By Sam Gennawey
Disneyland is a legible urban environment. The park is made up of a series of spaces that unfold before you. John Hench said, “You begin with the first scene and move through. You don’t throw people into the fifth scene, where they cannot make sense of what is happening.” The payoff is a sense of welcoming, worth, value, and security.
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This quality is achieved by removing visual cues with messages that do not embellish the narrative. In a concept drawing of Main Street USA from 1953, artist Dale Hennesy included a church. Such a civic building would have been common and historically correct. However, this is not reality. It is Disneyland and Walt decided it did not support the story and there is no church at the edge of the commercial district.
Every aspect of the public realm came under scrutiny from Walt. For example, when Bill Martin showed Walt drawings of Main Street he said, “[Walt] went over my plans with a fine-tooth comb. I’d drawn sidewalks on the blueprints with square corners and Walt said: ‘Bill, people aren’t soldiers! They don’t turn in at sharp angles! Curve the sidewalks! Make the corners round!’”
John Hench said the architecture, colors, background sounds, music, and smells create an environment where it “gives one the permission to talk with strangers.” Michael Broggie added, “[Walt] also thought the Park’s atmosphere could be sophisticated yet relaxed enough that adults would feel comfortable allowing their ‘inner child’ to play, without feeling embarrassed.”
For me, it was Imagineer Bruce Gordon who provided one of the best descriptions as to why Disneyland works. He said, “Walt was hands-on with everything at Disneyland. This was his park, his dream. I always believed the reason Walt built Disneyland was that he wanted one.” Bruce adds, “He wanted the biggest train layout; he wanted a place for all his toys. In the park he had an apartment above the fire station. Walt would get up early in the morning, before the park opened, and he’d drive his fire truck around Disneyland. People would think he was crazy, but he was only playing with his toy.”