Disney Hodgepodge Four
Pacific Electric Pictures
Today I'm going to discuss one of the stores found on Hollywood Boulevard at Disney's Hollywood Studios, L.A. Cinema Storage. Inside this building shoppers can find children's clothing, plush toys, character hats, and princess merchandise.
As you may know, many of the buildings on both Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards were modeled after real structures found in the Los Angeles area. L.A. Cinema Storage is one of these and its inspiration can be found at 9070 Venice Boulevard, Culver City, CA.
Years before Los Angeles was famous for its freeways, it boasted the largest mass transit system in the world, the Pacific Electric Railway. LA locals affectionately called the trolleys either the P.E. or the Red Car. The system spanned southern California with over 1,100 miles of track that ran between Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, and Los Angeles Counties. The system was begun by Henry Huntington as a way of opening up new land to developers. As freeways grew in popularity during the 1950's, P.E. ridership declined. The last Red Car ran in April, 1961.
The above building in Culver City was designed in the Mission Revival style of architecture and was used as a substation for the Red Car. Inside this structure, rectifiers converted AC power into DC power to run the Pacific Electric Railway. This substation was renovated in 1992 and today is used as a theater for live performances.
The backstory for the building at Disney's Hollywood Studios also suggests that this structure was used in connection with the Pacific Electric Railway. If you look near the building's peak you can see the P.E. logo. In addition, if you examine the side of this structure (before the addition of the large awning) you can see oversized doors. These doors suggests that this building was a car barn for the Red Cars. To further this backstory, the Imagineers placed a Red Car station directly across the street.
You might also notice the address of this building 1928. This is the year Mickey Mouse made his debut in Steamboat Willie.
When the Studio first opened, this structure had a far more interesting function than "just another place to buy souvenirs." This stop along Hollywood Boulevard was called Pacific Electric Pictures. Although I have no still photos of this location, I did take a few videos using one of those gigantic on-the-shoulder cameras. What you see next are freeze-frame photos I captured from my cinematographic efforts.
A banner was draped above the doors facing Hollywood Boulevard, beckoning guests to come in for an audition and screen test.
Once inside, guests found themselves on a mini-sound stage. Several cameras and some sound equipment were positioned around the room and a number of backdrops were available. Also on hand were racks of costumes in various sizes.
Those who wandered in for a looksee were encouraged to participate, but when budding stars were scarce, cast members would recruit would-be actors from the street. Once a group was assembled, they would then be instructed how to play a particular scene by a comical director. After a short rehearsal, the scene was played out again, but this time it was videotaped. And guess what, guests could actually buy a copy of their Hollywood debut on video tape for a mere $24.95.
Researching Pacific Electric Pictures turns up almost no information. It is mentioned in the 1990 and 1991 "Steve Birmbaums' Guide to Walt Disney World," but it is not mentioned in the 1992 version. So obviously, this attraction did not garner enough attention (and money) to become a long-lived, must-do event.
A similar and also short-lived attraction could be found across the street in what is now the Keystone Building. At Sights and Sounds, guests could record their own music videos. But once again, lack of interest forced the closing of this attraction within its second year.
AMC Fork & Screen
In the late 1940's and 1950's, the owners of movie theaters were worried that the relatively new invention of television would cut into their business. They believed if folks opted to stay home and watch free TV, it would hurt profits. But for the most part, their fears were unwarranted. Going to the movies remained a special treat and people enjoyed the sound and picture quality that home entertainment could not offer.
However, things changed in the 2000's. Now it is possible to get the "theater" experience at home. Big screen high-definition televisions, surround sound, Blu-ray, Netflix, 3D, cable and satellite offer the film enthusiasts a real alternative to a night out at the movies.
To combat this new competition, theater chains have had to come up with creative ways to lure customers back into their establishments. One idea is to offer more than the traditional concession fare to their patrons. Hot dogs, nachos, and popcorn are good, but they don't really take the place of a real meal. So several theater chains have converted some of their multiplexes into combination dining room/movie houses. Now, patrons can enjoy a real meal in comfort while watching the latest blockbuster. The AMC Theater at Downtown Disney West side is one of these establishments. They call this new service Fork & Screen.
Although you can enter the Downtown Disney AMC Theater at two locations, the main entrance for Fork & Screen is located across from Planet Hollywood.
You can purchase tickets at the theater, but I suggest buying them online for the best seat selection. Once you pay for your admission, a chart will appear that allows you to select the seats you want.
The theaters have two seating configurations, 4-4-4 and 2-4-2. Since the theater is relatively small, all of the seats are good. However, I would avoid the seats against the wall in the 4-4-4 configuration.
(Charts not to scale.)
The system does have intelligence built into it. For example, a party of two cannot pick the two middle seats in a row of four, leaving a single seat on either side. The system does this to avoid "stray" seats. However, this isn't a problem. The seats are so large and roomy that it really isn't an annoyance to have someone sitting next to you.
When you arrive at the theater, you present the box office personnel with the credit card you used to pay with online. You will then be given your tickets with your seat numbers printed on them.
The theater opens 30 minutes before the stated show time (when previews begin). Although you can arrive one minute before the movie, I would suggest at least 20 minutes before the previews start. This gives you time to get settled and read the menu with overhead lights. Shortly after getting seated, your waiter will arrive and take your drink order. When he returns, it's hoped that you'll be ready to place your meal order. Note, the food is charged separately from your admission ticket. About halfway through the movie, your waiter will bring you the bill. In addition, each set of seats has a "call button" to summon your waiter if you need refills, extra catsup, or whatever.
Here are a few pictures of the seats and tables.
For those of you who have eaten at the Sci Fi Dine In at Disney's Hollywood Studios, you might notice a similarity in table/chair configuration. However, at the Fork & Screen, the table is significantly further away from your chair - especially if you lean back. Because of this, most meals are served in large, square bowls. This allows you to lean back, hold the bowl in your lap, and forgo the table. If you opt for this style of eating, I have two suggestions. First, order finger food. It's easier to eat. For instance, their juicy hamburgers are good, but they are also messy. And with the overhead lights out, navigating a burger in the dark can be difficult. Second, tuck the provided cloth napkin into your shirt.
There is no minimum order. And in addition to full meals and desserts, your waiter can also bring you traditional snacks from the concession stand and cocktails from the bar.
The price of a seat is more at Fork and Screen than at the traditional theaters next door, but it's worth it. They're very comfortable and roomy. I don't even mind a stranger sitting directly next to me here as the seats are so big.
Fork & Screen is available to those 18 and over. Children must be accompanied by an adult.
Mickey Transmission Tower
I'm sure many of you have viewed pictures of this Disney World oddity, but I'm guessing that most of you have never seen it in person - a high voltage transmission tower in the shape of Mickey Mouse. Located in Celebration just off of Interstate 4, this tower receives power from an adjacent substation.
I really can't tell you much about this tower other than it exists. After scouring the internet, I came up with nothing I could substantiate. One excerpt I found says the creation of this icon was a collaboration between Tampa Electric and Reedy Creek. Another says that the same company that created this tower also made the Olympic Rings for the Atlanta Olympics. I also read that normally a "Y" tower is called for in situations like this but the designers were able to use Mickey to get the job done. (I don't even know what a "Y" tower is.) I also read the tower is 80 feet tall. However, I can't corroborate any of this. So this Hodgepodge entry is here only to tell you a Mickey Mouse transmission tower exists. Shocking!
That's it for this week. Check back next Monday when I revisit Coronado Springs.