Yester California Adventure at Yesterland

Hollywood Pictures Backlot

Elephants

and the backlot entrance portal
Hollywood Pictures Backlot Elephants at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2002

A pair of pachyderms is precariously perched atop pillars on polychromatic pedestals. Passages for pedestrians perforate those pedestals. The portal promises picture production.


It’s a spectacular way to mark the entrance to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot, the land of Superstar Limo, the ABC Soap Opera Bistro, and The Power of Blast! In fact, it’s a Hollywood Spectacular.

Hollywood Pictures Backlot Elephants at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

Bronzed body

What really makes the portal impressive are the elephant towers on either side.

Hollywood Pictures Backlot Elephants at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2002

“All right, Mr. DeMille; I’m ready for my close-up.”

These aren’t ordinary elephants with gray, wrinkled hides. Their bronze bodies are covered with ornamental patterns. It looks a bit as if the elephants have been skinned, exposing their muscles and innards—but a closer look reveals that’s not the case.

Hollywood Pictures Backlot Elephants at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2009

Painted sky at the other end of the street

You might think that the other side of the portal would feel like a real, working moving studio. Alas, it feels like you’re on a street in Hollywood—until you realize that some of the façades are false fronts because this is supposed to be a movie backlot. Clever, eh?

When the clouds and the color of the sky are just right, the building with the painted sky at the other end of the street from the portal almost blends into the real sky.

Hollywood Pictures Backlot Elephants at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

Proboscine wreath holder

During the Holiday Season, the elephants perform a useful service. They hold golden Christmas wreaths.

Hollywood Pictures Backlot Elephants at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

Portal with stars

Hollywood Pictures Backlot Elephants at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2007

Portal without stars

Hurray for Elephants!


The Hollywood Pictures Backlot portal, flanked by elaborately perched elephants, was part of Disney’s California Adventure when the park opened in February 2001. The portal marked the transition from Sunshine Plaza to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot.

Hollywood and Highland Center

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2002

Hollywood & Highland Center

Just seven months later, Hollywood & Highland Center opened in Hollywood at the intersection of—where else?—Hollywood Blvd. and Highland Ave. The shopping complex, which was also home to the Kodak Theatre (now Dolby Theatre) and a hotel, had its own mighty elephants atop columns shaped like those at Disney’s California Adventure, but much larger. The Hollywood version used black and white and shades of gray, while the Disney version was in color.

So what’s the connection between giant sitting elephants and Hollywood?

Hollywood Pictures Backlot Elephants at Disney California Adventure

Still from Intolerance by D. W. Griffith, 1916. Public domain.

Babylon, as depicted in D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance

The answer lies with Intolerance, the 1916 silent Hollywood spectacular by D. W. Griffith. One of the four parallel stories in the three-and-one-half-hour epic dealt with the fall of Babylon to Persia in 539 B.C. For the scenes of ancient Babylon, Griffith built one of the largest exterior sets for a single movie in the history of motion pictures. The enormous set was at the corner of Hollywood and Sunset, around five miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. More than 3,000 extras populated the Babylon scenes.

The high-budget movie bankrupted Griffith’s company. For several years, the Intolerance set, clearly visible from the street, deteriorated until it was demolished in 1919.

Hollywood Pictures Backlot Elephants at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Chris Bales, 2010

Elephants during Glow Fest in 2010

The conceit behind the Hollywood Pictures Backlot was that it would first appear to be a city street in the Golden Age of Hollywood, but would turn out to be a Hollywood stage set as guests proceeded down the street. Thus, the portal—complete with mighty elephant statues—was legitimately the entrance to a studio backlot.

The design wasn’t convincing as a movie backlot.

Hollywood Pictures Backlot Elephants at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Chris Bales, 2011

After the removal of the Hollywood Pictures Backlot portal, but before the removal of the elephants

On April 12, 2011, the Hollywood Pictures Backlot sign and its supporting columns were removed permanently. Almost exactly a year later, on April 11, 2012, the elephants and their pillars were removed too.

But the pedestals remained. And they’re still there today, just with a new paint scheme.

Hollywood Pictures Backlot Elephants at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Chris Bales, 2012

Leftover pedestal with the Carthay Circle Theatre

The Hollywood Pictures Backlot became Hollywood Land. The pedestals look a bit forlorn now, and it’s odd to have such structures sitting in the middle of the sidewalk. But the pedestals provide a transition between Buena Vista Street and Hollywood Land.

Hollywood Pictures Backlot Elephants at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Former elephant pedestals

Perhaps the pedestals will have seasonal or special event uses. Or perhaps they’ll be removed when Hollywood Land gets the attention that it needs to bring it up to the standards of Buena Vista Street and Cars Land at Disney California Adventure.

Hollywood Pictures Backlot Elephants at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2005

Elephants at Disneyland

If you miss the elephants at Disney California Adventure, there’s another place nearby to visit elephants. Head over to Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise and its Indian Elephant Bathing Pool.


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Updated June 14, 2013.