September 5, 2014

Where Frontierland Meets New Orleans Square

This elegant piece of Imagineering art from 1954 highlights one of my favorite aspects of the creation of Disneyland: the slight details and smooth transitions between themed areas and public places. (Please note that I increased the contrast on the piece so that details could be more easily seen.)

Long before New Orleans Square was announced, a decade plus before the Pirates of the Caribbean would drastically change the future of theme park design, the outskirts of Frontierland were designed to trail off with a slight nod to what would come in the mid-sixties. The transition from a full on wilderness fort to fairly lovely restaurant at the end of the arcade is barely noticed by the guests until a look is taken at the whole. Walking through the fortress to the end of the road, guest find the Golden Horseshoe building on the corner, signaling a change in direction both literally and figuratively. The restaurants become more decorative with the addition of balconies, window treatments, and landscaping. 

Years later, a full on recreation of "The Big Easy" would debut at the park. Alas, Walt Disney himself would not live to see the opening of his cutting-edge pirate adventure, but he would be around to dedicate the newest of Disney lands. With its French and Creole architecture, jazz combos, and delicious foods true to the original, New Orleans Square became the epitome of theme park design. Adding the beautiful Haunted Mansion at the end of the decade only cemented its place.

Look again at the piece of art: the horse drawn carriage at the right is at the location where a Disneyland guest would one day cross over from west of the Mississippi into the "Paris" of the Americas. This transition would be absolutely seamless if it weren't for the placement of the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse / Tarzan's Treehouse right next to the original entrance to the pirate attraction. Nonetheless, the art of Disneyland is more than apparent here. The thoughtful work of the original Imagineers proves once again the wisdom of Walt's approach of giving guests much more than they expect. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)


Ezra David Haith said...

In the televised opening day broadcast, this area was depicted as "Old New Orleans" and showcased with Jazz musicians and women in Mardi Gras attire dancing on the balconies. It was sometimes referred to as "New Orleans Street" in the early days. As for the placement of the tree-house so close to Pirates of the Caribbean, it can be considered a nod to "Pirates Alley." One side of Jackson Square was adjacent to wilderness, and Lafitte's pirates could easily slip into town there. The exterior of POTC itself is inspired by the The Cabildo at Jackson Squre, the seat of the Spanish government that held Louisiana briefly. It's not a good transition, and only a history buff would know why that's appropriate.

Mark Taft said...

Fascinating! I've been to the real city and never realized The Cabildo was the inspiration. In fact, I've seen the opening broadcast of Disneyland many times, and the New Orleans Street references slipped by me. Memory loss I guess. Thank you for a very informative response!