BACKSTORY (June 16, 1957—Fall 1961): Holidayland was a 9 acre picnic area located along the western edge of the park, near the area that is now New Orleans Square; often referred to as the “lost” land of Disneyland. Holidayland had its own admission gate and could hold up to 7,000 guests. Catering to corporations, unions, and big companies, it had playground equipment (themed, of course: Monkey Bars in the shape of a Castle or a Contestoga Wagon), a softball/baseball field, row after row of picnic tables playgrounds, horseshoes, volleyball, “the world's largest candy-striped circus tent” with a a stage for presentations, and other activities. It also had food and concession stands, which included the sale of Beer. Meals were catered by the Red Wagon Inn, although you could bring your own food into the area as well. Admission into Holidayland DIDN’T include admission into Disneyland. This changed when sales began to sag (disappointed guests would either leave or just not come once it was discovered that Disneyland admission was extra); groups were able to add admission into Disneyland as an option when purchasing tickets to Holidayland. An additional entrance into Disneyland was created that actually crossed over the tracks of the DLRR in Frontierland. The sale of beer to those who bought tickets into Disneyland was quickly curtailed once the drunks proved that wasn’t a good option! It closed in 1961 due to its lack of shade, nighttime lighting, restrooms (which became a problem with the amount of beer consumed!), and alleged lack of Disney “flavor.” According to Milt Albright, Holidayland's manager, “It wasn’t any one thing that killed Holidayland. It was just the combined effect of a whole lot of things.” Today, Holidayland is a parking lot for employees. The Haunted Mansion stands where the circus tent used to be and Pirates of the Caribbean takes up the baseball field.
John Waite, Disneyland Resort Alumni, recently contacted me and was kind enough to share his memories of Holidayland. John came to California in October 1955 and worked at the Disney Studio from Jan 1956 until Van France got him a job working for Milt Albright at the opening of Holidayland. Here is his story:
Once upon a time just west of Frontierland there was an area called “HOLIDAYLAND.” “HOLIDAY-what?”, you ask. That’s right it was called HOLIDAYLAND, and it was located on 6-1/2 acres of what was then a portion of the parking lot just outside the berm adjacent to Frontierland.
According to an article in the May 1957 Disneylander from Earl Archer’s incredible collection, the HOLIDAYLAND Picnic Committee included some familiar names of that period of park history: Bill Stewart, Van France, Howie Vineyard, Cap Blackburn, Bob Carbonnel, Tommy Scheid, Bob Reilly, Barbara Bray, Marty Sklar, Jack Sayers, Dick Stovall, Tommy Walker, Ray Webster, Earl Shelton, and Larry Tryon.
This new addition offered large organizations a place in which to hold meetings and picnics and was readily accessible to Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The area included a softball diamond and bleachers, picnic areas, bandstand and stage, refreshment stand, game areas, and the “World’s Largest Candy Striped Tent.” The 19,700 square foot tent had been used for the Mickey Mouse Circus and could seat 4000 people at one time.
All catering for the area was handled by the Red Wagon Company located in the Red Wagon Inn (now the Plaza Inn). As manager Myrt Westering said “the hot dogs will be HOT and the cold drinks will be COLD.” An old catering menu listed some interesting prices: Chuck Wagon Barbeque included barbequed ham and beef, baked beans, 3 salads, rolls and butter, beverage, and pie-a-la-mode at a cost of $1.75 plus tax per person for up to 1000 people. A further look revealed that the Disneyland 15-Ride Coupon Book including admission sold for $3.60 to HOLIDAYLAND guests and $4.00 to the general public.
Picnic guests could purchase Disneyland ticket books in the area and enter the Magic Kingdom via a road that cut through the berm, crossed the railroad track, and ended near the Chicken Plantation Restaurant. Do you remember that one?
Milt Albright who had been with both the Studio and Disneyland for some time was appointed manager of HOLIDAYLAND. I had been working at the Walt Disney Studio in Burbank at the time and wanted to become involved with Disneyland. Van France, Founder and Professor Emeritus of the University of Disneyland, (see his window just south of the Main Street Cinema), regularly popped into the Publicity Department. He told me of this new venture and so in May 1957 I joined Milt, Cap Blackburn, and others as a Picnic Specialist.
My first assignment was to organize and coordinate the first event in HOLIDAYLAND—the Los Angeles Elk’s Lodge #99 Picnic on Sunday, June 16, 1957 for 5000 members and their families.
The exciting day arrived and included children’s games, a softball game, free popcorn and coffee. My notes show that at 11 a.m. the Indian Village dancers performed and mingled with the picnickers. The Elks “99” band then circled the area and played a concert on the stage. At 1:15 p.m. the Disneyland band marched into HOLIDAYLAND and entertained with a concert that lasted until the show started at 2 p.m. The show included a 30 minute segment by the famous Mouseketeers. Then at 3:15 p.m. Exalted Ruler, Joe Houser officially opened the gates to the Magic Kingdom. The entire event went very well thanks to the hard work and cooperation of many Disneyland departments.
More special events were to follow, but HOLIDAYLAND was not destined to be around very long. Walt Disney and his “Imagineers” had many fantastic ideas that would soon occupy the area called HOLIDAYLAND.
Today, companies can organize a mix-in or even reserve all or part of the Magic Kingdom for their special parties. As for me—I became a “Jungle Bunny’—but that’s another story.