Framework

Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

July 17, 1955: The train station at the main entrance to Disneyland during international press preview event. The people dressed as Indians in this unpublished photo are members of the Orange County Empire Council, Boy Scouts, who participated in parade down Main Street.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

An aerial photo of a nearly completed Disneyland before opening day. The photo was taken looking north with Harbor Boulevard on the upper right and the Santa Ana Freeway running across the top. Construction equipment is everywhere in the park, especially Tomorrowland. The photo was taken in late June or early July 1955.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 17, 1955: Newsboys sell newspapers to riders on the Disneyland train during international press preview.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 17, 1955: Officals pose for photographers during international press preview at Disneyland. From left Mrs. Goodwin J. Knight, California Gov. Goodwin J. Knight, Fred G. Gurley, president of the Santa Fe railroad and Walt Disney.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 17, 1955: The Disneyland band led by Vesey Walker has a final rehearsal during the international press preview in the Town Square. This photo was published in the July 18, 1955, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 17, 1955: The flag is raised over Disneyland Town Square during dedication ceremonies. In the background is Main Street, which featured stores that were re-creations of the early 1900s. This photo was published in the July 18, 1955, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 17, 1955: Tomorrowland boat ride during international press preview of Disneyland. The Autopia ride is in the right background.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 17, 1955: Calif. Gov. Goodwin Knight, right, pulls Walt Disney aboard the train with the help of Fred G. Gurley, president of Santa Fe railroad. A similar photo was published in the July 18, 1955, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 17, 1955: From left: Calif. Gov. Goodwin Knight, Walt Disney and Fred G. Gurley, president of the Santa Fe railroad.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 17, 1955: Dick Morneau of Los Angeles finds out how a cannibal's pot feels, minus the fire. This photo was published in the July 18, 1955, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 17, 1955: Children pose with riders holding a Fantasyland banner at Disneyland. The riders participated in the opening day parade broadcast on ABC.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times / Los Angeles Times

July 17, 1955: Fess Parker, as Davy Crockett from Disney's hit TV program, left, arrives at Frontierland.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 17, 1955: Keystone Kops and actors pose in front of the refreshment corner on Main Street at Disneyland.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 17, 1955: Main Street Disneyland during an invitation-only event later nicknamed "Black Sunday." Note the television camera on the roof in center of the image.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 17, 1955: An unidentified photographer poses on the roof of the Main Street Cinema at Disneyland.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 17, 1955: Exterior of Police Department on Main Street at Disneyland.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 17, 1955: The tobacco shop on Main Street at Disneyland.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 17, 1955: Old-fashioned newsboys sell papers between trains that run around the 160-acre Disneyland park. This photo was published in the July 18, 1955, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 17, 1955: Children rush into Fantasyland during international press preview at Disneyland. This photo was published in the July 18, 1955, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times/AP

July 17, 1955: Ronald Reagan, left, Bob Cummings center, and Art Linkletter, right, hosted the 90-minute live ABC television broadcast.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: ©MCMLV Walt Disney Productions

July 17, 1955: Members of the Orange County Empire Council, Boy Scouts, in Indian costumes, and band members from U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, gather in front of Disneyland Station prior to taking part in the parade during the dedication of the park. This photo was published in the July 18, 1955, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 17, 1955: Fess Parker, as Davy Crockett from the hit Disney TV program, holds Mark Grell, 4, during ceremonies at Frontierland in Disneyland. This photo was published in the July 18, 1955, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 17, 1955: Children play with the rifle carried by Fess Parker as Davy Crockett in the hit Disney TV program.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 18, 1955: Crowd of about 15,000 on hand at Disneyland when the park opened to the public at 10 a.m. Many had waited throughout the night. This photo was published in the July 19, 1955, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 18, 1955: An aerial photo of entrance to Disneyland on first day it was open to the public. This photo was taken from a Los Angeles Airways helicopter and published in the July 19, 1955, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bruce Cox / Los Angeles Times

July 18, 1955: Disneyland on the day it opened to the public. Photo taken by Bruce Cox flying aboard a Los Angeles Airways helicopter.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bruce Cox / Los Angeles Times

July 18, 1955: Walt Disney with Michael Schwartner, 7, left, and Christine Vess, 5, two of the first customers at Disneyland. The Schwartner and Vess families received lifetime passes to Disneyland.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 18, 1955: Walt Disney with Michael Schwartner, 7, left, and Christine Vess, 5, two of the first customers at Disneyland. The Schwartner and Vess families received lifetime passes to Disneyland.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 18, 1955: An aerial photo of Disneyland taken on the day it opened to public. Lines formed at front gate.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bruce Cox / Los Angeles Times

July 18, 1955: Disneyland on the day it opened to the public. A similar photo was published in the July 19, 1955, Los Angeles Times. Photo taken by Bruce Cox flying on a Los Angeles Airways helicopter.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bruce Cox / Los Angeles Times

July 18, 1955: An aerial photo of Disneyland with Fantasyland in foreground.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Bruce Cox / Los Angeles Times

July 18, 1955: An aerial photo of Disneyland during its Monday opening to public. In foreground is the still-unfinished Santa Ana Freeway. The Harbor Boulevard intersection is on the extreme right.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 1955: The crowd in Fantasyland during the opening of Disneyland. There was no information with 4 by 5 negative indicating if photo was taken during media opening on July 17 or public opening on July 18, 1955.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

More galleries on Framework

return to gallery

Disneyland's 1955 opening

The Week in Pictures | January 20 – 26, 2013

Each week we bring you the very best in visual journalism. The Mavericks surf competition off the Northern California coast is underway, and the waves have not disappointed so...   View Post»

   

2013 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count

2013 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count

By Matt Stevens The glow of ice-colored lights wrapped tightly around the tree branches threw an unwelcome spotlight onto the people trying to sleep. In her pink...   View Post»

   

2008 Olympians

Team USA: Portraits of Olympic dreams

About the photographs: Polaroid film was introduced to the world in 1948 by Edwin Land.  Production of the film ceased in 2008, ending an era, sixty years after Polaroid...   View Post»

   

Disneyland's 1955 opening

Pictures in the News | Jan. 11, 2011

The elements of earth, fire and water are on display in Tuesday's "Pictures in the News," starting in Chile, where competition in the 2011 Argentina-Chile Dakar Rally has...

  View Post»

Disneyland’s 1955 opening

On Sunday, July 17, 1955, Disneyland opened with an invitation-only “International Press Preview” and live ABC television broadcast. In addition to the invited guests, thousands carrying counterfeit tickets show up. The day became known as “Black Sunday.” On Monday, July 18, 1955, the park opened to the public.

In this Nov. 9, 1999, story Disneyland Had Nowhere to Go but Up After Debut, Times staff writer E. Scott Reckard reported on “Black Sunday:”

When the $17-million gamble called Disneyland opened July 17, 1955, Walt Disney was too busy rehearsing and broadcasting a live special from the park to realize the day had become a debacle he would later call “Black Sunday.”

The news also escaped Walt’s brother, Roy, who had borrowed against real estate, movies and life insurance to finance the park. Sitting outside in his Cadillac, admiring the throngs that crashed the invitation-only event with forged tickets, Roy Disney was told that kids who had been stuck in traffic jams were relieving themselves in the parking lot.

He just grinned and said: “God bless ‘em. Let ‘em.”

As Roy smiled and Walt played to the cameras, high-heeled shoes sank deep into Disneyland’s fresh asphalt, and food and drinks ran out. Long lines formed at toilets, visitors searched in vain for drinking fountains and a power outage stalled Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Bunting hid unfinished rides; water washed across the overloaded deck of the Mark Twain steamboat.

Advisors had urged Disney to lengthen the one-year construction period because of pre-opening snags. Sand beneath the Rivers of America sucked up water, and the attraction had to be lined with clay. Strikes disrupted schedules. Frontierland was rebuilt again and again to get the scale right. And still Disney insisted on the opening date he had promised.

“The Disney TV show had gone on ABC the year before, and it was used shamelessly as a trailer for the park. So there was great anticipation. And the opening was a fiasco,” recalled Bob Thomas, an Associated Press Hollywood reporter who chronicled the opening in biographies of the Disneys.

It was also clear, though, that Disney had created new standards for amusement parks. The cleanliness, landscaping and architectural details were unparalleled; the staff were trained as “cast members” to delight and serve the customers (always “guests” in Disney parlance). And the “lands” and rides told stories instead of merely boosting adrenaline levels–a formula for attracting whole families instead of just thrill-seekers.

The Times’ story the day after the opening was positive, describing how Disney had created a new world where children’s dreams and adults’ aspirations came to life; Thomas also wrote favorably of the new park.

But most accounts ran under headlines like “Disneyland Shatters Illusions,” and one columnist suggested that the drinking fountain shortage was intentional, a way to boost beverage sales. Actually, a plumbers strike had forced Disney to choose between finishing the bathrooms or the fountains.

“They said the reason he didn’t have drinking fountains was to sell more drinks and coffee,” said Bob Penfield, who began a 42-year Disneyland career as an 18-year-old ride operator that day. “But that wasn’t true. There just wasn’t time” to put them in.

“Half of Tomorrowland wasn’t ready,” he said. “And a good percentage of the other attractions didn’t operate either.” On Canal Boats of the World, later re-christened Storybook Land, “all they had was the flume and the boats, and the rest was grass and weeds. . . . They put up signs with the Latin words for the weeds in front of a lot of the plants.”

Walt Disney, who spent the day rushing from site to site for the 22-camera ABC special, did not hear about the magnitude of the problems until the next day. Angry, he ordered his staff to fix the problems, then reinvited the press.

“He was outraged” over opening day, said Harrison Price, a consultant who found the Anaheim site for Disney. “He raised hell. But within a month, he worked out the bugs.”

In a study that many considered overly optimistic, Price had estimated that park visitors would average $3 in spending, and predicted attendance of 2.5 million to 3 million a year. What some called “Disney’s Folly” instead generated per-capita spending of $5, Price said, and drew 4 million visits its first year….

These days, themed amusement park attractions are the norm, mall and restaurant developers tout “immersive experiences,” Disney parks are found on three continents, and most people can’t recall what an amusement park meant before Disneyland.

On Monday, July 18, 1955, Disneyland opened to the public. An article in the July 19, 1955, Los Angeles Times reported:

More than 15,000 persons, some of whom had waited the entire night, formed a four-abreast line a mile long outside the 10 turnstiles which opened at 10 a.m. …

Los Angeles Times photographers covered the Sunday, July 17, 1955, media opening and the Monday, July 18, 1955, opening to the public. Photos from both days are in the above photo gallery. Most of the images in this gallery were recently scanned from 4- by 5-inch negatives.

The ABC telecast is on You Tube: Walt Disney’s Dedication of Disneyland (July 17, 1955).

scott.harrison@latimes.com

Follow Scott Harrison on Twitter and Google+

Thumbnail view of all From the Archive posts.

2 Comments

  1. July 16, 2014, 9:05 pm

    Great photos ! I visited Disneyland in the summer of ’56 as an eight year old. The vegetation was filling in and all the rides were open. It seemed like 160 square miles wide to me then. I still remember walking (running) beneath the overhead tracks at the entry. Amazing place.

    My prior experience at an amusement park was the Pike on the Long Beach shoreline.

    By: bruno marr
  2. July 18, 2014, 2:02 am

    I worked at Disneyland in 1956 selling mickey mouse balloons for Nate Lewis from all the areas. at that time they sold for 25 cents with l cent tax. meet a lot of celebs like Natalie woods to Robert Wagner had a great time.

    By: anthonyfrancois

Add a comment or a question.

If you are under 13 years of age you may read this message board, but you may not participate. Here are the full legal terms you agree to by using this comment form.

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they've been approved.

Required

Required, will not be published