Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Walking right down the middle of Main Street, U.S.A.

With the Roy O. Disney & Minnie statue looking down Main Street, U.S.A. from Town Square, Magic Kingdom, WALT DISNEY WORLD, Florida.  Note size of Castle and this is from Town Square.
  Frank Lloyd Wright called Architecture the "Mother Art"....because all other arts had to go through it, and so in that spirit I pull just about everything I love(Disney, Cars, Theater, Film, TV.) through this blog using that justification. I am obviously a huge Disney nut, I come by it honestly as I grew up in a Disney household. We went to Disneyland at least once a year, and my folks were always sharing Disney movies with us. Their Disney love went back to their childhoods too. My parents are from the same small mining town (Morenci, Arizona) and although they didn't  start dating until they had both ended up in Southern California they have known each other since childhood. My Mom and my Dad's sister were in the 5th Grade together and their friendship started with an outing to see a re-release of Walt Disney's Cinderella at their local theater.

Looking down Main Street, U.S.A. from about half way down, DISNEYLAND, California.  Note the size of the castle and this is almost 3/4ths down Main Street.
  My great Aunt was a school teacher in San Bernardino, California in the 50's and my Dad and his siblings would come visit from Arizona during breaks from school. Dad has tons of Disneyland stories from way back. My great Aunt took them on their first trips to Disneyland. He would talk of going when they had the circus...which was so short lived that it was only in operation over the Christmas holiday from Dec. 1955- Jan. 1956. That was how I was able to determine that he first went to Disneyland in it's opening year, not bad for some kids from a tiny town in eastern Arizona. Some of my earliest memories are of Disneyland, and I imagine it will be the same for my children, if you love it, truly love Disney I think it is something you can't help but pass on to your kids. Walt Disney became a childhood hero of mine, there was something about the story of a kid who likes to draw who goes on to do great things that was terribly attractive to this daydreamer. Our second son's middle name is Elias both as a tribute to my wife's family and to Walter Elias Disney.

Looking down Main Street, U.S.A. from Cinderella Castle across The Plaza, Magic Kingdom, WALT DISNEY WORLD, Florida. Note the flag poles and cupolas and generally fancier "gingerbread" architectural detailing on the buildings. 
  Southern California in the 50's is a place with a lot of transplants from the midwest and east and here they were living in this sort of magical desert with eternal spring and summer and ground that if you added water would grow anything.  I think Disneyland grew out of that, after living on the east coast for a few years now I can see how it generated feelings of nostalgia and reassurance to transplanted Midwesterners and East Coasters. A large portion of it is essentially a petting zoo of the rest of America, you have the small town Main Street that could be anywhere, the Rivers(and forests) of America, and Frontierland,  If you watch old episodes of Walt Disney's anthology TV show you will see in the shows filmed at Disneyland many more older people just taking the place in than you are likely to today.  At some point there has been a shift from being nostalgic about the settings of Disneyland to being nostalgic about Disneyland itself.

Looking down Main Street, U.S.A. across Town Square from in front of Train Station, DISNEYLAND, California. Note the size of the Castle and this is looking across Town Square.
  "Main Street, U.S.A." is that wonderful gateway to the Magic Kingdoms, it's been said that Disneyland is like a movie that the guest stars in, the tunnels beneath the train tracks are like the darkness in a theater right before the curtain pulls back and the credits begin. So "Main Street, U.S.A." acts as a kind of opening credits(which is why the names on the windows honor folks who designed and built and ran the parks).  It also acts as transition from the real world to the fantastic worlds of the rest of the park.

Looking down Main Street, U.S.A. from edge of The Plaza, DISNEYLAND, California. Note the brick, mansard roof/attics, awnings, fewer turrets & cuppolas.

  In the 1950's a Victorian turn of the century Main Street would have been something still fresh in many people's memories(as it was for Walt Disney). Southern California has many downtown streets next to a railroad line(sort of like "Main Street, U.S.A." but without the churros) like much of the country, but by the 50's they probably had been stripped of much of their charm. There was the spread of automobile-centric design, shopping centers with large parking lots ("strip malls"). You might find yourself parking in front of one store and because of the size of the parking lot getting back in your car and driving to park in front of another store in the same center.  The intimacy of the streetscape with sidewalks and shops lining it that you walk between was being lost. Disneyland had a part in reviving that tradition.

Horse drawn trolley and motor bus in front of Main Street Train Station, DISNEYLAND, California

  Today I think Main Street exists in the popular imagination not so much as a shared past but as a Disney concept.  But it is still a powerful concept and it's appeal can be seen in the spread and success of "Lifestyle" shopping centers.(Like "The Grove" in Los Angeles a newer shopping center that even has a Trolley going down an artificial street!) The secret is in a visually interesting place("Main Street U.S.A." buildings have tons of detail, cornices and molding and lights and trim around the windows/doors) with varying sights and sounds and being able to walk it comfortably. The Disney version of Main Street is idealized; it's not a false memory but the way things should be.

East side of Main Street, U.S.A., DISNEYLAND, California. Note how the windows are slightly smaller as you look at each floor of the buildings.  In reality this is a two story building, but the window detailing makes it look as much as four stories tall.  This is what is meant as "Forced Perspective"
  I've always loved "Main Street, USA", having been a fan of model railroading, and after all what is Disneyland but a slightly larger model railroad. It is said that it is(very) loosely based on the impressions Walt Disney had of his hometown of Marceline, Missouri. This is really only true in that it recalls the small town downtowns found next to many railroad depots. The buildings were Art Directed by Disney Artist Harper Goff who worked in the architectural details of the buildings of Fort Collins, Colorado (his hometown) into those he designed for Disneyland.  Fort Collins was a colorful, prosperous town with buildings that have a lot of "gingerbread" detail, with turrets and cupolas you see at Disneyland. Walt's Marceline was far more modest, with much simpler brick buildings.   

Looking down Main Street, U.S.A from Town Square, DISNEYLAND, California.  Note size of Castle and this is from Town Square.
Looking down Main Street, U.S.A. from in front of The Emporium, Magic Kingdom, WALT DISNEY WORLD, Florida. Note the size of the Castle and this is from just past Town Square.  Also note how much more architectural trim and detail there is, more turrets & cupolas, and flagpoles.
  At very quick glance the Main Streets at Disneyland and Walt Disney World seem the same.   While they both try to portray an idealized turn of the century "Anywhere, U.S.A." environment, the scale, character, and detail are very different.

"Main Street, U.S.A." at Disneyland

  At Disneyland, Main Street is a small town, the buildings while charming and detailed are not particularly grand.  It evokes middle America with liberal doses of Victorian (Second Empire) Architecture.  Second Empire architecture has mansard rooflines(those sloping upper floors with roof surfaces but still with windows) and turrets or towers. A very popular style in the late 1800's.

Main Street Train Station from entry plaza("Esplanade"), DISNEYLAND, California.  Note tall clock tower at right, subtle wood trim details and dormers.
Main Street Station from Town Square, DISNEYLAND, California.  Note clocktower to the east, stairs leading up to station, window dormers.

  There is a simple but elegantly composed railroad depot at the head of the street. The depot is my favorite building on Disneyland's Main Street. It has an asymmetrical composition with the tower situated on the East side of the building.

Opera House, Main Street, U.S.A., DISNEYLAND, California
 There is a handsome opera house on one side of a Town Square and on the opposite side is a handsome Town Hall with a charming fire station where Walt Disney kept a second floor apartment.

Disneyland City Hall, Main Street, U.S.A., DISNEYLAND, California
Fire Station, Main Street U.S.A., DISNEYLAND, California.  The second floor of this building housed a small private apartment for Walt Disney and his family.
  The street continues towards Sleeping Beauty Castle in the distance past The Emporium on the West and the Main Street Hotel on the East.  Along both sides of the street are various storefronts of different composition but still in various Victorian Styles.

The Emporium, Main Street, U.S.A., DISNEYLAND, California.  Note the stone detailing, awnings, third floor mansard roof and the tower. 
  These buildings are famously built using "Forced Perspective" in that the first floor is built nearly full scale, and each floor above is slightly smaller in scale so that the building seems taller than it really is because the smaller windows higher up make you think they are farther away.  The overall effect is that you think you are surrounded by 3 story(and taller) buildings but they are really only 2 stories tall.  The Castle uses the same trick to look like it is 100's of feet high while only being about 77 feet tall.  At Disneyland the Castle looks small, or to put it another way it looks really far away.  

"Main Street, U.S.A." at Walt Disney World(Magic Kingdom)

  The "Main Street, U.S.A." at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World is like the entire resort; much, much bigger.  The time setting is still the same but we are no longer in a small, modest town. Magic Kingdom Main Street is a large, prosperous, East Coast resort town.  It is horse country meets seaside resort (Upstate New York, Cape May, New Jersey) and every building is larger and more ornately detailed. The designers came from 20th Century Fox where they had done the amazing production design for the "Hello, Dolly!" film musical.
  In a previous post I detailed the extraordinary arrival sequence to the gates of the Magic Kingdom. Since Magic Kingdom is on the shore of a large lagoon and lake and arrival is by ferry boat or monorail the buildings were scaled to be seen from a distance.  Cinderella Castle is enormous and is visible from across the water, but as you get closer and closer it somehow manages to disappear!

Main Street Station from entry plaza, Magic Kingdom, WALT DISNEY WORLD, Florida.  Note the central clocktower with much more elaborate and formal "gingerbread" detailing.  
   At the head of Magic Kingdom Main Street is the handsome and imposing Main Street Station...it shares the same colors and overall effect of the Disneyland station but here you will find a symmetrical composition.

Main Street Station as seen from Town Square, Magic Kingdom, WALT DISNEY WORLD, Florida.  Note: Stop counting the Dwarfs and note the elaborate metal structure in place of California's open staircase.  All of the detailing is much richer and elaborate which suggests that WALT DISNEY WORLD Main Street, U.S.A. is a larger city, a "sophisticated" East Coast Resort and not a perfectly respectable middle American hamlet.
Same view seen from night, with the Seven Dwarfs out of the way we can now see that Main Street Station has both covered and exterior stairs(needed for the harsher Florida climate and because this is meant to be a more substantial station for a more prosperous town than the one represented at DISNEYLAND.)

  There is a highly detailed tower at the center of the building. The station is based on a real depot that was in Saratoga Springs, New York; a horse racing resort town.  I believe the centered/symmetrical design gives the station the size and presence that allows the Castle to be obscured. You lose sight of it enough to be surprised by it later.

Magic Kingdom City Hall, WALT DISNEY WORLD, Florida. This is a much more imposing structure than the one found at DISNEYLAND.  The columns are beefier, and there is more stonework detail just about everywhere.  The directive at WALT DISNEY WORLD was more, more, more.
  Town Square is flanked by a grander City Hall and Fire Station, and in place of the Disneyland Opera House is an extremely elegant and ornate "Town Square Theater".  It has a dramatic 2 story porch and is modeled on resort hotels from the time period.

Town Square Theater, Main Street, U.S.A., Magic Kingdom, WALT DISNEY WORLD, Florida.  This is modeled on a hotel, which is why you see balconies along the second and third floors.  While the architectural detailing is heavily Victorian with curlicues and gingerbread the massing of the building and the double height porch recall the riverside elevation of George Washington's Mount Vernon.

  This is probably my favorite building at Magic Kingdom Main Street, it has lots of gingerbread decor but it also recalls the grand piazza of George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate.

The Emporium seen from in front of City Hall, Main Street, U.S.A. Town Square, Magic Kingdom, WALT DISNEY WORLD, Florida.  Note again the use of a a double height("2-story") porch with paired columns and gingerbread detailing.  This style is often associated with great seaside resorts of the late nineteenth century and is not the sort of architecture you would find in your average American town.  

  The Emporium at Magic Kingdom is also noticeably more spectacular than it's Disneyland counterpart, it also having a dramatic 2 story corner tower and arcade.  Many of the buildings at this Main Street have these giant 2 story porches.

The Emporium, Main Street, U.S.A., Magic Kingdom, WALT DISNEY WORLD, Florida.  Note again the 2-story porch, complete with giant gazeebo corner entrance. Compare with the handsome but far less ornate DISNEYLAND Emporium.
  Once you clear the Town Square you immediately notice the magnificent Cinderella Castle. Cinderella Castle is almost 200' feet tall, but it looks and feels like it is 1000' tall thanks again to the use of Forced Perspective.  The Castle at Disney World is over 100' feet taller than the castle at Disneyland, it's even taller than the Matterhorn.

Cinderella Castle as seen from about 2/3rd the way down Main Street.  Magic Kingdom, WALT DISNEY WORLD, Florida. This is approximately from the same spot on  DISNEYLAND's Main Street as the second picture on this post.  

   None of this is to suggest that Disney World is better than Disneyland but just to illustrate how it is different and not as many assume simply an East Coast Disneyland. I have found that I love them both!

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