Yesterland
The Largest
Ceramic Mural
in the World
“California, here I come”
Ceramic Mural at entrance to Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2007

Approaching the park entrance


Yester California Adventure is the only theme park that you enter by walking into a postcard—a huge postcard. And that doesn’t mean a big, flat mega-billboard that looks like a postcard. It means a three-dimensional space that looks like a giant postcard from a distance.

Well, not really.

When you’re actually there, it doesn’t look much like a postcard. It looks like a large, three-dimensional space with big letters spelling California. Chances are you’re approaching it from one side or the other, because that’s where the parking lot trams are. So the postcard elements don’t line up. And you’re focused on getting to the turnstiles so that you can enter the park.

Ceramic Mural at entrance to Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2007

A California postcard!

But if you know it’s supposed to look like a postcard, and you stand in the right place, and you frame a shot with your camera just right, you can wind up with a photo that looks somewhat like a classic California picture postcard!

Cool, eh?

Ceramic Mural at entrance to Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

Main Gate

Don’t be in too much of a hurry to get though a turnstile so you can rush off to Superstar Limo or the Orange Stinger.

The colorful art “mountains” on either side of the main gate aren’t painted. They are magnificent ceramic murals. In fact, you’re between the two halves of the largest ceramic mural in the world.

Ceramic is a very durable material, and the colors don’t fade the way paint does. This mural should last for generations!

Take some time to admire the details. It’s quite a nice work of art.

Ceramic Mural at entrance to Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Wawona Tree, Yosemite

There really was a tree you could drive through at Yosemite National Park. It was the Wawona Tree at Mariposa Grove. The mighty sequoia was over 2,000 years old in 1881 when a 7-foot-wide tunnel was built through it as tourist attraction. That was nine years before Yosemite became a National Park. Somehow, the Wawona Tree lived for another 88 years before it toppled over in 1969. One reason for its demise was a severe winter. The other reason was that a normal, healthy sequoia doesn’t have an automobile tunnel through its trunk.

Ceramic Mural at entrance to Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Catalina Casino in Avalon, Catalina Island

Now sing along...

Twenty-six miles across the sea
Santa Catalina is awaitin’ for me
Santa Catalina, the island of romance, romance, romance, romance

The landmark Catalina Casino opened in 1929 at Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island. In this case, casino does not mean a gambling hall. It’s a word that Italians use for a social gathering place. In fact, casino comes from the diminutive form of casa (house). But the Catalina Casino is anything but diminutive. It’s 140 feet tall—just 7 feet shorter than Disneyland’s Matterhorn Mountain—and contains a magnificent single-screen movie theater with 1,184 seats, a huge circular ballroom above it, and a museum.

Ceramic Mural at entrance to Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is represented by its soaring downtown skyline, the iconic Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport, and the ubiquitous freeways. The futuristic Theme Building, designed by the architectural firm of Pereira & Luckman, opened in 1961 as the centerpiece of the airport’s new terminal complex.

There’s even a Disney connection. In 1997, after a $4 million interior update designed by Walt Disney Imagineering, the retro-futuristic Encounter Restaurant replaced the tired Theme Restaurant in the “space age” landmark. Sadly, Encounter closed permanently at the end of 2013.

Ceramic Mural at entrance to Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Surfer

Surfing may have started as the sport of Hawaiian kings, but historians of surfing (yes, there are such historians) report that the history of surfing in California goes back to 1885. That’s when three Hawaiian princes brought the sport to Santa Cruz, California, during their summer break from their school, St. Matthew’s Hall in San Mateo. Legendary Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku surfed San Diego’s Ocean Beach in 1916. But surfing in California really caught on in the 1950s—around the time that Disneyland opened—and its popularity has been increasing ever since then. California even has four museums devoted to surfing.

Ceramic Mural at entrance to Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

California Mission and a Balloon Festival

Every California schoolchild learns about Father Junipero Serra (1713-1784), who founded California’s first nine Spanish missions beginning in 1769. By 1823, there were 21 missions, stretching from San Diego to Sonoma.

California has several hot air balloon festivals each year, such as the Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival.

Ceramic Mural at entrance to Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

The Lone Cypress Tree and a Sea Otter

The Lone Cypress Tree is not just the logo of the Pebble Beach Golf Links. It’s an actual tree, dramatically perched on a rocky cliff jutting into the Pacific Ocean. You can see this landmark tree along the scenic 17 Mile Drive between Carmel and Pacific Grove. Sea otters really do live in the waters below the tree, although it’s hard to see them from the shore. To see them, head to the nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium instead.

Ceramic Mural at entrance to Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

San Francisco

San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, even if this isn’t the most beautiful part of the ceramic mural. The landmarks represented here include the skyline, Victorian homes, Chinatown, Lombard Street, the Palace of Fine Arts, and something else. The “something else” might be a dragon. Or it might be a pile of food. Or perhaps—although this makes no sense—it could be animal innards.

Ceramic Mural at entrance to Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

California State Route 1

One of the most dramatic parts of California State Route 1, the road along California’s coastline, is the Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur. Completed in 1932, the reinforced concrete arch bridge offers great views of the rugged coast. The real Bixby Creek Bridge does not cross a deep blue bay, and is not flanked by massive waterfalls.

Ceramic Mural at entrance to Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2007

Deer jumping across the entrance barrier

Stop those deer! They’re jumping across the barrier into the park without a ticket. California has a lot of people, but it also has a lot of wildlife.

Ceramic Mural at entrance to Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Sea Lions

Speaking of wildlife, it’s only fitting to include a species that has the state as part of its name. It’s the California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus).

Ceramic Mural at entrance to Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Pelicans and Whales

Now sing along...

California, here I come
Right back where I started from
Where bowers of flowers bloom in the spring
Each morning at dawning, birdies sing at everything
A sunkissed miss said, “Don’t be late!”
That’s why I can hardly wait
Open up that Golden Gate
California, here I come!


The picture postcard entrance, with the “the Largest Ceramic Mural in the World,” was part of Disney’s California Adventure when the park opened in February 2001.

The Imagineers who designed the entrance wanted to do something dramatic and different. At the time that Disney’s California Adventure was being designed, Tim Delaney had the role of Creative Director, Producer & Field Art Director of the Entrance Complex & Paradise Pier. Tim Delaney now has his own design firm. His firm’s website proudly describes the entrance design:

Tim created the design and lead the team of the main entrance complex for Disney’s California Adventure to read like a picture postcard from “Sunny California.” Welcoming you are giant letters lined in glittering gold mirrors spelling out CALIFORNIA. He included rich icons from the Golden State such as the Golden Gate Bridge—with a monorail gliding across it, the Sun Icon and Wave Fountain, and twin ceramic tile murals representing imagery from Northern and Southern California.

Artists Theodora Kurkchiev and Dimitri Lazaroff of TND Studio, Inc. in San Pedro created the spectacular ceramic mural. They’re the same artists who created the fountain at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach and the largest 3D mosaic in the world at Tokyo Disney Sea.

Installation of Ceramic Mural at entrance to Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Tony “WisebearAZ” Moore, 2000

Blank concrete walls during park construction

Installation of Ceramic Mural at entrance to Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Tony “WisebearAZ” Moore, 2000

Partial installation of the ceramic mural

Installation of Ceramic Mural at entrance to Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Tony “WisebearAZ” Moore, 2000

Completing a section of the mural

It must have seemed like a good idea to do something original and artistic to welcome guests into the California-themed park. Unfortunately, the result came across as rather cold. Even though the mural was probably very costly, it came across as cheap-looking—mere decorations on walls.

The ceramic mural was a great work of monumental art by talented artists—but it was in the wrong place. If it had decorated a prominent spot at an airport or convention center, it might have become a beloved and respected landmark.

Not far away from the entrance to Disney’s California Adventure, the entrance to Disneyland Park provides a warm, welcoming experience. Tunnels on either side of an old-fashioned railroad station take guests back in time to a town square at the turn of the 20th century.

Some of the original designers of Disneyland, such as Harper Goff and Marvin Davis, came from the world of motion picture art direction. Their studio jobs had been to create believable, detailed exteriors and interiors for movies that would transport viewers to other places and times. Others, such as Ken Anderson and Herb Ryman, came from animation, where, beginning with blank sheets of paper, entire worlds are brought to life. These designers used their skills to create immersive environments for Disneyland guests. Somehow, they and their boss, Walt Disney, knew instinctively that it wouldn’t be enough just to apply decorations to walls.

Map excerpt showing new entrance to Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

Excerpt from a map of Disney’s California Adventure (© Disney)

When plans for the $1.1 billion redo of Disney’s California Adventure were announced in late 2007, artwork and a model showed that the entrance complex, including the ceramic murals, would be replaced by a streetscape representing Los Angeles when a young Walt Disney arrived from Kansas City with dreams and little else.

A montage on the exterior of Blue Sky Cellar, the park’s preview gallery, described Buena Vista Street:

The new entrance to the Park, this is 1920s Los Angeles as Walt Disney experienced it… the charming and enterprising merchants, the tantalizing restaurants, the grand Carthay Circle Theatre, and the jaunty Red Car Trolley to take you where you want to go. Buena Vista Street is a reflection of the energy, optimism, personality and stories of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants from across the country and around the world who came to California with just pennies in their pocket, but a wealth of dreams.

After the end of the busy summer 2010 season, serious work began on the entrance complex. On Internet message boards, fans hoped that giant mural would be relocated. But that really wasn’t an option. The mural, with large pieces of fragile ceramic cemented permanently to concrete walls, was designed to last for a long time—but not to be dismantled and moved.

In October 2010, demolition of the ceramic murals began. It must have been painful for Kurkchiev and Lazaroff to see their art destroyed.

Buena Vista Street at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Oswald’s on Buena Vista Street

Buena Vista Street at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Buena Vista Street façade for the restrooms

When Buena Vista Street opened June 15, 2012, park guests were delighted. Where the ceramic mural had once covered both sides of the entrance lane, charming façades evoked Los Angeles in 1923. Behind those façades, the shop interiors continued the theme.

But one piece of DCA 1.0 survived—and it also involved ceramic tiles. The mens’ and womens’ rooms in the Sepulveda building are the original bathrooms from 2001—with their original decorative tiles.


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Updated June 26, 2015.