Walt Wednesday #12
Walt Disney hosted a 4th of July party for a select group of Disney studio employees and their families at Disneyland, just days before it's grand opening on July 17th 1955. Those lucky enough to attend would be among the very first to ride some of the attractions and see Walt's highly anticipated project. Construction was still ongoing in many areas of the park, so the party guests were restricted to Main Street U.S.A., Adventureland and Frontierland. Guests we're able to ride the Jungle Cruise, Mark Twain steamboat, as well as the pack Mules, conestoga wagon's, and stage coaches in Frontierland.
The Disneyland railroad was also steaming along, with none other than Walt himself and Disney legend Ward Kimball, in the bowler hat. Just getting to Disneyland was an adventure in itself in 1955. 1 of the guests that day was 11 year old Alan Coats, the son of Disney artist Claude Coats, who at the time was helping compete Pleat the painting of the Mr. Toad's wild ride attraction. Years later, Alan recalled, "It took a long time to get to Disneyland from the studio because the freeway wasn't finished. So we got off in Buena Park somewhere and wandered through the Orange groves. It was a very rural experience."
When the Coach family rode the Jungle Cruise, Alan remembers Walt coming on the boat and greeting everyone, "well thank you for coming and I hope you have a good time welcome to Disneyland."
From all accounts of that day, Walt had the most fun with Ward Kimball on the train. Even after most of the guests left for the day, the train lovers stuck around. Kimball later said, "this was a big day for Walt, on that 4th of July, to the 80 or 90 people that were there that day, the park was basically a big empty place, with a lot of work going on. They rode the trains and the Mark Twain, looked at how the construction was going, ate a picnic lunch and that was about it, people began leaving when the sun went down. But to Walt, the locomotives were under steam! We were like kids playing trains."
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Growing up in Los Angeles in the 70s/80s we visited Disneyland on a regular basis and often after school, before "Annual Passes".