Tourists from around the world have always flocked to Southern California due to its famous beaches, near perfect weather and the allure of Hollywood. In the early fifties, however, if you drove 30 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, you'd see nothing but open fields full of orange groves, berry patches and other assorted farms. Oranges were the king crop, as reflected in the name of the county- Orange.
Far from the glitz and excitement of Los Angeles, however, the county was not a major stop for tourists. A roadside attraction called Knott's Berry Place was the biggest draw, known far and wide for its delicious fried chicken dinners and luscious berries, grown right there on the farm. As for the sleepy town of Anaheim, there was little to say about it. In 1954 only 2000 people lived there, though it was looking to grow its economy. That's when the world famous filmmaker Walt Disney arrived, looking to locate his Magic Kingdom in this humble town. In retrospect, it seems like it should be an easy decision to say yes to an economic dynamo. But this was a different time. Nobody knew anything about this 'themed park' and some thought it would be like a permanent carnival, full of rusty rides and carnies. Is that what the citizens wanted in their city?
Walt Disney eventually convinced them that DISNEYLAND would be a treasure, not a shiftless enterprise. He anticipated that the world would beat a path to DISNEYLAND and make Anaheim a must visit destination for Southern California tourists. While the original attendance and revenue projections assumed that DISNEYLAND would pull in its share of tourists from the people already visiting the area, Mr. Disney was certain that the park would be a draw of its own, bringing in tourists who only ventured to Southern California for DISNEYLAND. He quickly convinced city officials to approve this 'Magic Kingdom.'
With that step out of the way, Walt soon began the permitting process. However, this project soon overwhelmed Anaheim's small staff. How do you inspect a man made river for safety? Should a mountain be considered a building? What about these small scaled structures Walt wanted to build? Getting assistance from Orange County, the city quickly made up the rules as they went along. Nothing of this size and purpose had ever been attempted anywhere, much less on the outskirts of a small town. Amusingly, there would be more people in DISNEYLAND on most any day than lived in the entire town.
With the details ironed out, construction began on July 16, 1954 with the expectation that this massive city in a city would open in less than 12 months. The city began touting itself in the press, placing ads calling Anaheim a city on the move that would be getting a place like none other.
Soon the world would be coming to Anaheim and the city wanted to be ready. As it turned out, they weren't exactly up to the challenge, but that's a story for another time. At this point, the clock was ticking. Walt Disney had rivers to build, rockets to launch and a castle to construct.