Building Disney: Herb Ryman Draws the First Disney Park

“It won’t work!”
“You’re wasting money on something that won’t generate revenue!”
“And the idea of fancy landscaping is ridiculous!”
“Tell Walt he’s nuts!”

Walt’s reply? “Great. If they had liked it I would have been worried…”

It was in the late 1940’s that Walt Disney sat on a bench at Griffith Park, a children’s park located in Los Angeles, California. As he watched his two daughters, Diane (who would have been around 14 years old) and Sharon (adopted daughter who would have been around 11), he noticed how ragged and filthy the small amusement park was. He also noticed how the parents would sit and watch the children with nothing to do. They would all be anxious to get back to their homes, while the children were wanting to stay and have fun. And so an idea was born. An idea of a place “where parents and children could have fun together,” as he put it.

On an early Saturday morning in 1954, Walt called a young Herb Ryman, a renowned Disney artist, to his office. Walt said, “Herby, I’m going to do an amusement park. Roy [Disney] has to talk to the bankers and we’ve got to show them what we are going to do.” Excited, Herb replied, “Well I’d like to see it too.” Walt smiled back saying, “You’re going to do it.” With a look of shock, Herb said, “No I’m not. You’ve known about this for several weeks, now why do you wait until Saturday morning before the Monday and expect anybody to do a good job?” Walt walked over to the corner of the room looking out the window, and then turning back to him said, “Will you do it if I stay here with you?” And as Herb Ryman described the event in a later interview he finished with “And so Walt, as you know, is a very persuasive person.”

Walt and Herb then went to work on what was to be the first concept art drawing of Disneyland, as pictured below.

Disneyland plans

This was only the beginning of Walt’s dream. He called in artists, animators and engineers from within and outside the company. He travelled around the United States, visiting places such as Thomas Edison’s workshop and The Wright Brothers Bicycle Shop. During his travels he would formulate his plans of a “Mickey Mouse Park” that would include a western village, a Main Street, and more. These ideas would be built over the following years until eventually on July 17th, 1955, Walt could be found in his apartment above main street watching the crowds pour in on opening day.

Walt Disney at Disneyland Opening

Sharon Baird, a Mouseketeer from The Mickey Mouse Club television show, described the event:

“I was standing next to him at the window, watching the guests come through the gates. When I looked up at him, he had his hands behind his back, a grin from ear to ear, and I could see a lump in his throat and a tear streaming down his cheek. He had realized his dream.”

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