Disneyland, where guests are invited to leave their worries behind, has changed the landscape, the language, the culture and the economy of Orange County in the 45 years since the opening of the Magic Kingdom.
Disneyland brings about 14 million visitors a year to Anaheim, according to the trade publication Amusement Business. They spend almost $3 billion while here. With the opening of the new California Adventure theme park Thursday, Disney expects to attract 7 million more guests each year.
Tourism, anchored by Disneyland, is considered Orange County’s biggest industry. It has benefited such places as Knott’s Berry Farm and brings people to the beaches. Hotels sprouted throughout the county to house the millions who visit Disneyland.
Paul S. Pressler, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said in an interview that Disney has worked hard to make Disneyland “special in people’s hearts,” a place where memories are created. “For many folks, it’s a way to hold on to their childhood,” he said.
Former Anaheim Mayor Jack Dutton, 91, says Disneyland is partially responsible for the area’s boom. When it opened July 17, 1955, Anaheim’s population was 30,081 people. Now it’s more than 300,000.
Countywide, the population burgeoned from about 216,224 in 1950 to 2,828,400 in 2000. Consider the changes:
When Sleeping Beauty Castle and the Matterhorn became landmarks, agriculture was the biggest industry. There were 383,493 acres in farm use in 1950; now there are 58,113 acres. A lonely strawberry field near Harbor Boulevard and Katella Avenue in Anaheim soon will be converted to another Disney theme park.
Disneyland has affected our language as in “to take an E-ticket ride,” a phrase that referred to Disney’s best tickets, the ones for the most expensive rides, or something being “Mickey Mouse.”
Disneyland created service standards that other businesses soon adopted. The Anaheim Convention Center began calling its visitors “guests” – the term Disney uses.
The Disneyland Resort has become Orange County’s largest employer, with about 21,000 mostly part-time employees. Disney also supports thousands of hotels, restaurants and other businesses that have sprouted up and are dependent on the Disney draw.
Pressler said, for example, that Disney hired 8,500 people for its new theme park. In addition, it was expected to support about 14,000 new jobs at nearby hotels, restaurants and related businesses.
Disney wants to encourage people to stay at least a few days at the Disneyland Resort, which includes Disneyland, Disney’s California Adventure, Downtown Disney (an entertainment and shopping area) Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, the Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel.
Disney owns Anaheim’s Mighty Ducks hockey team and Anaheim Angels baseball team. Disney Chairman Michael Eisner has said the sports teams were purchased specifically to beef up Disney’s presence in Anaheim.
Disney, the city of Anaheim and the federal government have spent about $4 billion in the Anaheim area for recently completed parks, freeways, streets and landscaping.
Disneyland also contributes to local smog and environmental problems. In 1996, Disneyland estimated that its operational emissions estimated 7,359 pounds per day. The resort uses an estimated 229.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year and 2.29 million gallons of water per day. It puts 1.41 million gallons of sewage into the system each day and creates 14,497 tons of garbage every year, according to the 1996 estimate.
One result of success is clogged or slow-moving traffic. On Harbor Boulevard near Downtown Disney, 1,750 cars pass on the northbound side between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. On the southbound side, an additional 1,715 cars travel in that time. At 72.9 decibels, the traffic noise on Harbor is louder than is found 50 feet back from a freeway, which is an estimated 70 decibels. To this day, Disney executives bemoan the fact that a city grew up around the theme park, squeezing it in on all sides. There’s sometimes tension between Disneyland and its neighbors about noise.
When Disney was planning the 55-acre California Adventure, it put in tunnels, special backdrops and walls to try to keep the happy screams in the park.
In the past 45 years, houses have mushroomed on barren hills, universities have sprouted in nearby vacant fields. Museums and theaters and art galleries are part of the urban landscape. Since Disneyland came along, the Santa Ana (I-5) Freeway, once a two-lane highway, has been expanded to 12 lanes near Disneyland.
Without Disneyland, this growth likely would still have happened, but some experts have speculated that Orange County would just be a bedroom community of Los Angeles instead of the self-contained urban area it is today.
Residents also are touched in many ways by the Walt Disney Co., based in Burbank. The empire includes cruise ships, publishing houses, television stations, movie companies, cable channels, radio, theme parks around the world, hotels, restaurants and retail outlets. Perhaps one of the easiest ways to measure how big a part of Orange County Disneyland is, is to discuss what would happen if it were to leave.
This is not a far-fetched idea.
When Eisner came to the Walt Disney Co. in 1984, one of the first things he did was have his people look into moving Disneyland to south Orange County or San Diego.
“We spent more time talking about jacking up Space Mountain and moving it,” Pressler recalled.
Shortly after the study was finished, Disney executives made the decision to stay in Anaheim, Pressler said. Anaheim city officials said they would improve the surrounding area, which had grown seedy-looking.
Pressler said Disney is now “very committed” to Anaheim, where changes include wide, palm-lined avenues and new facades on buildings.
As Disneyland embarks on its new California Adventure, it already is considering adding rides, building a “people mover” in Anaheim and creating a third theme park.