Last week I discussed the landscaping found in Epcot. I pointed out how important this aspect of theme park design is when telling a story and creating a mood. Today I’m going to look at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and discuss how plants and trees help this park become more than just a collection of rides and shops.
In reality, the Studio uses landscaping to a much lesser degree than the Magic Kingdom. This is because the Imagineers’ initial plans for this park called for it to be a working film and television production center. Yes, there was Hollywood Boulevard and the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, but much of the original Studio was nothing more than soundstages. Still, landscaping played a part in this park.
The first landscaping visitors usually notice when arriving at the Studio are the many assortment of palm trees. Since the Studio is supposed to be located in Hollywood (Los Angeles), it was only natural to include this ubiquitous plant everywhere. However, the true story of palm trees and Hollywood might surprise you.
There is only one palm tree native to Southern California (Washingtonia filifera) and it grows nowhere near Los Angeles. Palm trees didn’t become a part of the Southern California scene until the turn-of-the-twentieth-century gardening craze prompted home owners to plant this ornamental tree in their front yards. It wasn’t until the 1930’s (the same era as Disney’s Hollywood Studios) that we saw municipalities begin planting palm trees in earnest. In 1931 alone, the Los Angeles Forestry Division planted more than 25,000 palm trees, many of them still swaying above the city’s boulevards today.
Southern California cities planted palm trees to help promote their communities as the ideal place to live and work. Civic leaders wanted those living on the East Coast to believe that Los Angeles was a tropical paradise, even though in actuality, it was a semi-arid desert. And their efforts paid off. People believed the hype and moved to the area by the thousands.
Today, many of these palms are approaching the end of their natural life spans. Because these trees require a large amount of water that the area simply doesn’t have in abundance anymore, the L.A. Department of Water and Power has said that it will not replace most palms as they die. Instead, they will look for trees better suited to the dry climate, trees that require less water and offer more shade.
Out front of the Studio is a large planter featuring topiary Sorcerer Mickey and his brooms. For many years, this topiary sat out front of the Hollywood Brown Derby. This is a good example of how the Imagineers are forever changing and moving things to keep the parks fresh and new.
Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind-Shop is named after the Cahuenga Pass which is located near the Hollywood Bowl. It represents the bungalow style of residential architecture that began in the 1920’s. Since this is a house rather than a commercial building, it features a garden and white picket fence that was typical of the time, including animal statuary.
More palm trees are seen lining Hollywood Boulevard. These are Mexican Fan Palms.
Southern Live Oak grow like weeds in Central Florida and Disney uses them frequently. One good example can be seen shading the Director’s Statue found at the end of Hollywood Boulevard.
Before the addition of Sunset Boulevard and the Sorcerer’s Hat, the plaza in front of the Chinese Theater created a giant Mickey by using Echo Lake and planters strategically placed. Remnants of this Mickey still exist today, but for the most part, he has been obliterated.
Anchoring both sides of the Chinese Theater forecourt are two very unusual planters. Beside these planters are smaller pots holding oddly pruned bushes.
On Sunset Boulevard, the landscapers have place flower pots atop stone fence posts. Additional pots flank the many openings leading into Sunset Market.
Behind Catalina Eddie’s we find a Victory Garden.
During World Wars I & II, Victory Gardens (also known as War Gardens) were encouraged by various governments, including the United States. Citizens were asked to plant fruits and vegetables in their backyards, apartment terraces, and rooftops. This additional produce would help lower the price of food that the U.S. War Department needed to buy to feed the troops. The money saved could then be spent elsewhere in the military. It’s estimated that these gardens produced up to 40 percent of all the fruits and vegetables consumed nationally during the war. And in addition to the tangible benefits, the gardens were considered a morale booster. Since Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards at Disney’s Hollywood Studios are set in the 1930’s and ’40’s, it makes sense that you’d find a Victory Garden here.
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is housed in a building that resembles a soundstage. To help disguise and soften this building, the Imagineers have planted more palm trees and shrubbery along the side of the structure.
The Imagineers have kept the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in a state of arrested decay. In other words, the building has been neglected, but any further deterioration has not been allowed to continue. This can also be seen in the gardens that surround the hotel. The flower beds are overgrown and no longer manicured, yet they have not reached the point of total disarray.
The grounds outside the Beauty and the Beast Theater are well maintained and layered.
Over and over again, you will see simple flower beds at the Studio. Once again, this has to do with the fact that this park was supposed to be a working movie and television center and many of the structures were uninspired. The planters help reduce the harsh exteriors.
Over in the Echo Lake area we find the Academy of Television Arts and Science Hall of Fame display. On the wall behind the awards is a beautiful example of climbing plants being trained to grow in a design. I thought you might enjoy seeing an early picture of this pattern and then the fully grown version.
The Fifties Prime Time CafÃ© is housed in an “office building” that uses the International Style of architecture. This motif came into being during the 1920s and 1930s and represents the beginnings of modern architectural design. Being an office building, the planters and plants here reflect a business-like decorum.
Just a few yards away from the Fifties Prime Time CafÃ© we find the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular attraction. Although most of the Raiders of the Lost Ark story takes place in the mountains of Nepal and the arid desert of Egypt, many viewers associate this movie with the film’s thrilling beginning which took place in the jungles of Peru. To that end, the area surrounding this stunt show are thick with tropical growth. Not only does this growth set a mood, it also provides a natural barrier between the theater and the adjacent walkway.
Outside the Star Tours attraction we find the home of the Ewoks. Here, the Imagineers have used real and prop trees to recreate the forest dwellings of these cute furry creatures. The Imagineers are also demonstrating that “only what the camera sees need be built.” In the first picture below, the scene looks fake. But when you take the same exact photo and crop it correctly, our minds can believe these fake trees tower hundreds of feet into the air.
Across the walkway from Star Tours is a photo op where guests can pose sitting atop a sort of flying motorcycle. (Sorry Star Wars fans, I don’t know the official name of this vehicle.) Once again, a distant camera shot looks fake while a cropped shot has realism. In addition, the plants give depth to the picture and help the backdrop look more real. (Okay, you have to use your imagination a little, but you get the point.)
The Streets of America are lined with a few trees, but for the most part, this section of the Studio is devoid of plants. One exception can be seen in front of the Plaza Hotel. Here, four potted plants add a touch of elegance to this fine establishment.
I almost didn’t mention this next attraction, but then I figured, why not.
The Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure is all about plant life. Sure it’s fake, but it does immerse guests in greenery.
Another good example of how the landscapers are forever changing things can be seen with the “Splash” Fountain. Take a look at the plants that circle this water feature and how they have changed over the years.
Before Pixar Place took over much of Mickey Avenue, this thoroughfare had only a scattering of trees and bushes to soften its soundstage exteriors. Now that Toy Story Midway Mania has arrived, the walls feature brick facades and the street is lined with numerous shade trees.
Over at Voyage of the Little Mermaid we find a sculptured hedge separating the queue from the walkway. It’s easy to miss the shapely bushes while only concentrating on the colorful fish, but without this greenery, these sea creatures would seem out of place.
Unremarkable greenery can also play an important role in the parks. It can hide sound speakers. Ever notice how the music just seems to be coming from nowhere? Well often it’s coming from the bushes.
Like the Magic Kingdom, the Studio uses lampposts to good advantage and we often see flowering baskets hanging from these decorative light fixtures.
I’m certain the fulltime landscapers stationed at the Studio could add volumes to what I have showcased here. But for the most part, I think I’ve hit the highlights. I hope you’ve enjoyed this green tour of this smallest of the Walt Disney World parks. I know I learned a few things while researching its plant life. Check back next week when I’ll be discussing the Animal Kingdom.