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Friday, May 22, 2015

The Story of DISNEYLAND: A Home Away From Home

With DISNEYLAND's construction humming along, Walt Disney began dealing with some pressing problems that needed resolution. The biggest problem was dealing with the millions of tourists who Walt knew would find their way to his Magic Kingdom.

Walt had already carved out a spot for a hotel; it would be located across what was then called West Street, strategically placed by DISNEYLAND's parking lot exit. Weary guests leaving after a day of fun would have no choice but to see it. Unfortunately, every nickel Walt could scrape up was going into DISNEYLAND the park leaving little left for DISNEYLAND the hotel. As a small town of 2000 citizens, Anaheim had no facilities to deal with an onslaught of millions of guests. Where would these people stay?

Mr. Disney knew that he would have to get someone else to finance a hotel and he was willing to offer both a prime location and the DISNEYLAND name to the lucky investor. The trouble was, nobody outside of Walt Disney Productions really believed in DISNEYLAND at the time. All of the big names in hotels- Hilton, Hyatt, etc. and all of the wealthy celebrities Walt knew- Bob Hope, Art Linkletter, etc. turned him down flat. Anaheim was not on any tourist's list at the time- it was too far from the beach and not close to downtown Los Angeles or Hollywood. If DISNEYAND failed, so would any associated hotel. Walt was rejected at every turn, a situation that everyone would eventually regret. (Bob Hope would tell jokes about how stupid he was for not taking Walt's advice and buying land in Anaheim.)

Enter Jack Wrather. Mr. Wrather was a television producer who fancied himself a savvy businessman. He invested in toy companies, radio stations and anything else that caught his eye. When Walt came calling, he was very interested in helping out. Armed with a 99 year lease and a contract for exclusive use of the Disney name on hotels throughout Southern California, Jack Wrather would ensure that at least one hotel would be open near DISNEYLAND.

Unfortunately, the agreement came too late for construction to begin in time for the hotel to be open by the park's grand opening. However, both Jack and his wife Bonita were optimistic about the prospects of their new hotel being built next door to their friend's Magic Kingdom.

The hotel missed DISNEYLAND's colossal first summer, but both Jack and Bonita were allowed to mention their hotel on the DISNEYLAND Grand Opening Television special seen by most everyone in the United States who had a television at the time- an amazing opportunity.

The hotel finally hosted its first guests on October 5, 1955. The hotel became just as successful as the magical park across the street and quickly grew into an attraction of its own. The spectacular "happiest hotel on earth" has been joined by two other Disney properties in Anaheim, but it still retains its 1950's style charm, still hosting thousands of guests every year.