Looking Back at 1953 and the Disneyland That Almost Was Not in Anaheim
Picture Disneyland not between Ball, Katella, Harbor and whatever they call West Street in Anaheim these days but in La Mirada, Whittier Narrows or on Willowick Country Club in Santa Ana.
Urban planner Sam Gennawey has looked at those alternate sites and many others for the Mouse.
The author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City (available on Amazon) time traveled back to August 1953 recently for the Disney fan site Mice Chat, detailing how the Stanford Research Institute presented their findings for the ideal Disneyland location to Walt and Roy Disney.
Uncle Walt had paid $25,000 for the study seeking to identify a minimum of 100 undeveloped acres at a price of no more than $4,500 per acre, preferably flat and with one owner. The ideal spot would be somewhere between Chatsworth and Pomona on the north and Tustin and Balboa on the south, although Gennawey relates Disney did not want it too close to the water so not "to attract the barefoot beach crowd."
The firm used what was within the specified city boundaries as a giant grid and then went about eliminating land that was already fully developed or otherwise did not cut it due to a variety of factors, including poor freeway accessibility or too much smog. At one point there were 71 sites, which eventually got whittled down to 24 that Walt himself visited.
The NCAA and, as it turns out, Disney eventually had a final four, any one of which could have become the Magic Kingdom, according to Gennawey. One was on the border of Orange and Los Angeles counties near Valley View Avenue and the 5 freeway. Another was Willowick, which was nixed because it had no direct link to an arterial highway. Five parcels in La Mirada known as the McNally Ranch were also deemed problematic because of their lack of highway access and price being higher than Anaheim land. Like Willowick, Disneyland could have been where a golf course is today at McNally Ranch, Gennawey notes.
Years ago I heard a Disney insider claim Walt used to go to the top of the Matterhorn with a cocktail after closing and sob over the ugly structures that went up around his completed Anaheim theme park. Considering he would have had 2,300 acres to play with in La Mirada, one wonders if he wished he could do that site selecting all over again.
It is said to be why, in Florida, Disney made sure he owned all the land around what would become Walt Disney World.