Big dreams and miniature trains— The Disneyland Story

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Daniel Adams
Culture Writer

What is, or was, your biggest seemingly unattainable dream? C’mon. What was it? Everyone has a dream at one point or another in their lives. As a child, did you dream of one day driving the city fire engine, honking its air horn and spinning those red and white lights and stopping traffic? Or, did you dream of stepping off rockets in oversized boots on moon landings or perhaps one day building your own empire? Those who are lucky enough to see their dreams fulfilled become legends in their own time. Walt Disney was one such legend, a man of ideas and imagination and an unwavering drive unsurpassed in his time.
The Disneyland Story by Sam Gennawey and published by Keen Communications may be titled “The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream,” but please don’t let the word “unofficial” deter you from reading one of the most fascinating and exhaustively researched books on Walt Disney and his creations available. Admittedly, the very best part about The Disneyland Story is that it is filled, filled, FILLED with quotations by Walt Disney and those individuals who surrounded him before, during and after Disneyland became a reality. And, for you detail lovers out there, every single quote in the book has been cited to provide that extra detail that I, myself, cannot resist.
As Gennawey explains, Disneyland would not have been built at all if it weren’t for Walt Disney’s drive and passion for creating an amusement park where not only the children would have a wonderful time, but their parents would enjoy the experience just as much. “Frequently, Walt and [his two daughters] would visit nearby Griffith Park. ‘I’d take them to the merry-go-round, sit on a bench, you know, eating peanuts. I felt there should be something built where the parents and the children could have fun together.” But where was a man to get the kind of money that it would take to build such a dream? Walt Disney was just starting out his success story with his wonderful cartoon work and animations.
As explained in The Disneyland Story, in 1937, with the success of his movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney took 3 million dollars of the film’s profits in order to buy the property in Burbank where Disney Studios sits today. After the creation of his studio, however, Walt’s time became spent on other things, and, over the years that included World War II, and MGM Studios and Warner Brothers studios taking away some of the animation movie profits with their own hits.
But Walt Disney never forgot, or gave up on, his dream. Some of you may not know that originally Walt intended to build his amusement park in a corner of the Disney Studio lot. The City of Burbank, however, had other thoughts on the subject. Sam Gennawey writes “In September 1952, the Burbank city council rejected Walt’s amusement park project. One Lawmaker proclaimed, ‘We don’t want the carny atmosphere in Burbank! We don’t want people falling in the river, or merry-go-rounds squawking all day long.’ At this point, Burbank’s approval didn’t matter to Walt. His ideas were getting bigger, and he started to consider other properties. He would not be deterred.” I have to wonder how many City of Burbank council members were fired once Disneyland broke ground (in Anaheim of course) and started to thrive.
The Disneyland Story provides wonderful detail and stories to the reader regarding Walt Disney’s methods, thoughts, feelings, and disappointments in bringing his dream to life. The book not only goes into details of the creation of the Magic Kingdom, but also tells of the stories behind each ride from the 999 happy haunts in the Haunted Mansion, to those darn tootin’ singing bears from Country Bear Jamboree, which debuted in the park in 1971, and onward to the creation of the full Disneyland Resort in 1996, and beyond.
When it comes to fulfilling one’s dreams, Walt Disney certainly succeeded to the delight of everyone who has had the good fortune to visit the results of his hard work and imagination. He built an empire, complete with his own fire engines, life-sized miniature trains, and a group of world-beloved talking animals that still thrives long after Walt Disney himself left us for a better place. That empire had only just begun with Disneyland, and there is no doubt for anyone who enters its gates, it remains even today one of the most magical places on Earth.
As stated, The Disneyland Story must have been an exhaustive work to research and create in its own right on the part of Sam Gennawey, and his work pays off as it doesn’t disappoint. I recommend this read to all fans of Walt Disney and of Disneyland. This should truly be an addition to your own collection at home on your bookshelf. I have mine. Where’s yours?