Disneyland landscape architect Ruth Shellhorn was born in Los Angeles. Ruth was a pioneer in her field and, as one of the few women involved with the design of the Disneyland, made a significant contribution to the landscape and pedestrian pathway designs of the park in 1955.
After studying at Oregon State and Cornell, Ruth returned to begin what would become an illustrious career shaping the appearance of the LA area. She designed landscaping for a number of Bullock's stores and shopping centers. On some of those projects Ruth worked with prominent architect Welton Becket, who was a friend of Walt Disney. When Walt needed a landscape architect for Disneyland, Becket recommended Ruth.
Ruth joined the Disneyland project in early 1955, a few months before its planned opening. While Jack and Bill Evans had been working to secure plant materials and landscape portions of the park, the design team was struggling with detailed site plans for the different sections of the park, including in the central hub or Plaza. Ruth was brought in as a consulting landscape architect and to act as a liaison between the Imagineers working at the Studio and the Evans brothers at the construction site. She quickly learned this would be much more than a consulting role and was asked to restudy and design the Plaza. Ruth subsequently performed site planning for every other area of the park. As she later explained, her plans provided details on “circulation, paved and planted areas, tree placement, and, in some cases as in the Plaza, the outline of the water courses.” Incredibly, these site plans were not started until April of 1955.
Looking back on the chaotic nature of building Disneyland, Ruth said “I doubt this process could have been followed successfully on any other project on earth; but this was Disneyland, a sort of Fairyland, and Walt’s belief that the impossible was a simple order of the day so instilled this spirit in everyone that they never stopped to think that it couldn’t be done — they just did it, and with amazing speed.”
Growing up in Los Angeles in the 70s/80s we visited Disneyland on a regular basis and often after school, before "Annual Passes".