Blue Sky Cellar Update – Imagineering Buena Vista Street


Since Laura is in Hawaii covering the Aulani Grand Opening, she asked her poor left-behind husband to attend the press event at Disney California Adventure where they unveiled the latest exhibits in the Blue Sky Cellar. For those who may not be familiar with the Blue Sky Cellar, it is named after the initial free-thinking process imagineers go through when designing something new, a process they call “blue sky.” Disney has been using the Blue Sky Cellar as a preview center for all the upgrades happening at California Adventure, but with the added purpose of showing the imagineering process behind what is being built. The current incarnation of Blue Sky Cellar is devoted to Buena Vista Street, the soon-to-be entrance to Disney California Adventure.


We started with Alex Grayman, Art Director for the Blue Sky Cellar, giving us a brief description of each of the static displays, all of which have been updated. He explained that because the exhibits focus on, and use artifacts from, the imagineering process, there will not always be a 100% match between what is on exhibit and what actually gets built.

Alex said that the “backstory” for Buena Vista Street is that it is the Los Angeles Walt experienced in the 1920s-1930’s when he was just starting out. Buena Vista Street also pays homage to the name of the street where Walt built the Walt Disney Studio. Buena Vista Street as represented in California Adventure is not a real place, but more of an idea. It includes elements that might have inspired a young Walt Disney – like the names of the businesses and the clothing worn by the cast members. Buena Vista Street is capped off by the Carthay Circle Theater which is important in the Walt Disney story because it is where Snow White premiered in 1937. It is also important to California Adventure because it will be this park’s “castle”.

Three new “vintage style” attraction posters

This display focuses on the Red Car trolley

This display shows the exterior elevations for all of the buildings on Buena Vista Street

This display is a Cars Land “tease”

A large 3D model of Buena Vista Street

A close up of the entrance gates – note the original location of the “Storytellers” statue with the flag pole

A close-up of the 3D model showing the Carthay Theater

Another angle on the hub and this shows some of the motion elements – the monorail and trolley

Here is the a close-up of the fountain and the other side of the hub

This static display focused on interior design, a discipline of Imagineering not highlighted in the Blue Sky Cellar before

Costume design – also a new discipline to highlight

A notional Imagineer’s Desk devoted to the Carthay Circle Theater

Alex finished by saying that he expects the Blue Sky exhibits will shift to focus on Cars Land in Spring 2012. He said that discussion is on-going about what to do after the California Adventure upgrades finish with Cars Land next summer, but they are talking about keeping the Blue Sky Cellar as preview center and Imagineering showcase for all of the Disney parks.


The Blue Sky Cellar is roughly half exhibit space and half movie theater. The imagineers have updated the short video to go along with the static exhibit focus on Imagineering Buena Vista Street.

The video starts with short segments from many members of the design team who speak to the overall idea of Buena Vista Street and then to details of key elements. For example, how the paint and tile colors Clarabelle’s Ice Cream Parlor are based on ice cream and how the Carthay Circle Theatre embodies the culmination of Walt’s dream with the successful premiere of Snow White.

This new video also includes a number of short segments from Imagineers talking about their Disney memories growing up and how those memories motivate what they do as Imagineers. Several of the stories are very touching and each ends with the line “I am (name), and I am an Imagineer”. I could see that theme being carried out in future videos here in the Blue Sky Cellar. The video ends with a more general segment on Walt realizing his dreams and how Imagineers focus on making guests’ dreams come true.

The Imagineering Buena Vista Street video shows continuously, with a few minute break between showings. Even the “Next Showing in X minutes” artwork projected during these breaks is cool, featuring photos of imagineering activities where selected elements of the photos are animated.


Ray Spencer, the Creative Director for Buena Vista Street, then took us for a second tour of the exhibit area providing additional detail about the design of Buena Vista Street.

He started by pointing out that most Disney parks have a comfortable, safe, warm “main street” that is the setting for many great childhood memories. California Adventure was missing a main street and Buena Vista Street will fill the void. Buena Vista Street, representing Walt’s early career, is also a complement to Main Street in Disneyland which represents Walt’s youth. Ray also pointed out that the hub at the end of Buena Vista Street is deliberately located off-center to the street. This is to keep sight lines “close” to make the guest experience at the hub more intimate. He explained how the elevated train track and train station at Disneyland create that same effect at the head of Main Street.


A key element of the hub is the “Storytellers” statue of the young Walt and Mickey looking forward to what is ahead of them. However, the original plan was to have the statue located right inside the entrance gates in a small raised area (you can see this in one of the 3D model closeups). The Imagineers instead moved the statue to the hub area and lowered it to ground level with no fence to make it more accessible to guests. Again, this is in contrast to Disneyland where the “Partners” statue is more monumental and represents Walt’s accomplishments. That would have been enough of a reason to move the statue, but the Imagineers came up with even more reasons – better backdrops for photography, better traffic flow, better sun angles to light the statue and, perhaps most important, not having guests focused on the statue get run over by the trolley.

Miscellaneous details provided by Ray include:

  • All of the business names on Buena Vista Street have some Disney significance. For example, do you know who Fiddler, Fifer and Practical are?
  • The imagineers developed a story for the proprietor of every business and used that story to drive the building decor.
  • There is lots of interior and exterior period detail – including 400 different types of hand crafted tile.
  • Buena Vista Street will continue the Disney tradition of tribute windows and there will be interesting sounds coming out of some of these upper story windows.
  • The Trolley Treats candy shop will have a working model of a never built attraction called Big Rock Candy Mountain.
  • The fountain in the hub is based on a combination of the fountain in front of the Pasadena Water Department and one at Griffith Park.
  • None of buildings on Buena Vista Street actually existed, but they are new designs inspired by real Los Angeles buildings from the right time period. Bonus trivia fact: the buildings on Hollywood Boulevard in California Adventure are based on actual buildings.
  • The Carthay Circle Theater is based on a real building that was torn down 1969. It will hold a restaurant and lounge and will be filled with lots of Disney artifacts.
  • The Red Car Trolley is based on the LA Pacific Electric Railway, which was the largest electric railway in the world in the 1920’s with over 1000 miles of track.
  • There is a logic to how the business are laid out on the street – starting with restrooms, lockers and shops for stuff you might have forgotten (camera batteries, sunscreen, sunglasses) and moving on to souvenir shops and then to food close to the hub.

Laura Gilbreath is a native of San Diego, CA. She has been making the trek up Interstate 5 to Disneyland since she was a small child and terrified of talking tikis and hitchhiking ghosts. She and her husband Lee enjoy trips to Disneyland and Walt Disney World, as well as sailings on the Disney Cruise Line.

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2 Replies to “Blue Sky Cellar Update – Imagineering Buena Vista Street”

  1. Thanks for the fine blog and pictures.

    I don’t feel too bad for you. Missing out on Hawaii is rough, but at least you are still at Disneyland!

    Thanks again for taking theime for the blog.


  2. Thanks for the great information. My sympathy for having to cover this while Laura is away in Hawaii.

    Regarding the Red Car (which I remember riding when I was a child, but we just called the P.E.) — did they mention why they expect to be able to run these on the busy streets when they’ve stopped running such vehicles as the ToonTown Trolley for safety?