Theme Park Thursdays: Anaheim Before DISNEYLAND

In the early 1950’s, Anaheim, California was a sleepy town that was barely a blip on the world’s radar. An agricultural town, its population was less than 1,000. City leadership saw that big changes were coming to Southern California and it decided it wanted to get in on the new postwar gold rush that was brewing. It had decided to begin courting big businesses and sought industrial and manufacturing companies.

Anaheim knew that it would need a mix of zones to attract the manufacturing businesses it was seeking, so it actually had begun laying out the future city zones. Several large parcels in the vicinity of Harbor Blvd. and Katella Ave. were seen as being ideal for housing tracts where future workers could live. That plan would change in 1953. Instead of housing tracts, a visionary man would see that land as being an ideal spot to locate an entirely different enterprise- a Magic Kingdom.

At first, the city of Anaheim wasn’t sure what to think about this ‘Magic Kingdom’. Was it a fly by night carnival? Some kind of fair? Luckily, Walt Disney was able to convince them that DISNEYLAND would be a jewel that would bring millions from around the world to the former orange groves of Anaheim.

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Walt Wednesdays: More Leadership Lessons From Walt

Imagine you’re being honored with an award that was voted on by your colleagues. An exciting honor, right? What if nobody bothered to invite you to the meeting where the award was being handed out and the manager who oversaw the team who voted on it was seemingly not enthusiastic about handing out the ‘honor’ in the first place? Obviously the organization would have been better off not doing anything; as a matter of fact, they most likely made things worse. Believe it or not, this anecdote actually happened and is an example of the pitfalls of doing something just because it is expected and not because the organization genuinely wants to do it.

Recognition programs can vary wildly depending on the organization and its budget. Some places offer huge bonuses or exciting rewards while others offer items of little or no value. Even the small awards can mean a lot if they are offered with GENUINE appreciation. Awards offered solely because they are expected can be more demoralizing than not offering anything at all. Great leaders know that a quick note of genuine appreciation can do more to make someone’s day than a valuable award presented with little enthusiasm just because the Human Resources department mandated it.

Walt Disney completely understood this. He may have sometimes been a bit sparing with compliments, but when he provided them, he MEANT them. That’s why his employees were so loyal. Mr. Disney left us over fifty years ago, yet the people who worked for him still gush about how great a boss he was and ardently defend his memory. Richard Sherman, pictured above between his brother Robert and Walt Disney, still gets teary-eyed speaking about Walt Disney:


“Walt was always a great believer in the team. He felt that the team made the pictures, and he was the captain of the team. He just got the best of everybody in the world. So, I’ve always felt very happy that people know our songs, and I feel very lucky that I was a part of that team.”




“On what would have been Walt’s 100th birthday at DISNEYLAND, I began to play his favorite song- ‘Feed the Birds’ when a bird suddenly flew down from a tree and landed right on my piano. It stayed there until I finished the song, then as quickly as it flew down, it flew away. I’m convinced, that that bird was Walt.”



Walt Disney earned such loyalty from his employees by genuinely appreciating their efforts and talent. If Mr. Disney handed you an award, gift or compliment, you knew he was sincere and genuinely appreciative. Not all of us can have the same impact on the world as Mr. Disney, but by genuinely appreciating the hard work that happens around us, we can try to have a positive impact on our respective organizations.

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Toontown Tuesdays: Harry Anderson and Toontown

When the newest land at DISNEYLAND opened in 1993, Harry Anderson, fresh off his legendary stint as Judge Harry Stone officiated at the grand opening, “swearing in” the honorary new residents of Toontown.

Mr. Anderson loved DISNEYLAND and had even hosted the park’s 35th anniversary television show just three years earlier. Harry Anderson passed away this week at age 65.

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Mickey Mondays: Mickey Mouse Fun Facts

According to Disney lore, Mickey and his friends LIVE at DISNEYLAND in California. They merely visit Walt Disney World. This idea is mentioned on the Disney Magical  Express busses in Florida, where Mickey and friends are depicted riding the shuttle back to the airport to travel home- to DISNEYLAND.

The first actual attraction based on Mickey Mouse was the “Mickey Mouse Club” Theater in DISNEYLAND. Guests could spend as much time as they liked inside the air conditioned theater which featured continuous showings of Mickey Mouse cartoons. The theater eventually got a new name- The Fantasyland Theater- and showed Disney cartoons of all kinds. It was replaced by “Pinocchio’s Daring Journey” in 1983.

“Minnie” is a nickname. Mickey’s girlfriend’s full name is Minerva.

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Freaky Fridays: Whatever Happened To The Main Street Shooting Gallery

In the late 1950’s there were three shooting galleries at DISNEYLAND- in Frontierland, Adventureland and Main Street. (Record Scratch) Main Street had a Shooting Gallery? Yes it did! While numerous pictures exist of both the Frontierland (which still exists) and the Adventureland shooting galleries, no such photos seem to exist for the one located on Main Street. How do we know it existed? Old C Tickets mention it as an attraction:

It was also mentioned on park maps:

It is because of old park maps that we know where the Shooting Gallery was located. It waslocated between the Coca-Cola Refreshment corner and the Penny Arcade marquee as shown below:

Today only the Shooting Gallery in Frontierland remains open. The Adventureland Shooting Gallery became a Sunkist juice stand and the Main Street Shooting Gallery disappeared to become the stuff of legend.

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Walt Wednesdays: Leadership Lessons From Mr. Disney

Too many organizations give lip service to professional development. While staff are encouraged to take classes to improve their skills, little time is actually devoted to such things. Employees find themselves in a situation much like that of Cinderella- they can pursue professional development IF they complete their regular assignments and IF they can find the time. The organization might say that it values professional development, but its actions show the opposite to be true. Even if an employee can fit such luxuries into their schedules, they are often not permitted to apply their new skills to anything practical. Management further demoralizes its staff by importing new talent from outside the organization rather than promoting from within. In more extreme environments, management demeans its existing staff by not even  considering them for open positions. As most people can attest, using the phrase “national recruitment” often means “existing staff need not apply.”

So what can Mr. Disney teach us about actually valuing professional development and searching for hidden talents throughout the organization? Just take a look around his Magic Kingdom of DISNEYLAND. Mr. Disney learned early on that the so-called experts were more inclined to summarily dismiss his ideas as impossible without really thinking about them. An outside architect had told Mr. Disney that the Matterhorn Bobsleds and Submarine Voyage were impossible to build. Not one to easily take no for an answer, Mr. Disney assigned some of the early model building and design to employees that hadn’t previously done such work. One such employee- Imagineer Harriet Burns- later recalled how much she had learned on the project. Not only did she learn the ins and outs of model building and scaling, she also learned that she could actually accomplish such tasks.  By identifying her hidden talents and showing confidence in her skills, Walt Disney made an already top notch employee even more motivated to succeed. Not only did he give her time to learn something new, he gave her a chance to apply those new skills to a real world project that is still enjoyed today.

This was not an isolated incident. Another example can be found inside Pirates of the Caribbean. The attraction needed a song to tie things together, but instead of asking his staff song writers to put something together, he asked Imagineer Xavier Atencio to write something. Despite never having written a song before, Mr. Atencio successfully penned the attraction’s signature ditty Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life For Me). Mr. Atencio put it best when he marveled that:

“I didn’t even know I could write music, but somehow Walt did. He tapped my hidden talents.”

The song that he wrote is still heard around the world in the various Pirates of the Caribbean attractions at Disney parks.

By identifying hidden talents and finding practical uses for them, Mr. Disney built a loyal, talented and successful team that made the impossible possible. His staff accomplished great things because he believed they could do it and he encouraged them to step outside of their comfort zones. So many organizations could learn a thing or two from Walt Disney’s leadership. While it is very easy to talk about valuing professional development and nurturing hidden talents, it often seems to be a challenge for an organization to actually value these things in practice. Those that do can often accomplish great things and maintain a loyal, efficient workforce. Walt Disney truly valued these attributes and his team literally built mountains.

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