Thursday, December 01, 2011

Disneyland: Steps In Time, Frontierland

Here's another "before and after, and way after" series of images of Disneyland, beginning with the early 1950s concept art for the entrance to Frontierland, shown above. The 1958 photo of the completed entrance, below, shows a more elaborate version of the "fort" walls and towers, but no Indian village at the entrance. The Indian village ended up where Critter Country is today.
With the trees covering much of the fort, and modern metal railings keeping folks out of the pond, a modern view of the Frontierland entrance (shown below) doesn't seem quite as well themed. Somehow the grey concrete doesn't seem quite right either. Look back at that concept art again, and note the warmer tones and more natural look.
While new attractions have been added or updated in each of Disneyland's "lands", it seems Frontierland has gotten the mucky end of the stick. The last addition was Big Thunder Mountain (an outstanding ride) way back in 1979. But since then, Frontierland has lost the Mike Fink Keelboats, Fort Wilderness, The Golden Horseshoe Revue, and shops that sold Western merchandise, like the Pendleton Woolen Mills Dry Goods Store and the Indian Trading Post. And of course, Tom Sawyer's Island was re-themed with pirate stuff, making it more a part of New Orleans Square than Frontierland.

Having been sick at home for a week and a half, I've had the chance to watch a lot of Westerns on the new digital side-band channels. They range from poor to excellent, but they're all better than the "reality shows" and endless police procedurals produced today. Anyway, I can't help thinking that America is way overdue for a resurgence of interest in the Old West. All it would take would be one blockbuster movie or a couple major TV hits. If and when that happens, perhaps Disney will take another look at Frontierland.

By the way, Disneyland history fans will be interested to read Imagineering Disney's post about the Frito Kid, and Kevin Kidney's sad news about the mural at Plaza Pavilion. Both are worth reading.

11 comments:

Jim B. Houston, TX said...

This brings back memories, almost! My first visit to Disneyland was in 1959, I was 8 at the time so I don't remember it in detail but I'm sure Frontierland looked just like the first photo then. We drove up from San Diego for the day. Who would have thought that 8 years later my first real job would been as a busboy at the Gourmet Room at the Disneyland Hotel. Good job on the blog Chris. I check it every few days for updates.

Connie Moreno said...

Wonderful post, Chris! FYI, I have a Facebook page called Bring Back Disneyland's Fort Wilderness. I am hoping to draw attention it and thus get the attention of those in charge at Disney.

outsidetheberm said...

Hmmm, a resurgence of interest in the old west...

I think we'll work on that, Chris! ;)

Great post.

Chris Jepsen said...

Outsidetheberm: The trick is to make the Western something inspiring again: The story of rugged individualists forging a new frontier. On the rare occasion someone makes a Western these days, it's often so damn depressing you wonder why you bothered watching it.

At the height of the Western's popularity in the 1950s, the stories served both as a way to look back at a (somewhat glorified) history of America, and also as a metaphor to express our optimism for the new frontiers that still awaited us. It was the flip side of "Tomorrowland."

Today, it seems, we're going through another "Carter" era, where nobody believes much in America OR the future. Hopefully, that will change.

Connie: I miss Fort Wilderness too. In fact, as much as I think they did a fine job with the pirate re-theming, I wish they'd left Tom Sawyer's Island alone. Everything in the park does NOT have to tie into a current Disney movie, and in fact the best attractions never did.

Jim: Thanks for the memories. Glad you're enjoying the blog. Hope to see more comments from you in the future.

Capt. Tomorrow said...

Mr. J: If they ever get the Lone Ranger movie off the ground and it does well, it just may be the spark needed for some Frontierland attention.

Davelandweb said...

The set designers for Disneyland in the 50's seemed to understand rustic better than the contemporary ones. The challenges presented by those zealous to sue also play a part in the overly-clean presentation of Frontierland 2011. Despite all this, I'd still take Frontierland 2011 over Tomorrowland 2011 any day!

Anonymous said...

I agree that the loss of the Frontierland attractions is disappointing and the changes on Tom Sawyer's Island disheartening. The original Frontierland was one of the most "complete" areas of the park, partly due to Walt's personal interest in all things nostalgic and partly due to the enormous interest in the Old West during the 1950s. It was a golden age of nostalgia for cowboys and Indians, the radio western had successfully transitioned to television (where it thrived), popular celebrities often assumed the guise of the West (Roy Rogers and Dale Evans), and Disney himself had added to the strength of the genre with Davy Crocket and the merchandizing mania that accompanied it. The original Frontierland reflected all of that. Times have changed, other genres have replaced the Western, educated people no longer view the Old West with such golden-hued nostalgia, and people feel less connected with history in general. When all is said and done, the fact is that "cowboys and Indians" made big money in the fifties. They don't make much today. The original Frontierland would have been a stronger expression of a certain cultural milieu than it is today, but that is no real surprise. It may be a disappointment for those of us who enjoy that simpler vibe of the 1950s Old West (which itself has now become nostalgic), but it is not a surprise.

Anonymous said...

I would add that to see the original popular-culture-expressed-through-Frontierland phenomenon played out today, you have to leave Disney property and go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando. In the 1950s, it was cowboys and Indians. Today it is wizards and witches. Tomorrow it will be something else. The art of the theme park, especially in the case of one that has historical significance, such as Disneyland, is to preserve the best of its past and tap into the best of the present (Disney has tried, with minimal success, to make the current "in" thing pirates, but this has somewhat missed the boat since it seems to appeal to a fairly limited demographic). None of this should excuse changes that have lessened Frontierland, but, again, its not really all that surprising. Frontierland is the land most tied to the past, and it is not the Old West but the 1950s to which it is tethered. That must be a daunting problem for the imagineers.

baergy said...

I was looking for information about the Frontierland Shooting Gallery when I came across your page. I was wondering about the type and caliber of the pellet guns that my 12 year old daughter and I were shooting every chance we got!

K Hollywood said...

Hi I worked at ''The Original Christmas store'' in Century City Plaza the bears display was at our location as well that's odd. I was 11 but remember. My mom was the Bowe Master lol she still is just not there as we know they are gone. I got a work permit and did 2 seasons at century till the store move to Beverly Hills on Crescent Drive where Ralphs was. I have looked for years so far this was the only pick I have seen. Wow I remember we prepared the store for 6 months every six months for 6 months LOL I have steiff bears they were throwing out do to a no visible abnormalities this happen several times through the years I still have them all and all my bears limbs are all jointed too. This place was beautiful but way overpriced., Thanks for this post you made my day!!

K Hollywood said...

Me again my mother said both those displays were at Century City I has to show her this. WOW!!The Winnie the Pooh just clicked I was so zoned on the Polar bears and Penguin display it was the welcoming one when you walkin. The penguins had a conveyor belt the animators made it to stack and ship presents. I think the best ever is ever though was a giant King Kong in a dark room cause we had NY cityscape and the lights of the building would look so nice in there! Thanks again!