Disneyland's Main Street, U.S.A.: A History

Disneyland's Main Street, U.S.A.: A History

"Main Street, U.S.A. is America at the turn of the century — the crossroads of an era. The gas lamps and the electric lamp, the horse-drawn car and the auto car. Main Street is everyone's hometown, the heartline of America." — Walt Disney

TWDC Original Photo

Ah — Main Street, U.S.A., your go-to place to shop, dine, and immerse yourself in the Disneyland culture while visiting the Happiest Place on Earth. While you walk down the street, taking in the sweet smell of popcorn, churros and vanilla (peppermint during the holidays), have you ever stopped to read the inscriptions on the windows that adorn the tops of the shops? Have you ever paused to listen to the sounds (other than that of guests pandering about) that Main Street offers? Have you ever taken a ride in the horse-drawn carriages or any of the other vehicles that traverse this simplistic yet magical street? Walt Disney put his heart and soul into Main Street, wanting to create a town similar to the one he grew up in, in Marceline, Missouri, yet one that each guest could make their own, and feel at home in. This is just one reason why Main Street deserves our full attention.

The amount of detail that has gone into each and every Disney park is literally mind-boggling. Everything down to the ground you walk on has been perfectly planned out to match the thematic elements of the land in which it is in, and good ol' Main Street is no different. Have you ever tripped while walking down Main Street, or gotten a blurry castle picture because you lost your footing? If you have, it was probably because of the tracks running right down the middle of the street! Those tracks are used to guide some of the vehicles, including the horse-drawn street cars!

Walt loved the idea of a town that would evoke nostalgia of an earlier, simpler time; hence, the vintage style of the streetcars and horse-drawn carriages. Not made for speed, these old-style vehicles give a whole new meaning to slowing down, taking the scenic route and enjoying the ride. The conductors sometimes have funny commentary, cool facts, or stories to share, and you may learn something new by taking a quick ride with them down Main Street!

Whether you prefer to ride, walk, fly, jump, or skip down Main Street, I encourage you to take a minute and direct your attention to the windows that look down upon the bustling street. For those who are unfamiliar with these pieces of history, they aren't your typical windows. The glass panes that adorn the tops of the buildings are dedicated to those who have made outstanding contributions to Disneyland, or have left behind an amazing Disney legacy. The windows are made to look as if they belong to cartographers, shop owners, businessmen, seamstresses, and more. For example:

This window is dedicated to Sam McKim. Any guesses on what his Disney legacy was? Any at all? With the title "Map Maker to the Kingdom", it is not too difficult to assume that what McKim left behind was some sort of a map of the park. If you had thought that was the case, you would be correct! McKim was a master magical map maker, and created a map of Disneyland that was sold between 1958 and 1964. He was also named a Disney Legend, hence having his own window above the Photo Supply Co. at the end of Main Street.

Not all windows are as self-explanatory as McKim's window, however. Take a look at Ken Anderson's window.

Not as easy to read, am I right? This window is more simplistic in its design. Now, Anderson was actually a really influential Disney art director who worked on movies such as "The Jungle Book," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," and a few others. He specialized in architecture, and played a part in the developing and designing of the park itself! This is all great, and he became a Disney Legend for it, but you might be wondering...what does this have to do with "Bait Co.?" Well, Anderson was actually really into fly-fishing, which makes the window a humorous one, as fly-fishing does not make use of bait at all! Oh, Disney and their painstaking attention to detail! Gotta love it.

Now that you know a little bit about the fascinating and legendary windows of Main Street, be sure to seek them out and try to solve the mysteries of the history behind them!

Main Street, U.S.A. was created to feel very familiar, welcoming, and charming. I mean, just look at these darling buildings! One extremely clever way this was done was through forced perspective. A simple way to describe this concept, when referencing Main Street, is that the tops of the buildings are all built to a smaller scale than the bottom portions. It gives the illusion that everything is taller than it actually is. Still a bit confused? Look more closely at the second and third "floors" of the buildings pictured. As the building goes up, the second and third floors look a bit more cramped; there would hardly be much room to stand at the top! This tricks your brain (and eyes!) into thinking that all of Main Street is composed of three story buildings, which makes Sleeping Beauty's castle appear even taller than it actually is, if you are looking down the street at it. Pretty neat, am I right?

Walt had a perfect vision for Main Street: a town that anyone could call their own. But that doesn't mean Main Street has no unique backstory, or history to it! This beloved part of Disneyland is meant to bring us guests back to a time somewhere in the early twentieth century, between 1900 and 1911. This was a time when a new era was emerging, so it wouldn't have seemed odd to find a car and a horse-drawn carriage headed down the street simultaneously! The transition period that Main Street is based on is why you see a wide variety of vehicles, as well as the markings on the ground of hooves and such.

This old timey theme is also why you hear the musical stylings of the Dapper Dans, as well as rag-time piano music up and down the street. The Dapper Dans are a barbershop quartet that have been performing on Main Street since 1959! To this day, they continue to win the hearts of men, women and children alike who listen to their happy, upbeat songs. Feelin' blue? That's nothing these fine gentleman can't fix! I highly recommend stopping and taking a listen while you stroll down Main Street.

Main Street is full of so much more rich history and many, many happy memories, for the young and young at heart, as Walt would say. Taking the time to learn a little about Disneyland's past is probably the best history lesson you could self-enroll in! Not only does it make the time spent there so much more meaningful, but you can pass along what you know to other Disney enthusiasts. Spread the magic wherever you can!

To all who come to this happy place
Disneyland is your land.
Here, age relives fond memories of the past ...
and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.
Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, dreams
and the hard facts that have created America ...
with the hope that it will be
a source of joy and inspiration to all the world."
Walt Disney, July 17 1955
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