My Dad Helped Design Disneyland—Here’s What the Park Was Like Before It Opened

"I remember seeing the model of the building on my dad’s drafting table at home."

disneylandCourtesy Edward Kitch/AP/REX/ShutterstockWhen Walt Disney’s theme park opened 62 years ago, it was named Disneyland and christened “The Happiest Place on Earth.” It was a thrill to behold all the rides and exhibits making Disney’s movies, cartoons, and characters come to life.

DisneylandCourtesy Larry Sanderson/Reminisce ExtraMy sister, Diane, and I were treated to an even more special event. Our preview of the park occurred a year earlier than the official opening on July 17, 1955. Bet you never knew these magical, mind-blowing facts about Disneyland.

Our father, Bob, had been hired as an architect/artist to design some of the buildings in Tomorrowland. One day in 1954, he asked Diane and me to go with him to Walt Disney Studios in Burbank while he met with some of the staff. There, a staff member showed us how the cartoon cels of famous animation characters were painted and gave us a tour around the studio. We saw where many items for the park were being built. There was the Mark Twain riverboat in pieces, ready to ship. And there were the animals of Adventureland’s Jungle Cruise being formcast. (They were a little scary because they all looked so real.) My favorite structure, Rocket to the Moon, featured the rocket standing in front of a dual-domed station with a modern curved facade. I remember seeing the model of the building on my dad’s drafting table at home.

During our studio tour we ran into Cubby and Karen, the youngest Mouseketeers from The Mickey Mouse Club. They told us that when we reached their age, maybe we could join the club on TV.

Later that day we visited the unopened park, where we walked down unpaved Main Street and saw Sleeping Beauty Castle at the end of the road still wrapped in scaffolding. Workers had a lot to accomplish by opening day so Walt Disney could deliver his sparkle and children of all ages could delight in his vision.

My father got VIP passes for the family to visit the park the day before it opened to the public. My sister and I got to ride everything as many times as we wanted. Since I was a space nut, my favorite rides were in Tomorrowland— the moon rocket, the Astro-Jets and Autopia, where I drove my own like-real car, designed just for kids, which you maneuvered down an actual paved, curving road.

Thank you, Walt, for making your dream come true for us all. Next, check out these 8 differences between Walt Disney World and Disneyland that you never knew existed.

Originally Published in Reminisce Extra