Looking Back at the History and Development of Disneyland

in Disneyland Resort, Theme Parks

Development Views of Sleeping Beauty Castle Construction and Present Day_feature image

There are plenty of interesting facts about Disneyland Resort and the history of Disneyland Parks.

When Disneyland first opened in Anaheim, California, nearly seven decades ago, it was unlike anything the world had ever seen. Disneyland undeniably set the stage and raised the bar in quality standards that all preceding theme parks have since determined to follow. Its example also became integral to the founding of other Parks and Resorts by the Walt Disney Company worldwide.

While today, Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, is often hailed as the ultimate Disney destination vacation spot, there remain several unique callouts to the original Disneyland Park and Resort. Among some of the most interesting facts about Walt Disney—founder of the Walt Disney Company, is that Disneyland is the only actual Disney Park that he personally got to visit and tend to.

As other Disney Parks, Resorts, and destinations globally have emerged and developed over time, Disneyland, too, continues to develop and grow to meet the constantly changing shifts of time. From updating and adding attractions to ongoing Park and hotel expansions, here at Inside the Magic, we’re taking an insightful look into the overall history and development of Walt Disney’s original Disneyland through the ages.

Related: History, Developments, and Major Milestones of the Walt Disney Company

Walt Disney’s Goal

“Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” That was one of the most famous quotes by Walt Disney regarding Disneyland’s enduring legacy. And it’s been ringing true repeatedly throughout the years.

To get the whole story, let’s go back to the 1940s—the true beginning of Walt Disney’s foundational ambition for establishing Disneyland. Back then, Walt Disney Entertainment was popular and attracting an ever-increasing fanbase. But fans wanted more than just to visit movie houses to watch great Disney films; they even started writing with requests to visit the studios, hoping to delight themselves in more hands-on, participatory, interactive experiences. While Walt Disney did not feel that these hopeful visitors would truly find the satisfaction they longed for in touring his studios, the constant requests did inspire him to consider establishing a fun place where children and adults alike could experience the magic of Disney movies on a more personal level.

Animation/live action shot of Walt Disney animating characters
Credit: D23

Original Park Inspiration

The idea in Walt Disney’s mind eventually shifted to a theme park concept after inspiration from outings with his daughters to Griffith Park in Los Angeles struck. His eureka moment came while sitting on a bench, watching his daughters on the carousel—a desire to create a theme park for families to enjoy together. But to do so would require going above and beyond the typical amusement park standards of the day.

Back then, amusement park outings weren’t always family-friendly affairs. They were also often dirty and served beer. In the years following, Walt Disney began visiting other amusement parks and started taking note of what to do, what not to do, and how innovative workarounds for many of the existing problems at other parks could be implemented in his new concept.

A view of the original carousel Walt Disney's daughters were riding when inspiration struck
Credit: Wander Disney

Related: Owner of the Merry-Go-Round Where Walt Dreamed of Disneyland Passes Away

From Humble Projections to Big Dreams

Believe it or not, Disneyland was originally intended to be a small operation on an eight-acre land plot across the street from Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. It would feature various themed areas following Walt Disney Entertainment and include a boat ride. But as more inspiring ideas came to the forefront, Walt Disney’s vision quickly outgrew the original concept, and additional land would be needed to satisfy the growing dream.

It was decided that a 160-acre orange and walnut orchard in Anaheim would become the site of the new theme park idea. In the earlier phases, the tentative name for the park was “Mickey Mouse Park.” Later, “Disneylandia” was considered before “Disneyland” made the final cut. So, the site was purchased, and groundbreaking construction on Disneyland rapidly began in 1954.

When Did Disneyland Open?

What year did Disneyland open? Surprisingly, the Park has been fully operational since July 17, 1955, and is still strong today. This means that in just two years, nobody will even have to ask, “How long has Disneyland been open?” By then, the site will undoubtedly be rejoicing in a Resort-wide 70-year anniversary celebration.

Things have certainly changed since day one, when Disneyland Park opened with just 18 attractions. What’s more, the cost of admission was just $1, although additional tickets would be required once in the Park to attend individual attractions. That’s unfathomable by today’s standards, considering how if you were to ask anybody, “How much are Disneyland tickets?” you can expect answers ranging from $83 or more.

Photo showing opening day at Disneyland at the entrance gates
Credit: Designing Disney

Substantial Growth in Fandom

Since kicking off the legacy of a new Disney theme park initiative, Disneyland has only continued to grow in popularity and onsite offerings with each passing year. By the end of its first year alone, Disneyland had already welcomed five million visitors. That number doubled in 1957. By 1976, the number was up to 150 million visitors. As of 2017, 708 million Guests have visited Disneyland.

Resort Hotels

Because it is a renowned vacation hotspot, it goes without saying that Guests have been seeking out the best hotels near Disneyland from the very start. It’s also worth noting that Disneyland Resort comprises three official on-premises hotel options.

The Disneyland Hotel

The Disneyland Hotel opened on October 5, 1955—just three months after the grand opening of Disneyland Park. At first, it was owned and operated by Jack Wrather in agreement with Walt Disney. Disney officially acquired the hotel in 1988. Since then, there have been many renovations to the existing hotel. It will soon open additional villa accommodations onsite in September 2023.

Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel

Having first opened in 1984 as the Emerald Hotel of Anaheim before becoming the Pan Pacific Hotel, Disney purchased the hotel in 1995. First named “Disneyland Pacific Hotel,” following Park and Resort expansions, the name was later changed to its current Paradise Pier title. Yet. More changes are forthcoming, as Disney announced in April 2022 that the hotel would undergo a Pixar Animation retheming and receive a new name—Pixar Place Hotel.

Grand Californian Hotel & Spa

This most recent hotel came to fruition following a huge expansion to Disneyland Resort in 2001. It was constructed as a Disney Company original in American Craftsman style. It also has a private entrance leading directly into Disney California Adventure Park, which we will get into more detail about next.

New Villas opening soon at Disneyland Hotel
Credit: Walt Disney Imagineering

Related: Disney’s New Luxury Tower Finally Has a Name

Disney California Adventure Park

Disney California Adventure, the second Park at Disneyland, opened in 2001 on a site previously serving as a Resort parking lot. The original concept for the Park centered around California-specific themed rides and callouts. However, a major overhaul was announced in 2007, including various expansions and additions, like those of Buena Vista Street and Cars Land. Over the years, there have been more Pixar and Marvel expansions to the location, including the most recent addition of Avengers Campus in 2021.

Waterfront view overlooking Disney California Adventure Park
Credit: California Family Travel

Related: Disney California Adventure Big Transformation Is Nearly Complete

A Bright Future

The future is bright where Disneyland is concerned. As recently as 2021, the Walt Disney Company announced a new project called “DisneylandForward”—a proposal to change Anaheim’s zoning rules. This would allow Disney even more theme park space to work with and build on.

Related: Disneyland Planning Massive New California Expansion

What other recently announced future developments are you excited about at Disneyland? Let us know in the comments.

in Disneyland Resort, Theme Parks

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