BACKSTORY: The Orange County Register featured an article that showed the design & architectural inspirations for many of the buildings found here:
By LISA LIDDANE / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
It's all about the story. And this one does begin with "once upon a time."
Whenever Walt Disney Imagineers are tasked with envisioning a concept for a theme park feature, in this case, a complete revamp of Sunshine Plaza at Disney California Adventure, they always need a story that serves as the foundation upon which they build creative ideas.
As it turns out, the inspiration for the fictional story they began six years ago to replace that of California Adventure's Sunshine Plaza was no other than the man without whom there probably would be no such thing as Imagineers: Walt Disney.
More specifically, Disney in Los Angeles County from 1923 to 1937.
"There are some people who don't know that there was a real Walt Disney," said Lisa Girolami, director and senior show producer for Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI). This was an opportunity to get them acquainted with him and at the same time, provide nostalgia for Disney's fans.
The concept that the team came up with was Buena Vista Street, named after the road in Burbank to which Disney moved the The Walt Disney Company in 1937. They paid homage not just to Disney's first 14 years in Southern California, but also to the vanishing, if not lost, architecture in L.A. County.
In designing the street and the plazas on each end, the Imagineers thought about "what Walt might have seen" of the buildings and streets during the 1920s and 1930s, said Coulter Winn, principal concept architect at WDI.
To look for design inspiration, the team not only pored over countless archival photographs of buildings from libraries and private collections but also drove around L.A. County looking for historical buildings from that period that were still standing. They visited Atwater Village, Silver Lake, Pasadena, downtown Los Angeles, Westwood, and Wilshire Boulevard.
Because the Imagineers were designing for a Disney theme park and not for a preservation or restoration project, the façades of Buena Vista Street are not replicas. They're reinterpretations inspired by real buildings that existed in Los Angeles, rather than faithful representations, Winn said. Various architectural styles, from Art Deco to Streamline Moderne to Craftsman are mixed liberally from one façade and interior space to the next.
Colors inspired by the period were used in all the buildings but have been intensified and romanticized for the theme park experience, Winn said. What's more, some architectural features such as friezes that might have been made of concrete in the '20s and '30s have been rendered in lighter and more versatile materials such as Fiberglass. Real wood dining tables with handcrafted marquetry would be too costly and would quickly look worn out from the normal wear and tear of lunch and dinner service seven days a week, so it made much more sense to go with wood veneers with faux marquetry.
Yet, there are some elements for which only the real thing will do, including wrought iron work on the balconies and authentic copper pipes that will eventually acquire a verdigris patina over time.
Here are the highlights and details in a design-themed tour of Buena Vista Street:
A retro entrance: The first thing visitors will see before entering the theme park is the aquamarine-hued Streamline Moderne entrance with turnstiles below and towers and flagpoles on top, all based on the Pan Pacific Auditorium in the Fairfax District that opened in 1935 and was designed by the architectural firm of Walter Wurdeman, Welton Becket and Charles Plummer. Becket became friends with Disney and designed several resorts in Walt Disney World Resort.
It's the second time that the Pan Pacific has inspired a Disney theme park structure. The entrance to Disney's Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World Resort also looks like the progeny of the Pan Pacific.
Trolley stop: Just inside the turnstiles is Buena Vista Plaza. On the West block or the right side, there's a big tree with several benches around it, a nod to public seating and trees that provided canopy-like shade in the town squares and circles of yesteryear, Winn said. It's a place where visitors can stop to regroup and get organized for their visit or grab a ride on a battery-powered red trolley. On the ground in the center of the plaza, there's the Storytellers statue, which depicts a 20-something Disney and an early version of Mickey. It's a counterpoint to Partners statue at Disneyland Park, which shows a mature Disney and Mickey on a pedestal.
Sundries, snacks and souvenir shops: Behind the tree and trolley car stop is Mortimer's Market, a store that carries fresh fruit, bottled water, juices and soda. The origin of the name? Before Mickey was Mickey, Disney called him Mortimer. If you look closely at the gray, intricately detailed, bas-relief panels on the second story of the building, you might spot two mice, Winn said.
On the left side of Buena Vista Plaza – the east block – there's Oswald's, a mostly yellow and brick red gas station-inspired shop with a 1937 two-tone Packard in butter and chocolate parked in front. It will feature road trip-inspired essentials, such as autograph books, hats, bags, antenna toppers, key chains and travel mugs.
The store is designed to be a stop for those items that people might forget to bring to the park, such as sunscreen or a hat, Winn said. But it's also likely to tempt visitors on their way out of the park to swing by for one last souvenir. Like all of the stores and restaurants on the street, Oswald's was named meaningfully, after the black and white Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, which was among the first animated toons that Disney created in the late 1920s.
Adjacent to Oswald's is the guest relations office – the equivalent of the street's chamber of commerce - followed by Los Feliz Five and Dime, a shop modeled after the mom-and-pop stores that sold items for five, 10 and 25 cents. The Los Feliz district is where Disney built his first estate in 1932. Both the guest relations office and Los Feliz Five and Dime are adorned with Spanish Revival-style tiles that had their heyday in L.A. in the 1920s and two niches filled with richly colored mosaic tiles that form detailed scenes of the California coast and landscape. Inside, Los Feliz Five and Dime features warm wood panels and display shelves.
Toys and games: Next door, the interiors of Big Top Toys are rendered in bright, happy colors with a circus theme, specifically, the circus in "Dumbo," the animated film released in 1941 and the music of which is used as background in the store. This shop carries children's toys, games and plush inspired by Disney characters such as Tinker Bell, Disney Princesses, Phineas & Ferb and Duffy the Bear. Make sure to check out the ornate pendant lights above the cashiers' station.
Outside, there are a few doors to nowhere and are purely decorative, but add to the illusion of a street that has houses and small businesses, Winn said. One door near Big Top Toys looks like it opens to a set of residences, with a set of faux mailboxes on one wall.
A bridge to the past: Overhead, the former Golden Gate Bridge elevated track through which the monorail passes has been replaced by the Hyperion Bridge, which was inspired by an official Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. The Glendale-Hyperion Bridge/Viaduct, which is still standing, has several segments, one of which connected two districts that were significant in Disney's life – Atwater Village, which Disney frequented, particularly its Tam O'Shanter Inn, and Silver Lake, where Disney built his Hyperion Avenue studio.
The monorail track has one arch underneath, while on top, there's a pillar on each of the four corners. Its design culls from the simpler and more understated sections of the historical landmark designed by engineer Merrill Butler. The bridge bisects the north and south sides of Buena Vista Street.
The department store: Past the bridge on the east block is Elias & Co., the most elegant of all the stores on the street. The Art Déco-themed exterior and interiors were inspired by department stores such as Bullocks Wilshire on Wilshire Boulevard in the Miracle Mile district. Elias & Co. takes up several facades and has four distinct areas that will carry sepia-toned items inspired by the Storytellers Statue, a vintage collection of Walt Disney merchandise, leather jackets, artwork, retro-style attraction posters, jewelry and executive-style accessories.
"The main space, inspired by some of the older department stores along L.A.'s Wilshire Boulevard, will make a grand statement with lots of stone – especially lighter-toned, pinkish-hued marble," according to Lynne Itamura, senior principal interior designer at Walt Disney Imagineering, in a Disney report. Some walls are adorned with wall covering with a texture of a billion miniscule clear pearls, giving the room a luxurious patina. There are mannequins with retro-looking makeup modeling the clothes. Everywhere you look, there are expensive-looking period chandeliers, sconces and pendant lights.
Elias is Disney's middle name, the first name of his Canadian-born father and the name of a childhood friend of Disney, Elias Walter Parr.
Across from Elias & Co. is a collection of several small shops, including Julius Katz & Sons, Atwater Ink & Paint, Kingswell Camera Shop, and Trolley Treats.
Small shops: Atwater Ink & Paint is a Hollywood-style shop for coffee, tea and treats. It is named after one of Disney's old haunts, Atwater Village, while Ink & Paint refers to the hand-drawn and hand-painted work on animation cels. Disney's wife, Lillian, worked as an ink-and-paint artist.
Kingswell gets its moniker from the avenue where Disney first lived when he moved to Los Angeles, the same street where he and his brother, Roy Disney, opened the Disney Bros. Studio. The store is the park's headquarters for PhotoPass and sells memory cards, cameras, film, batteries, frames and photo albums.
Julius Katz & Sons specializes in seasonal merchandise and home décor and kitchen and dining items, such as gadgets, dinnerware, hand towels and aprons. The name comes from Julius the Cat, an animated feline who interacted with the live-action Alice in "Alice in Cartoonland" silent shorts of the 1920s.
Food and drink stops: As the name implies, Trolley Treats is all about the sweet stuff from the Disney candy kitchen: hand-pulled taffy, gourmet marshmallows, caramel apples, toffee, dipped strawberries, among others, including some made on the spot by candy makers. Don't miss the window display featuring a 5-foot-tall, 5-foot-wide model of Rock Candy Mountain, an attraction designed in 1957 for Fantasyland in Disneyland Park but was never constructed. Had it been built, it would have been Disneyland's first mountain.
Around the corner from Trolley Treats are two casual restaurants that have a Carthay Circle address and a much less formal-looking architectural style. Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Café features brick on the outside and Craftsman-inspired interiors accented with stained glass. The diner-style, quick-service eatery serves soups, salads, sandwiches, and beverages such as Starbucks coffee – a first for the Disneyland Resort theme parks. The café is named after the Three Little Pigs in the Silly Symphonies cartoon.
The soda fountain and ice cream shop, Clarabelle's Hand-Scooped Ice Cream, takes its name after another Disney farm animal, Clarabelle Cow, a friend of Mickey Mouse. Keep an eye out for the Spanish Revival tiles on the walls, the colors of which were inspired by retro-candies called Necco Wafers, Winn said, as well as the lavish and colorful glass and iron chandeliers.
A grand restaurant: In the same way that Main Street leads to Sleeping Beauty's Castle in Disneyland Park, Buena Vista Street leads to Carthay Circle Theatre, an elegant two-story upscale restaurant and lounge decorated in Old World style, replete with dark woods, heavy drapes and antique-looking reproduction furniture. Like the Hyperion Bridge, it's based on a real structure – a building called Carthay Circle Theatre, which was the site of the 1937 premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Unlike the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge, however, the glamorous Spanish Revival-style theater on San Vicente Boulevard in the Carthay residential district was demolished in 1969.
This is the second version of Carthay Circle Theatre for WDI – the first one is a store at Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort. Both interpretations are smaller than the historical original. At Disney California Adventure, the building has one section on the first floor reserved for the exclusive Club 1901 VIP lounge, to which some of Disneyland's Club 33 members have access. Outside, there are two more niches featuring Spanish Revival tile murals each of which depict a dancer.
The end: There's a fountain in the middle of Carthay Circle that is an amalgam of the design of L.A. Department of Water and Power fountains. Roads to other lands emanate from that circle, with Buena Vista Street as the main artery.
Beyond honoring Disney's beginnings in Los Angeles and the architecture of an era, there was something else Winn, Girolami and the WDI team wanted to convey to visitors as they walked from one end of Buena Vista Street to the other. Winn called it "a sense of optimism, adventure and opportunity," the kind that they imagined Disney, like countless people who moved to California from another state or another country, might have felt upon setting foot here.