When developing Buena Vista Street as the new entrance to Disney California Adventure, Walt Disney Imagineers carefully considered how to reintroduce the park in a similar to manner as how Main Street USA serves as the gateway to the themed lands of Disneyland. The goal was never to duplicate Main Street but instead to create a new area with the same purpose, inspired by an entirely different part of Walt Disney’s life.
I recently sat down inside the park’s new Carthay Circle Restaurant with the men and women behind the creation Buena Vista Street. They’re a group of Imagineers and creative professionals responsible for the development and design of every detail that now graces the new entrance to Disney California Adventure, having worked tirelessly on the project for the past five years. With its completion, they shared stories of what inspired them to reach back to Walt Disney’s past and take a few cues from the park that started it all, Disneyland.
Bob Weis, executive vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering emphasizes the desire for guests to feel a bond with a park that formerly didn’t reach visitors on the same level that Disneyland has for years. “We wanted more emotional connection to the park,” said Weis. “Because what people get from Disneyland is they’d like to be there – they just want to be there – and we wanted to have a lot more of that.”
Tom Fitzgerald, senior creative executive of Walt Disney Imagineering, has been an Imagineer for 33 years, watching the parks grow and change shape, including the initial creation of Disney California Adventure. The approach to redesigning the entrance of an existing theme park was a unique challenge for him and his team. “When we actually started on Buena Vista Street, we really were looking at Disneyland saying, okay, how does this become the companion, in a sense, to Disneyland?”, explained Fitzgerald. “If that really was inspired by Walt’s childhood in Marceline, this can be inspired by Walt coming to Hollywood and to California and what does that mean?”
Alan Bruun, creative director for entertainment at the Disneyland Resort, noted, “It is the reintroduction of a huge dollop of Walt Disney into this park to the extent that it affects everything else that happens in the park.” He explained the idea behind Buena Vista Street was not to create shops and restaurants themed to Disney characters, but instead create places that might have inspired Walt Disney to create those characters in the first place.
“You walk into Buena Vista Street and walk into that idealized world of Walt’s arrival to Los Angeles,” said Bruun. “Every single detail on every building is a potential inspiration for Walt. You could walk down the street and go, ‘Oh I could use that for this film. I could use that for this character. Oh look, shopkeeper’s wearing white and red polka dots. Maybe I could use that for a costume design for a mouse. Everything was considered from the standpoint of how might this have inspired Walt.”
But not every guest who walks Buena Vista Street needs to understand its many details to get the feeling they help create.
Lisa Girolami, director and senior show producer for Walt Disney Imagineering empasized, “There are many people that don’t understand that Main Street at Disneyland is Walt and Roy’s hometown of Marceline, Missouri.” She added, “When you create something with a backstory, there is a level and a thickness and there’s meat to what we’re doing. I think with Buena Vista Street, it’s the same thing.”
“If you want to get into the deeper levels of detail, they’re there. But if you are, for instance, a little kid and just had that visceral [excited reaction] and just want to run down the street and hear the music and smell the candy coming from the candy store and all those different things, you have that as well. We, I believe, deliver on all different levels, whether you get a little bit or you get the full backstory. I think that’s why Buena Vista Street compliments Main Street so well and that’s what we aimed to do.”
Ray Spencer, creative director for Walt Disney Imagineering, talked of the specific decorations and design elements that helped build the rich environment that is Buena Vista Street: “I’m hoping that through the use of all the exquisite materials and all of the different architectural references that we’ve employed throughout, the period tile work, the period art glass work, the architectural ornamentation, the friezes, the names of the shops, all of the Disney history that’s incorporated into that – my thought is that by the time we get to the [Storytellers] statue and you read the text of the statue, there’s a powerful story there. We’re not going to spell out the story literally, step by step, but the goal would be that the inspiration is there and once that seed is planted you can go back and find the story.”
And at the end of Buena Vista Street lies the grand Carthay Circle Theatre, the new equivalent of Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle for the Disney California Adventure theme park. But Tom Fitzgerald explained the process that went into deciding upon this icon, with Imagineers asking, “well, what is our castle?”
Fitzgerald admitted, “That was probably the toughest thing. And ultimately we said well the castle should be a movie palace because to Walt, coming to Hollywood, that would have been the castle in his mind, wanting to become a director and producer and such. Of course that led to, which movie palace? And for Disney history, it needs to be Carthay. It needs to be where ‘Snow White’ premiered and it’s no longer here so it’s a part of the Los Angeles and California story that’s gone. We could recreate that.”
In the end, whether guests realize it or not, traveling through Buena Vista Street and around Carthay Circle is taking a walk in Walt’s footsteps on his way into California, ready for the adventure that lies ahead. Alan Bruun summarized, “By the time you make it through Buena Vista Street, your journey into the rest of California Adventure is through Walt’s eyes. What else did he see? The natural beauty. The amusement parks. Hollywood. What else did he experience in California that he brought into his world and into his films?”
Buena Vista Street and Carthay Circle now serve as the gateway to the rest of Disney California Adventure, providing the first act to a grand story began by Walt Disney himself nearly 100 years ago. And with the recent reopening of the newly-renovated park, guests can embark on that journey, enhanced by exciting rides, delicious dining, and toe-tapping entertainment, all inspired by one man’s dream.
Looking closer at each of the new individual locations and attractions offers a trip through Disney history, with subtle (and some not-so-subtle) references to properties and characters of the past, all appropriate to the 1920s time in which the “new” Disney California Adventure is set.