Disney Over the Decades
A Philadelphia Cowboy in Disneyland in 1957
It was the summer of 1957, and after ROTC camp at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, a few of us headed for our first trip to California. One of the guys had Los Angeles relatives who would put us up. One of the first things we did was visit Disneyland, the new theme park everybody was raving about. It was mid-August. We met some girls who worked there who told us all the local guys were quitting to return to school and we could probably get jobs. We did. A young fellow named Ron Dominguez, whose family owned the land where Disneyland was built and went on to become a top Disney exec., hired us when we promised to stay until Sept. 15. We did not need to be back at La Salle in Philadelphia until the 20th.
Those six weeks were great fun. Romeo (his real name and he lived up to it) had the best job: A speaking part on the Mark Twain river boat. Mitch and I became cowboys, loading the stage coach and mule train in Frontierland. When not working, we roamed the park, which was an endless delight, and dated some very pretty co-workers. Walt Disney’s face was not well known at the time, but he was all over the park noticing every detail, including the fact that one of the workers on the mule train ride was not ripping up the tickets when he boarded the young riders. There was also some drama in September when the ponies pulling the stagecoach got spooked, bolted out of control, and turned the coach over sending dirt covered riders sprawling all over the trail. Fortunately, the worst injury was a broken arm, but that was the end of live rides at the park.
It was only the second year of Disneyland, and it was about the only thing in Anaheim. The Snow White castle was a landmark in the area. The early morning drive from Monrovia, east of L.A. where we stayed, was 34 miles to the park along empty roads much of the way with the softly purple San Garbriel mountains on the left. There were several housing developments near the park and only a few attractions, such as Knott’s Berry Farm. Disneyland was responsible for most of the traffic which was generally light.
I did not get back to California for five years and was amazed at the changes around Disneyland. There were all kinds of development, a lot of it down scale, and the roads were busy. The fast drive from Monrovia was now interrupted by stop lights. The changes were depressing, but not as depressing as several trips over the years when development, including high-rise buildings, hemmed in Disneyland. On the last trip, about 10 years ago, I could barely find the park even when a few blocks away. The landmark castle could not be spotted until you were almost on top of it. The ambiance of 1957 was long gone.
It was obvious by then why planning for Disney World involved a huge parcel of land so the company could prevent the mistake in California: Development crushing the Magic Kingdom. That reality was widely known at the time. The special taxing district given to Disney World made complete sense. Disney paid for the roads and infrastructure at Disney World and had room to expand over the last four decades. Repealing that special status, and the tremendous problems it will cause if actually effected (which I strongly doubt), shows the ignorance of the DeSantis Republican toads now governing our state.
It is especially disturbing that Ron DeSantis made the move because he objected to the Disney people making a comment on a cultural matter—an example of his Trumpian tendency to punish those who cross him. The Republican support reflects a national trend of many of its elected officials embracing power over principle.
It makes one wonder what happened to Republicans such as E. Clay Shaw, Joel Gustafson and Jeb Bush.