular


Outside the Star Tours attraction we find the home of the Ewoks. Here, the Imagineers have used real and prop trees to recreate the forest dwellings of these cute furry creatures. The Imagineers are also demonstrating that "only what the camera sees need be built." In the first picture below, the scene looks fake. But when you take the same exact photo and crop it correctly, our minds can believe these fake trees tower hundreds of feet into the air.


Star Tours

Star Tours


Across the walkway from Star Tours is a photo op where guests can pose sitting atop a sort of flying motorcycle. (Sorry Star Wars fans, I don't know the official name of this vehicle.) Once again, a distant camera shot looks fake while a cropped shot has realism. In addition, the plants give depth to the picture and help the backdrop look more real. (Okay, you have to use your imagination a little, but you get the point.)


Star Wars Photo Op

Star Wars Photo Op


The Streets of America are lined with a few trees, but for the most part, this section of the Studio is devoid of plants. One exception can be seen in front of the Plaza Hotel. Here, four potted plants add a touch of elegance to this fine establishment.


Plaza Hotel


I almost didn't mention this next attraction, but then I figured, why not.

The Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure is all about plant life. Sure it's fake, but it does immerse guests in greenery.


Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure

Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure

Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure

Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure


Another good example of how the landscapers are forever changing things can be seen with the "Splash" Fountain. Take a look at the plants that circle this water feature and how they have changed over the years.


Splash Fountain

Splash Fountain

Splash Fountain


Before Pixar Place took over much of Mickey Avenue, this thoroughfare had only a scattering of trees and bushes to soften its soundstage exteriors. Now that Toy Story Midway Mania has arrived, the walls feature brick facades and the street is lined with numerous shade trees.


Pixar Place

Pixar Place


Over at Voyage of the Little Mermaid we find a sculptured hedge separating the queue from the walkway. It's easy to miss the shapely bushes while only concentrating on the colorful fish, but without this greenery, these sea creatures would seem out of place.


Voyage of the Little Mermaid

Voyage of the Little Mermaid

Voyage of the Little Mermaid

Voyage of the Little Mermaid

Voyage of the Little Mermaid


Unremarkable greenery can also play an important role in the parks. It can hide sound speakers. Ever notice how the music just seems to be coming from nowhere? Well often it's coming from the bushes.


Hidden Speakers


Like the Magic Kingdom, the Studio uses lampposts to good advantage and we often see flowering baskets hanging from these decorative light fixtures.


Hanging Basket

Hanging Basket

Hanging Basket


I'm certain the fulltime landscapers stationed at the Studio could add volumes to what I have showcased here. But for the most part, I think I've hit the highlights. I hope you've enjoyed this green tour of this smallest of the Walt Disney World parks. I know I learned a few things while researching its plant life. Check back next week when I'll be discussing the Animal Kingdom.


The previous post in this blog was Landscaping the World - Epcot - Part Two.

The next post in this blog is Landscaping the World - Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Comments (8)

Jeff:

Jack,

Curious what time of year are you taking these pictures as the parks don't seem to be crowded? Also, the "motorcycle" is a speeder bike. I am sure many people will be telling you that...

Jack's Answer:


I almost always take my pictures immediately after a park opens. This gives me approximately 30 minutes to take people-free photos. I like my pictures to concentrate on the subject matter, not the crowds. Even on the busiest days, I can take peopleless pictures first thing in the morning.

Josh Weiss:

Hey Jack
I was surprised with the amount of landscaping that was able to be seen in Hollywood Studios. It just goes to show that I need to keep my eye out during my next trip. Can't wait for your next blog and as always keep up the great work.

Jenny Sperandeo:

Hi Jack! It seems like Hollywood Studio's landscaping is much simpler compared to the other parks. But, it works well for the setting.

I wonder if the landscaping surrounding the Voyage of the Little Mermaid attraction was used as inspiration for the Finding Nemo section of the Art of Animation Resort??? There seem to be a lot of similarities...Although, Art of Animation's landscaping is a lot more detail oriented.

Adam:

Yeesh. Is there anything more Hollywood than the idea that they moved trees there that didn't belong just so they could project an image and then spent eighty years wasting water to maintain that image?

TomH:

Jack,
So many wonderful pics in all your posts!

Have you ever considered embedding full-size, higher resolution pics -- so the viewer can click on the pic to optionally see a larger version?

Jill Hogg:

Hi Jack,

You may have answered this at one time or another, but why is Hollywood Studios no longer a working filming location as it was originally? I know many people love this park, but to me, it's a strange place with a few thrill rides, lots of shows and tons of souvenir shops. I don't much care for it, as there aren't really any mild rides. Since there is no filming to see, it sort of lost it's joie de vivre. What are your thoughts?

Jack's Answer:

Both Disney and Universal had hoped to use their theme parks as real working studios, but it didn't work out that way. One of the biggest problems was attracting movie and TV personalities to Orlando. They just didn't want to come. Why go to hot and humid, and relatively speaking, insignificant Orlando when there was work in Los Angeles, New York, and Toronto. Disney also had hoped that guests would be able to watch real shows being filmed, but the reality is that filming is very boring. It can take anywhere from 15-30 minutes to set up one shot that will last only 30 seconds. Guests on the tour regularly walked by sound stages with nothing happening.

I'm really enjoying this series! Cant wait for the next installment! Thanks for the hard work Jack!

Clare C.:

This installment was great, Jack! The story of the L.A. palm trees fascinated me and my family. Can always learn something new from reading your blog...

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 8, 2014 5:19 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Landscaping the World - Epcot - Part Two.

The next post in this blog is Landscaping the World - Disney's Animal Kingdom.

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