BACKSTORY (1955—Present): The Opera House was an integral part to many Main Streets back in the day. All of the gas lamp posts on Main Street are original turn-of-the century fixtures that were bought for the park. Even the posts that hold up the awning for the Opera House originated as street lamps; the 2 middle posts had their lights removed in 1973 for the addition of the “Walt Disney Story” sign.
From December 1961 through September 1963, The Opera House opened up to guests with a display of the actual movie sets from the popular 1961 Disney musical, “Babes in Toyland,” starring Annette Funicello. The sets on display included Mother Goose Square, The Toy Factory, and Forest of No Return. From 1963–1964, The Opera House served as the “Mickey Mouse Club Headquarters.” Young guests could sign-up and receive an official membership card.
“Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” was created by Walt Disney and his Imagineers for the State of Illinois Pavilion at the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair and featured the world's first fully animated human Audio-Animatronics figure. Kevin Kidney gave me this great tidbit: “The internal plans for Mr. Lincoln’s animatronics were drafted by Bob Gurr. He has an original blueprint, and the Disney Family Museum had a copy made. One doesn't immediately think of Bob when it comes to Mr. Lincoln (since his vehicles usually get the spotlight) but Bob designed most of the original Lincoln figure ‘workings.’” The show made its Disneyland debut in the Main Street Opera House on July 18, 1965. It featured an incredibly life-like Audio-Animatronic recreation of President Lincoln that recited the Gettysburg Address to amazed guests.
Next door to the Opera House is the Disney Gallery.
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When I was doing some retouching on the January 3, 1960 photo at left of Vesey Walker conducting the Disneyland Band in front of the Opera House, I noticed a sign for Zweers' Puppets. One of my knowledgeable readers gave me this bit of background info on John Zweers, the puppeteer that put on shows here:
John Zweers was a puppeteer from Pasadena who built a collection of puppets from all over the world. Here's some edited information from his online eulogy, January 23, 2004:
John Zweers was born in Chicago on Feb. 17, 1927. He attended John Muir College and the University of Southern California, beginning his career at Muir High School in the late 1950s. He taught history at the school until his retirement in 1991. At Muir, he inspired generations of students with his no-nonsense classroom discipline and mastery of the whimsical arts of magic and puppetry.
John's credits in the world of entertainment were impressive. He learned stagecraft and was a directing major at the prestigious Pasadena Playhouse, which in its heyday was the launching site for many respected actors and actresses. In the world of magic and illusion, John grew up under the guidance of the legendary William Larsen, Sr. and the master craftsman Floyd G. Thayer. His boyhood friends were Bill and Milt Larsen, the brothers who founded the Magic Castle in Hollywood and helped raise magic to a respectable and incredibly popular art worldwide. He had a great love for the Society of American Magicians and its wholesome tenets as a society dedicated to magic as entertainment, with added purpose to debunk and expose the charlatans of the supernatural who prey upon unsuspecting victims. John was also a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians Ring 96 and president of the Society of American Magicians, a national organization, from 1966-67. He recruited Muir colleagues to perform in magic shows around Southern California.
Zweers was also past national president of the puppeteers of America. He built an awe inspiring collection of puppets from all over the world which filled his house in Pasadena, and he had studied and performed the famous Japanese puppet genre called Bunraku.
For the 50th Anniversary of Disneyland, a Z-Scale Model was constructed of the park as it looked on opening day, and placed inside the Opera House.