Yesterland
Photo of Disneyland Hotel pool
The End of the Original Disneyland Hotel
 
by Don Ballard


Guest Contributor
When Walt Disney was planning Disneyland, he turned to his friend, entrepreneur Jack Wrather, to build an upscale hotel to serve park guests. The Disneyland Hotel opened in October 1955. It wasn’t like the high-rise Disneyland Hotel of today. It was a collection of modern, attractive 2-story buildings. The Walt Disney Company didn’t buy the Disneyland Hotel until 1988.

— Werner Weiss

In 1999, eleven years after the Walt Disney Company had acquired ownership of the Disneyland Hotel, entire portions of the oldest sections of the Hotel were demolished. As is too often the case, the “old” must give way for the “new.” Disney was in the process of turning a major section of Disneyland’s old parking lot into a new theme park (Disney’s California Adventure) and adding a new hotel (Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel). On the remainder of the old parking lot a lavish shopping, dining, and entertainment area (Downtown Disney) was being constructed. To accommodate some of this new development, the oldest buildings of the Disneyland Hotel had to give way.

Photo of Disneyland Hotel
The South Garden Rooms—the original Disneyland Hotel from 1955—awaiting demolition

The “wrecking ball of progress” fell first upon all of the two-story guest room structures in the Northeast section of the Disneyland Hotel. Dating to the Hotel’s opening in 1955, the five southern guest room structures (later to be known as the Oriental Gardens) were then demolished. As a result, the Disneyland Hotel was reduced to 990 guest rooms. This was the lowest number of guest rooms available since before the addition of the second tower building at the beginning of 1970.

Photo of Disneyland Hotel
The early history of the Disneyland Hotel being erased behind a construction fence.

Next, the Hotel’s lengthy, two-story structure along West Street also had to go. The site of the Gourmet restaurant and the long-time popular Coffee House (and all of the area that had been developed into Restaurant Row by 1970), ceased to exist. Anaheim’s first ballrooms, the Embassy and Magnolia Rooms, were also gone. Gone too were the Olympic size pool, the Monorail Cafe and the Plaza Complex building. With all this now gone, a great deal of the earliest history of the Wrather years would be lost.

Even West Street itself would cease to exist when it was officially designated Disneyland Drive. [The Hotel’s address now would be changed to 1150 Magic Way (a new road farther to the north). The portion of West Cerritos Avenue that had run in front of the Hotel’s Marina Tower was completely eliminated.] What Jack Wrather had affectionately referred to as his “little motel in the middle of the orange grove” soon became a mere memory.

Photo of Disneyland Hotel
The site of the original guest rooms, ready to become a parking lot and landscaped buffer.

Replacing Restaurant Row... the twelve-screen AMC Theatres multiplex. Replacing the Plaza Building shops... the ESPN Zone sports restaurant and bar. And replacing the South Garden Rooms... a parking lot.

The only structure to survive this onslaught of expansion was part of the second story of the Monorail Station (which had welcomed its first train load of passengers in 1961). That building was significantly remodeled and reopened to monorail service in 2001.

Photo of Disneyland Hotel
As the new parking structure rises, the Hotel’s Restaurant Row is almost ready to fall.

In 1999, in a matter of a few short months, most of the Hotel’s earliest history was erased... paved over and landscaped. As Joni Mitchell’s 1970 hit song so aptly put it: “Don’t it always seem to go / That you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone / They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

For the millions of Hotel guests, who over the years have received numerous pleasures, great joy, and lasting memories from the Wrathers’ meticulous care in planning and untiring efforts to continually improve the Disneyland Hotel, a great deal of thanks and gratitude is extended.


About the Author

Don Ballard is the author of Disneyland Hotel: The Early Years 1954-1988, published in 2005. This article is adapted from the epilogue of the book.
 
Don became interested in the Disneyland Hotel in the late 1970’s — initially just as a guest who enjoyed many stays there. In 1998, Don began documenting the rich history of the Hotel.

Book Cover
For more about this book, including ordering information, see http://www.magicalhotel.com/

Mini Book Review

I enjoyed reading Disneyland Hotel: The Early Years 1954-1988. And I enjoyed looking at the book’s extensive collection of historic photos and illustrations.

This book is a surprisingly interesting history of the Disneyland Hotel, interwoven with a concise history of Disneyland and a professional biography of the Hotel’s owner, Jack Wrather.

Don Ballard recognizes parallels between Walt Disney and Jack Wrather. Both men were innovators and risk takers who were told by “experts” that their ventures in Anaheim would fail.

This is a terrific book for fans of Disney history, as well as for people who are interested in the hospitality industry or the evolution of Orange County.

— Werner Weiss


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Last updated December 26, 2006.

Dean W. Barickman contributed to Don Ballard’s text on this page. Thank you.
 
All photos on this page courtesy of the Wrather family and/or the Wrather Archives at Loyola Marymount University, courtesy of Chris Wrather and the family of Jack Wrather, with thanks to Don Ballard; some images originally copyright Wrather Corporation, which was acquired by The Walt Disney Company.