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Friday, May 15, 2015

The Story of DISNEYLAND: Mr. Disney's Wild Ride

The construction of DISNEYLAND was a frantic affair. The park started construction on July 16, 1954 and it had to be open by the summer of 1955. Walt Disney and DISNEYLAND, Inc had taken out huge loans that had to be paid back quickly. Mr. Disney needed someone who could push the project forward- someone who could turn 160 acres of orange groves into a Magic Kingdom.

Mr. Disney found that person building subdivisions in Northern California- Admiral Joe Fowler. Admiral Fowler was a veteran of both World War I and World War II. He was originally hired to supervise construction of the Mark Twain riverboat because of his experience in ship building. Walt quickly decided that he needed Fowler's skills to manage the entire project so he hired him as construction manager of DISNEYLAND.

Numerous problems sprang up almost immediately. For example, trees were marked with different colored ribbons to designate whether the tree should stay, whether it should go or whether it should be moved. As luck would have it, the bulldozer operator was color blind.

Another problem presented itself after the Rivers of America had been carved out. The construction crew cheered as they began filling it with water, only to look on in shock as the water was quickly absorbed by the sandy soil. Eventually clay was used to prevent the water from seeping into the dirt.

Another problem occurred due to a disagreement between Walt and Admiral Fowler. Fowler insisted that Frontierland needed a dry dock to facilitate the refurbishment of the Mark Twain. Walt resisted it, but eventually gave in. The dry dock still exists right across from the Haunted Mansion, still carrying the name Walt gave it- Fowler's Harbor.

Another problem that appeared out of nowhere was "Holiday Hill". Walt had asked the construction crews to not put the dirt being moved around the site in the same place. Of course, they did exactly that, angering Walt Disney in the process. The staff started calling it "Holiday Hill" and landscaped it.

Walt eventually learned to appreciate this errant hill. In fact, he built the Matterhorn right on top of it.

As opening day moved closer, DISNEYLAND was attracting a lot of attention. DISNEYLAND Press Relations was fielding hundreds of calls from the media and decided to  take advantage of the interest by drafting the biggest star at Walt Disney Productions to give a tour of the construction. Davy Crockett himself gave tours to interested members of the media to show off this future Magic Kingdom. They saw that this was no carnival; no kiddyland. DISNEYLAND was like nothing else in the world.