On the morning of Aug. 26, activity at Walt Disney School in Anaheim was hectic. Traffic came to a halt at the crosswalk as scores of parents escorted their children to the first day of class. A father posed his children by the school’s marquee for a picture. It’s a familiar scene at the elementary school, one that goes back to its 1957 dedication, when its namesake appeared, declared a school holiday and invited students to his 20-month-old theme park.
The Magnolia School District had faced a dilemma in 1955, the same year Disneyland opened. With only two schools—Magnolia No. 1 and Magnolia No. 2—it had to develop new sites to meet the demand of families moving into the city’s west side during a housing boom. In the meantime, the district integrated white students into Magnolia No. 2, the Mexican school, that year to relieve pressure.
The school board moved that new schools be named “after American men who have made definite contributions to the welfare of mankind.” One would be named after Dr. Jonas Salk of polio vaccine fame and, on May 7, 1956, the board voted to name a school on East Orange Avenue after Walt Disney so long as he approved. Of course, Disney did and suggested a mural of Disney characters be painted in the multipurpose room.
The Los Angeles Times called the opening of Walt Disney and Dr. Jonas Salk elementary schools in January 1957 “one of the biggest transfers of pupils in the history of the state.” In all, 1,700 students moved into the new facilities that year.
On March 30, 1957, Disney attended the dedication of the public institution to be named for him, the only one in Orange County. “Of course, it wouldn’t be a real celebration unless you could come to Disneyland on a school day,” he declared.
Anaheim’s housing boom continued after Walt Disney School opened. That summer, advertisements in newspapers lured prospective residents to new communities, mentioning the school by name. Disneyland helped to make Anaheim a boomtown and, by doing so, inadvertently forced Magnolia School District’s hand on school integration.