Disney’s California Adventure Concept Art From 1996

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After WESTCOT Center and Port Disney were canceled (which other better websites have thoroughly documented) Disney unveiled Disney’s California Adventure as the second gate to Disneyland. The following illustration was printed in the Long Beach Press Telegram in 1996. It shows one of the earliest pieces of concept art of the new park released to the public. Being so early in the park’s development there are a ton of differences from what ended up being built in 2001.
Unfortunately the quality of this image isn’t that great, being a scan of a 17 year old newspaper. But you can click to enlarge. Since the artwork is conveniently numbered I’ll go down the list and talk about each one. 
1. Disney’s California Adventure
This is pointing to the plaza of the park. It’s interesting that there is a spire present on this concept art. A spire was part of the park icon in almost all of the WESTCOT art (seen here). The golden spire was ment to symbolize “California sunshine.” Ok… Not present is the C A L I F O R N I A letters at the entrance of the park, actually the entire post card look is missing from the front of the park (seen here). It’s hard to tell exactly what the entrance gate does look like but I assume that this is still the period of time where it was modeled after an amalgamation of California’s famous missions. At some point I had concept art of that but I can’t find it at the moment. 
2. Hollywood
I notice three major things about the Hollywood area of the park. First is it looks like the Hyperion Theater (or whatever they called it at the time) is right next to the park entrance. It is known that originally Disney planned to use this theater for a theme park show as well as a concert venue that could be entered from outside the park and without park admission. Next, take a look at the structure on the right that looks like the the famous Theme Building from the Los Angeles International Airport. The rumor is that this housed the planned version of the Superstar Limo roller coaster. Think Rockin’ Roller Coaster from Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Finally, in the middle of the picture notice the sorcerer’s hat from Fantasia. This marked the location of the Animation Building, which did end up on the DCA’s opening day roster.
3. Golden California
Grizzly River Run and its bear shaped mountain was on the DCA opening day roster but if you look here you can see an earlier version of bear icon. A giant grizzly head with a water fall coming out of its mouth! That would have been so cool! Also at this point in time Grizzly River Run was not a raft ride but a log flume. The bottom of the image shows what looks like a warehouse district. This could possibly be the San Francisco area of the park, or an early version of the Pacific Wharf that we see in the park today. The two large buildings in the top right corner are what I assume to be Soarin’ Over California.
 4. Surf and Beach
This area obviously became Paradise Pier but it is extremely different from the one that ended up in the park.  The surf and beach theme represented California’s beach communities. The gigantic building on the right is probably home to Golden Dreams when it was more than just the simple movie that opened with the park. Originally this was planned to be an audio/visual/animatronic extravaganza in the same vein as American Adventure from Epcot. Besides the lighthouse located next to the lagoon it’s hard to tell what else was planned for this area.
5. The Disney Resort Plaza
This is basically what we got. A transportation plaza. Next!
6.The Grand Californian
The Grand Californian Hotel sits in the same spot geographically on this illustration as it does in real life but there are a few differences. The literature included with this art says “Disney’s first hotel inside a theme park; 750-room [it opened with 1019 rooms] luxury hotel will include a monorail stop.” Obviously, the Grand Californian never got its monorail station.
7 & 8. The Disneyland Hotel and The Disneyland Center
Even in this early concept art the original Disneyland Hotel structures and bungalows were slated for destruction. Only the three main towers and courtyard remain. The Disneyland Center is a concept from the WESTCOT days. It was eventually dubbed Downtown Disney. It’s interesting to see the The Disneyland Center was placed along side Disneyland Drive/West Street and not it’s current configuration of going from the Disneyland Hotel to the Grand Californian Hotel. 
The Long Beach Press Telegram also reported that California Adventure would break ground in 1997 (which is true), the park opening would be in 2001 (also true), the cost would be $1.4 Billion (true again), and the projected attendance would be 7 million annually (not quite, it ended up being estimated at around 5 million).


  1. Great blog Guy! I love this time period in Disneyland history because it is from a time I can remember (age wise) and a dramatic change towards building a "resort".

  2. My one big memory from back then was reading EVERY interview with the Disney brass, and EVERY interview stressing one thing:

    There will be no Disney characters in California Adventure!

    Like this was a GOOD thing! Stupid, stupid, uppity upper-management…but they were so proud of it. They truly believed they were about to tap into some magic market of people who feel above Disney, but are still willing to spend a day at a Disney theme park…so long as there's nothing explicitly Disney therein. It made NO sense! Yet they were SO SURE it was going to work.

    It took quite a few years, but the park has finally become both a financial and an artistic success. Is it just a coincidence that this only occurred AFTER that old batch of Disney brass had departed? Howzabout the fact that Disney characters — LOTS of them! — are now there?

    Stupid, stupid, uppity upper-management…

  3. Yeah this was at the peak of Disney corporate arrogance. I'm not sure why they thought people would pay $60 to enter a theme park with so few rides just to eat and drink all day. Very strange.

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