Pounding the Pavement
Some time ago, I wrote a blog about benches and another about lampposts found at the theme parks at Walt Disney World. My intent was to show you the lengths the Imagineers go to, to tell a “story” with details. Today I’ve picked another topic to illustrate this point. And the topic I’ve selected is just about as mundane as you can get, pavement. Most people never give a thought to the ground they walk on, but believe me, Disney has given this subject a lot of consideration. As I so often do, let’s start our story at Disneyland in California.
It’s hard to believe, but Disneyland opened just one year after construction began. The park was far from finished when the first guests rushed through the gates, but the basics were there. Main Street, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, and Adventureland all had something to offer, but it was obvious that work still needed to be done. One famous story tells of women’s high-heel shoes getting stuck in the soft asphalt that had been poured only the day before.
Yes folks, women wore heels to Disneyland in the 1950’s. This next picture was taken in late July, 1955, just two weeks after the park opened.
On opening day, the streets of Frontierland were not paved, but had dirt roads. I don’t know if this was done intentionally to help add authenticity to the land, or for a lack of money and time. But either way, this wasn’t going to work. According to the Hammond/Hazlewood song, “It Never Rains in Southern California,” but trust me, this just isn’t true. It does rain in Southern California and rain turns dirt into mud. I don’t know how long dirt streets lasted in Frontierland, but it wasn’t too long before they were paved over.
Since we’re talking about the opening of Disneyland and the uncompleted park, I’d like to take a little side trip. For years, the Disney marketing folk have quoted Walt’s famous opening day words:
“Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”
To this day, Disney uses these words to “spin” magic into each and every new project that comes down the pike. And there’s nothing wrong with this. However, these words have a far more humble beginning than Disney would have you believe.
As you know, Walt was in debt up to his eyebrows trying to get Disneyland built. And at some point, ready or not, he was going to have to start allowing paying guests to enter the park if he was going to generate income and keep building.
Walt and his Imagineers knew that the park looked incomplete on opening day. This was obvious to everyone. They also knew the press was going to ask Walt, “When will Disneyland be finished?” In the business world, it’s always important to emphasize the positives and downplay the negatives. So this prophetic statement was crafted only to pacify the media, not to become a creed for the Disney Company to live by.
Now, back to pavement.
Most areas of Disney parks are paved with special cement that is supposedly softer than regular concrete, thus easier on the feet. I know this is hard to believe after a long day of touring, but that’s what the Disney folk say. In addition, the pavement is usually painted with non-skid paint. Disney also uses color to help tell a story. For example, the ground in the Magic Kingdom’s Frontierland is painted a brownish-red to suggest the earth of the Wild West, while over in Tomorrowland, the concrete is painted gray, to hint at, well, um, concrete.
But not all of the pavement in Tomorrowland is boring. Throughout the main entrance concourse, the ground has been modeled to look like giant gears, wheels, sprockets, and cogs.
At the Winnie the Pooh ride in Fantasyland we see how pavement can delineate an attraction from the main walkway. Pavement color, texture, and material are used extensively throughout all of the parks to set boundaries.
Behind the castle, a beautiful compass rose is missed by most as they hurry to Dumbo and Peter Pan.
In front of the Yankee Trader Shop in Liberty Square, the remains of a foundation of a long forgotten structure can be found. And at the nearby Haunted Mansion, the horseshoe prints of a ghost horse are seen around the hearse.
One of the most famous bits of Disney concrete lore revolves around the Haunted Mansion. There were several versions to the story, but the tale tells of Master Gracey and his bride. Somehow, her wedding ring was lost (thrown, stomped on, flung, misplaced) and it ended up embedded in the concrete near the exit of the ride. As guests would leave the Haunted Mansion, “informed” experts would point out the ring to newbies. However, what they were pointing out was either an old gate post hole or a piece of electrical conduit. Either way, it was most certainly not a person’s ring. It was too small to fit on any finger. Eventually, Disney tired of the traffic jams this faux ring was causing and removed it. When Disney reimagined the queue for the Haunted Mansion last year, they included a real wedding/engagement ring in the cement. The ring is slightly off the beaten track so you’ll have to look for it to find it.
In Adventureland, you can find broken tiles, gems, and coins scattered around The Flying Carpets of Aladdin.
Between Adventureland and Frontierland, another compass rose can be found with additional flourishes to enhance the design.
A number of the trees that line Main Street have attractive wrought iron grates to protect them from harm. If you look closely, some even say “Main Street U.S.A.”
Now let’s move to Epcot.
For the most part, the pavement leading from the parking lot up to and past Spaceship Earth is pretty mundane. Delineating Spaceship Earth from Innoventions Plaza is a swath of coarse black squares. During the day, these squares command little attention, but at night, they become magical. Fiber optics have been embedded into a number of these squares and tiny lights sparkle in the dark. But even more impressive is a small area in front of Innoventions West. Here, three larger sections of pavement have been outfitted with these lights and they dance and change colors after the sun sets. Unfortunately, most people never see this light show as it is in an area few people walk.
Concrete can have a tendency to crack if not mixed and poured correctly. To reduce cracks from spreading, concrete is poured in sections with grooves separating one block from the next. In Innoventions Plaza, the Imagineers have taken advantage of this and created great designs and accented the sections with color. In some cases, the concrete has been roughened to add texture to the design.
Of the Future World pavilions, Mission Space has the best pavement. The area in front of the attraction has dozens of planets, asteroids, and comets imbedded into the ground. The design helps set the mood for the adventure to come.
On the pathway leading from Future World to World Showcase is a giant design of the old EPCOT Center logo. This is best appreciated when viewed from above.
The promenade around World Showcase is basic with no real design other than an occasional swath to delineate one nation from the next. However, once you enter a country, the pavement takes on the design of that nation.
In the Germany Pavilion, the bricks create a repeating crescent shape. This is indicative of what you might actually find in a small German town. (I hate to break the magic, but these are not real stones. The Imagineers used a stamp to imbed the pattern into wet concrete.)
The patterns and designs of Saint Mark’s Square in Venice were duplicated at the Italy Pavilion.
At the Japan Pavilion, large pieces of flag stone were randomly imbedded in the ground.
In the ville nouvelle (new city) section of the Morocco Pavilion, the ground is covered with neatly ordered bricks. However, in the Medina (old city), the pavement is very coarse with many exposed rocks. The Imagineers did their best to simulate dirt without actually having to resort to this substance.
Perhaps the most famous pavement at Walt Disney World can be found at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. In the forecourt of the Chinese Theater are the foot and handprints of a number of celebrities. This practice comes from the original Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
There are a number of stories as to how the tradition of actors placing their footprints in the cement came about. The most famous tells that Norma Talmadge accidentally stepped in wet cement outside of the theater, giving Sid Grauman, part owner of the theater, the idea.
Humans aren’t the only creatures imbedding their footprints in the pavement at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Gertie the Dinosaur and an Imperial Walker have also left their impression on the landscape.
For the most part, Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards consist of concrete sidewalks and curbs and asphalt streets. But near the Tower of Terror, you can find that the pavement has worn away to expose the original brick streets and the Red Car tracks. These tracks pay homage to the Pacific Electric Railway which once offered the people of Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, and Los Angeles Counties over 1,000 miles of mass transit.
There are a number of theater facades on Sunset Boulevard. As was typical of the 30’s and 40’s, these playhouses had elaborate entries, often created out of terrazzo. Here we see the Beverly Sunset Theater’s entrance.
On Pixar Place, Scrabble tiles have fallen from the overhead game board. Could “W” and “D” possible stand for Walt Disney? What are the odds?
The pavement in front of Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster is designed to showcase G-Force Records, the recording studio currently working with Aerosmith. Anchoring the grid’s corners are gold records.
The building that houses Muppet*Vision 3D is built of red brick so it is fitting that the pavement outside the theater be of the same material. Unlike other areas where the Imagineers used a stamp to simulate stone or brick, this is the real McCoy.
The pavement on New York Street is unremarkable and at first glance, not worth too much attention. It’s made up of concrete curbs and sidewalks and an asphalt road. But upon closer examination you’ll notice the Imagineers included potholes – a nice detail for a busy thoroughfare.
Now let’s travel to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. In the area between the tram drop-off and the ticket booths, guests can see sweeping swaths of color in the walkway. From ground level, these lines appear to be nothing more than a random pattern. But when viewed from above, the shape of an abstract tree can easily be seen.
Most of the pavement in the Animal Kingdom has a natural feel about it. In many cases, the concrete has been designed to represent dirt and mud, a material that is unsatisfactory for a theme park. When preparing the walkways, all sorts of items were imbedded into the wet cement to help achieve a realistic character. Some of these include leaves, pine needles, branches, human feet, horseshoes, bicycle tracks, tire tracks, and bird tracks.
Over in Dinoland U.S.A. you’ll find a winding highway. To complete the setting, traffic signs, bumper guards, and roadside advertisements can be found along its route.
If you pay attention, you’ll notice that Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama was built on top of an abandoned parking lot. The “Enter” and “Exit” lettering and parking lot lines are still visible, but fading. In addition, the asphalt is cracking under the sun’s intense heat.
Also in Dinoland is a dinosaur that kids can climb on. Since children are prone to slip and fall, a special ground covering has been designed that is soft and bouncy and helps alleviate cuts and bruises. In this case, the material has been made out of wood particles. In other spots around Walt Disney World, man-made materials have been used to create a softer surface.
Over in Asia, real bricks have been used for the outside seating area of Yak & Yeti Restaurant. Over the years, these bricks have been broken or stolen and the owners found it cheaper to fill in the gaps with cement rather than replace them. At a nearby temple, time has taken its toll on the tile flooring in front of an aging shrine.
Outside Tamu Tamu Refreshments in Africa, the foundation of a long demolished building can be seen.
Out front of Conservation Station at Rafiki’s Planet Watch is a beautiful mosaic featuring an assortment of animals. This work of art was created in Italy then shipped to the Animal Kingdom for final assembly. Most folk just walk right over this piece without ever stopping to appreciate its beauty.
Also at Conservation Station is a petting farm. This is one of the very few places at Walt Disney World where guests can actually walk on real dirt.
I’m going to end this article with a challenge in an effort to get you to pay more attention to the ground you walk on. I’ve snapped a picture of an interesting piece of pavement or flooring in each of the four parks (none are in attraction queues). It’s your job to find them. Unlike my quizzes, I will NOT be posting the answers to these questions. And if you send me their whereabouts in a comment, I will NOT post that portion of the comment as I do not want to give away their locations. Good luck.
Somewhere in the Magic Kingdom a bronze plaque is embedded into the ground. It features a castle spire and the letters “M” and “K” (Magic Kingdom). It measures roughly 18 inches in diameter.
Note: Apparently this emblem is part of a new “Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom” game and there are several of these located around the park. I was not aware of this at the time my blog was published.
At Epcot, tire tracks can be seen embedded into the pavement. The area in question is about 2 feet in diameter.
At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you can find a “contractor’s signature” marker imbedded in the concrete. It reads: Mortimer & Co. Contractor 1928. For those of you who don’t understand the significance, Mortimer was the name Walt wanted to give his new little mouse in 1928. However, his wife Lillian wasn’t too keen on the moniker and convinced him to change the name to Mickey. This marker measures about 4×6 inches.
At the Animal Kingdom, the Tree of Life is etched into the concrete someplace at the park. The etching is approximately 2 foot tall and 2 feet wide.