Thursday, March 6, 2008

The First Guidebook

The Story of Disneyland; Disneyland Incorporated/ Western Printing & Lithograph Company, 1955; 20 pp.

I figured that a good way to start off a blog reviewing books about the Disney parks would be to review one of the first books about the Disney parks! The Story of Disneyland is a souvenir guide sold at the Park during its first year of operation in 1955, and its purposes were (besides giving those first visitors something to take home and show off to their jealous neighbors) to tell folks a little about Disneyland how came to be, what it was like, what was there, and how to find it.

You open the book and there's the smiling face of dear old Uncle Walt welcoming you to the Park. The next three pages gives you the Cliffs Notes version of the reason for the Park's creation and how the place was designed and built. Even this early in the Park's history, there were some pretty fascinating statistics: Over 300,000 cubic yeards of earth were moved to form the contours of the land, the King Arthur Carousel was purchased in Canada for $22,500, and the first Disneyland parking lot could hold 12,175 vehicles, just to name a couple items from the book. We then move on to an introduction of each of the five lands that made up Disneyland in its opening year, with brief but breathless descriptions of what you could expect to find there (Fantasyland, for example, is "A world of imagination, where the dreams of childhood come true").

Now, this guidebook presented a problem to the folks at Disney that they would encounter time and time again when first introducing their theme parks to the public: How do you show people a place that's nothing like anything they've ever seen when it hasn't been built yet? The guidebook had to be put together long before anything was ready to be photographed, so the 1955 edition of The Story of Disneyland features line drawings and illustrations created just for the book, as well as a couple of pages illustrated with some of the Imagineers' concept drawings for the attractions that put in there. I love looking at concept art of the parks and their attractions, so this was a real treat for me. By the 1956 guidebook, the art was replaced with photographs from the Park, which is nice in its own way, but somehow just isn't quite the same.

Now we get to the oddest part of The Story of Disneyland: The guide maps. To help guests find their way around the Park, the writers and designers of the book divided the Park into four sections (Main Street USA and Adventureland shared one section) and placed each section on a grid. To find an attraction, a shop, or even a restroom, you had to consult the index to get the grid coordinates, find the map of the section of the Park you were interested in, and then find the coordinates on the section map (for example, the restrooms in Frontierland were located at B-P17). There are no legends on the section maps, or really much of anything on the section maps other than the buildings and the waterways. Lotsa luck finding that restroom. I'll never complain about the Park guide maps they have now ever again!

I love the park guidebooks and the guide maps because they give you a snapshot of a moment in time. The one thing that's a constant at the Disney theme parks is change, and it's nice to be able to look back and see what the parks were like way back when. I couldn't be there when Disneyland first opened (seeing as I wouldn't even be born for a few more years!), but guidebooks like The Story of Disneyland make it possible to be there, at least in spirit.

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