Monday, July 31, 2006
Elemental Losses: Earth
When Imagineering legend John Hench, after a pre-opening VIP tour of Disney’s California Adventure in 2001, famously quipped, “I liked it better when it was a parking lot” it would have been easy to dismiss the statement as merely a wry and devilishly wicked smack-down of a theme park that deserved much of the criticism thrown its way.
But look beyond the surface giggles and you’ll find a level of of wisdom that is both disarming and a little profound.
For when the 15,167 space 100 acre parking lot was torn up and replaced with flashy shops, restaurants, movie theaters, hotels and theme park attractions something very special about the Disneyland experience was lost forever.
For early Disney Imagineers it was the ubiquitous parking lot that visually symbolized everything ‘today’ and as such gave guests a little heads up on a sign over the two entrance portals to Disney’s Magical Kingdom:
"Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy."
Walt and his designers knew that by carefully contrasting the parking lot’s wide grey expanse of cement and steel with the color and intimate pageantry of Main Street U.S.A. they’d be giving guests a carefully calculated jolt of sensory uplift the moment they left the entrance tunnel, much like the experience Dorothy had leaving the drab sepia world of Kansas and opening the door to a Technicolor Oz.
Today that classic bronze plaque above the entrance portal has lost much of its prophetic power. Well before arriving at Disneyland guests have already been assaulted and overloaded with so many over-scaled and conflicting thematic show elements that entering Main Street can easily feel like an anti-climax; victim to the visual cacophony right outside the berm.
And so that whoosh of excitement guests once felt as they left the entrance tunnels and entered into the worlds of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy has been severely degraded by the loss of the original Disneyland parking lot. In his day Walt saw the parking lot as part of the over-all show. In our day Disney management saw the parking lot as a tremendous cash cow.
The Disney Guest, they figured, would never know what they were missing.
John Hench, however, knew too well.