Friday, August 15, 2008

Disneyland - Carnation Plaza Gardens - A Lament


But never forgotten.

Carnation Plaza Gardens at the northwest corner of the Hub was a great food service location throughout its history.

Now its famous band shell sits alone, the food is gone and Plaza Gardens has become a walk-through area (leading to the Plaza Zocalo and Frontierland).

Sure, there are still some tables over there (and some red and white umbrellas), but why? Guests who come to enjoy the entertainers in the band shell have no place to grab a hot dog, fries, an ice cream or a drink (absent a trek down Main Street or into Frontierland).

Plaza Gardens has special meaning to an old sweeper, since I would walk through this area every day on the way to Custodial Control---Day Custodial's main office. There was a door to the back area just to the left of the food service location pictured above. I think it's still there, actually, but I'd have to go back and check during my next visit to be sure. Anyway, I purchased many a Coke and a cup of coffee on my way past Plaza Gardens while heading for my assigned area. The bussers and food service people in this area were familiar faces.

Inexplicably, Plaza Gardens has been stripped down to only its famous stage and canopy. I imagine this was for "traffic flow" purposes, since the West Side of the Park is devastated nightly by the Fantasmic show (so perfectly themed to FRONTIERLAND!) and an additional means of egress is necessary to help funnel the hordes trying to escape New Orleans Square and Frontierland after the show lets out. A traffic tunnel has been carved out and the former Casa de Fritos location was greatly expanded---both of which occupy the area where Custodial Control's little offices were located.

Sure, the traffic moves more smoothly now. Sure, the bathrooms are bigger and better than they used to be. Sure, there are a lot less french fries on the ground.

But I must admit to an emptiness inside when I stray through this area today. It is similar to the feeling I get when I walk past the Aladdin travesty that was once the Tahitian Terrace. Or hear Tarzan's jungle call as I struggle through the crowd in front of what was once the Swiss Family's treehouse.

Maybe you know this feeling. If you are a long-time Disneylander, I'll bet you do.

You know, it is that bilious feeling when you get to the end of Main Street and make a right turn into what used to be the open, flower-filled entrance to Tomorrowland and instead you collide into rust-colored jutting rocks and a mangled version of what used to be the Rocket Jets. And you think, "Who in the hell thought that taking the Rocket Jets down from their tower in the center of Tomorrowland and moving them to Main Street (in FRONT OF the Peoplemover tracks) would be a good idea???!!"

Or that feeling when you search in vain for Circlevision 360 or glance skyward in Fantasyland for the colorful cars of the Skyway.

It is how you feel when you see that Mission to Mars has become a foul-smelling, poorly air-conditioned Pizza Planet.

It is the difference between the disaster of Light Magic (and all its funky lighting fixtures that have now clogged both sides of the skyline on the path leading to It's a Small World) and the unbridled warmth and joy of The Main Street Electrical Parade.

It is Winnie the Pooh taking over Bear Country and cruelly hanging Max, Buff and Melvin, now forever motionless on the wall, as a testament to the coup.

It is Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln becoming A Few Moments With Mr. (Steve) Martin.

It is Toontown.

It is Jack Sparrow.

It is Jack Skellington.

It is a rotting Keel Boat.

It is a Festival of Fools.

It is Chevron taking over the Autopia (pull out some pictures of the old attraction's vehicles and layout and compare them to what is there today).

It is Innoventions instead of America Sings.

It is the People Mover traded out for Rocket Rods.

It is the empty waters of the Motor Boat Cruise.

It is the Hungry Bear Restaurant looking kinda lonesome and out of place in Critter Country.

It is what brought you the (thankfully) temporary pastel paint job on the facade of It's a Small World and what may be behind whatever they are doing to that attraction as we speak! Poor Mary Blair!

It is Cascade Mound instead of Cascade Peak.

It is knowing that the proud Columbia and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad somehow once became lethal.

If you do not know the feeling, consider yourself fortunate.

If you do, you have company.

Of course, the Park remains magical and always will.

I always expected it to grow and add new things, but never at the expense of what it means to be truly Disneyland.

I think the new regime might finally be getting the picture. The re-opening of the walk through attraction in Sleeping Beauty's Castle is one of many steps recently taken back toward the core of Disneyland. The Subs, after all, are back. And the Park is immaculately clean as of late.

Here's to every step in the right direction! And a fond farewell to many things and places that are no more. Adieu.


Tim said...

Brilliantly said. Thanks Mike, for putting into words what so many of us who were there, now feel. I feel fortunate to have worked there during a time when it was still unbelievably magical.
It will always be Disneyland but I feel bad for guests who are experiencing the park for the first time and have no idea as to what the experience once was.
Night Custodial (1980-2006)

Yellows said...

I'll second Tim's comments and add these from Walt, as published in the cast booklet, "Showmanship: Disneyland Style" (1973):

On doing things right:
"Everybody thinks Disneyland is a gold mine -- but we have had our problems. You've got to work it and know how to handle it. Even trying to keep the park clean is a tremendous expense. And those sharp pencil guys tell you, "Walt, if we cut down on maintenance, we'd save a lot of money." But I don't believe in that -- it's like any other show on the road; it must be kept clean and fresh."

On keeping Disneyland "new":
"There's many ways that you can use these certain basic things and give them a new decor, a new treatment. I've been doing that with Disneyland. Some of my things I've redone as I've gone along; reshaped them."

On how to be a success:
"Get a good idea, and stay with it. Dog it, and work at it until it's done, and done right."

Namowal said...

I agree with you. A lot of the cute touches that made Disneyland unique have been neglected or replaced with crass movie tie-ins.
Remember back in the days when the gift shops sold weird and unique things? Instead of being a bunch of Disney Store clones?
Something's also wrong that their most convincing, sophisticated attraction is (Pirates of the Caribbean) is over 40 years old! I'm sure the newer attractions have some high tech stuff (*cough* innovations), but they don't give you the feeling of actually "being" in another world the way Pirates does.

Geoff Carter said...

Amen. But I'd prefer to have the old school-subs, please. Not this half-assed underwater home theater. Imagineering needs to get over this high-definition video phase.

"Fantasia." Didn't Carnation Gardens serve a scoop called "Fantasia?" I remember enjoying it as Woody Herman played. (My old man instilled in me a love for the classics.) I seem to remember the taste being similar to holiday fruitcake, only different. In any case, I miss scooped ice cream in that part of the Park. The foods division needs a John Lasseter.

Old-school Lincoln, yes. "The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty."

The Welch's Grape Juice fountain in Fantasyland.

The Space Mountain Theater. They should have found another place for "Captain EO." Roofing off that open-air theater was a mistake.

The doubloon-stamping machine in "Pieces of Eight." People tell me that it comes back every now and again, but I haven't seen it in years.

Buster Keaton movies at the Main Street Cinema. Screening Keaton and Chaplin and Lloyd next to Mickey would have likely pleased Walt to no small end.

All of Tomorrowland, with the exception of the handsome new Monorail, the spruced-up Tomorrowland Terrace and the beautifully redone Space Mountain. They can keep Innoventions, the new Autopia, the ancient Star Tours, Buzz Lightyear, the misplaced Rocket Jets, the new Subs, the neglected Starcade...

Quiet space. There's none left. Every part of the Park is touched by auditory or visual noise. The Big Thunder Trail to Frontierland used to be still and quiet after dark; it was like trekking through true backwoods. Not so much these days.

And yet, there's new stuff that I love. The Park is unimaginable without Indiana Jones. I like having DCA next door, even if it's still in its awkward years. The floating Leota head in the Mansion. The Johnny Depp in Pirates -- no, I don't mind him. (The Geoffrey Rush figure is another story.) The good is still there -- partially buried, but it's still there.

outsidetheberm said...

Nice post. When you get right down to it, what's missing today is common sense - the trust in human nature; our instinct for the genuine and true.
Too often now the park presents itself as an over analyzed, survey driven product.

Walt knew to build from the heart -though some called it 'corny'. But then, he said he always loved corn.

Boaz16 said...

Reading many of your posts; you have put into words what my wife and I experience as we frequently visit Disneyland now as AP's. This post about Carnation especially hit home. I worked in foods(1986-2000) and my home location was Casa Mexicana. I spent countless nights listening to the Big Band music on my breaks and spent a major portion of my life in the very backstage areas you describe. Great memories from a special time in my life.

Anonymous said...

How true. From a fan of Disneyland since it's inception and a former alumni of the JC, other assorted ride and food locales and even the Disney University (circa 1969-1978) "progress" hasn't all been for the better.

Mike said...

Thank you all for your comments!

Tim, thanks for posting. My hat is always off to our Night Custodial crew. I worked many opening shifts and would see the guys in blue hosing down the area like wayward firemen. There was nothing better than clean walkways, new flowers and fresh paint when we started our day. I know the night crew worked hard and we all appreciated it.

Yellows, thanks for citing Walt, chapter and verse. It isn't hard to channel Walt. He left behind so much written and filmed material about his Park and his way of seeing and doing things. You'd think a few of the folks at his company might want to dust off some of the "Vault Disney" stuff they churn out and---I don't know---WATCH SOME OF IT!!!

Namowal, do I ever remember the days when there was different merchandise to be found in Frontierland than on Main Street. Now, every location seems to have mostly the same stuff. I remember buying a tombstone with my name on it from one of the vending locations in New Orleans Square. It was cool. Today it seems like I can buy a Mickey Christmas ornament everywhere from Downtown Disney to Toontown to "Critter (Cringe) Country" to Orlando. Kinda washes out the experience just a tad.

Geoff, amen to your insights! Please give us back some "quiet space" in the Park. After all, it's supposed to be a "Park." Anyone who stumbled upon the spiral staircase in the back streets of New Orleans Square, and felt like they had discovered something no one else knew about, has a sense of what you mean. Couples who walked along Thunder Trail or elderly folks resting on shaded benches on Town Square or in New Orleans know what you mean. The Park can't be filled with noise and clutter. There need to be some quiet spaces where you overloaded senses can take a breather now and then. As more things are jammed in, less space is available for some much needed quiet.

Outsidetheberm: you and I know corn when we see it---and when we see it, we connect with it, just like Walt! People scoff at things today as being "quaint," "corny," or "childish." Well, without such corn, life would be pretty dreary and way too "adult." If there is not still some child living inside of you---you've got some issues and you're also deluding yourself beisdes. Disney knew we all need a little sweetness and that most everyone's a sucker for a happy ending or a smile.

Boaz16, thanks for your service at Casa Mexicana! I, too, miss the way Carnation Plaza Gardens lit up with Big Band music and happy guests. They still put on shows over there, but nothing I've seen quite captures the old energy of the big band swing on a summer's night!

Anonymous, I'm with you in spirit! There certainly are plenty of us out there. Disneyland got a little away from itself---thanks to too much penny pinching and not enough folks in management who truly UNDERSTAND the Park, its origins, it uniqueness, its delicate details. Maybe a few folks should ask: "What would Walt do?" as they did in the old days. Walt clearly had a talent for identifying what made people content and happy.

shecaptain said...

Very well said. I agree with these sentiments. I must say the one I an saddest about is poor, poor Mr. Lincoln. He was one of my favorite attractions and I was simply heartbroken when they replaced him. Do you if they will ever bring him back? Every time I go to the park I hope, but am always disappointed to see he has not yet returned.

(Great blog, by the way! I'm here for the first time. I saw you on the Blog of Note today)