The construction of Disneyland fulfilled Walt Disney's dream of "A place where families could bring their children to play together, laugh together, be together. A place where dreams would become reality and memories would be created. And a place where every penny spent on admission, food, and souvenirs cranked out in foreign lands would be recycled into the fulfilling of my dreams."
The park was built on what was at one time a massive orange grove. While the park was still in its planning stage, Disney approached the grove's owner (Ron Dominguez), explained his dream, and offered to buy the farm at a fair price. Unfortunately, the farmer, whose family had owned the land for generations, did not share Disney's vision. "You'll build your damned kiddie park over my dead body," he is rumored to have said. After further negotiation, Disney was able to obtain the property. The farmer is currently buried beneath the Matterhorn.
Just before Disneyland's 50th anniversary, DisneyLies was fortunate to be able to get a hold of Brace O'Steele another man who was involved with the park from the beginning. In the 1950's, O'Steele was a tractor operator for Mulch and Sons Land Clearing and Strip Mining, LLC, the company hired to prepare the orange grove for Disney's new magic kingdom. O'Steele had the presence of mind to take many photographs documenting his part in the construction of the park, and we present a few of them here along with his comments:
"This picture shows the orange groves as they looked when I first arrived to survey the land. It was a spectacle of natural splendor, the way the trees were all lined up in neat rows. I couldn't wait to get in there and work! Before we started, Walt went through and put little red ribbons on the trees he wanted removed and little yellow ribbons on the ones he wanted to keep. I had a bit of a 'whatever' feeling about this since I'm colorblind. I didn't realize until much later that Mr. Disney, after hearing of my handicap, also put big 'don't knock this one down' signs on the trees he wanted to keep, which just makes me wish someone had told him I'm illiterate, too."
"Here are some of the actual oranges. The two together are, I think, the park's first 'hidden Mickey.' This tree was special because it stood about twenty feet in front of where the exact center of the entrance was going to be located. Mr. Disney wanted to keep it there as a constant reminder of what came before his park. It was one of the first trees I bulldozed, and I can still remember the little crunch it made, like a tiny dream blowing away, and the smell of fresh-squeezed oranges."
"This is a close-up photo of a particularly healthy orange tree that stood where the Tomorrowland entrance ladies' room is now. You can see a little place on the lower-left orange where a worm has eaten it. I like to think that these worms were the inspiration for the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland who breathes out smoke rings shaped like letters, which I intended to read when I'm all done with Hooked on Phonics."
"I'm particularly proud of this photo. It's a hand-tinted snapshot of an orange tree in what would eventually be the parking lot [and, later, Disney California Adventure -- Ed], and you can see the beautiful blue of the sky. The sky was always a perfect blue back then, before it was all fouled with traffic and fireworks smoke."
"Everyone who worked on Mr. Disney's project was allowed to take home as many oranges as he wanted at the end of the day to enjoy while he waited to see if his check would clear. I made most of mine into orange juice. This is a picture of the first glass of orange juice I made, and it serves as a reminder of the innocence of those times, and of the reasons that we usually don't see black-and-white photos of orange juice."
Mr. O'Steele's tractor, "Old Minute Maid," now has a place of honor off in a corner of Disney California Adventure's Bountiful Valley Farm. His book of photography, Disneyland, the Very, Very Early Years, will be released in November by Primate Pencil Publishing.
Trivia: Seeds from the original orange trees that once stood on what is now Disneyland were cultivated on The Walt Disney Company's private farm and the fruit that grew thereof is used to make the orange scent smelled in Soarin' Over California.
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