Changing the Law for Disneyland

Did you know that Walt Disney managed to have local building code in Anaheim changed in order to preserve the magic of Disneyland? Having careful control over what a guest was and wasn’t able to see at any given moment was an important element in crafting a story to tell.
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When Walt Disney built Disneyland sight-lines were important to him.

Luckily, Walt being Walt, there was no concern about keeping that in mind when it came to what was built in the parks. However he still had to worry about what was built outside of the parks. While it was an uncertainty at the time of its opening, Disneyland would ultimately become a wild success, and as a result businesses small and large were quick to buy up as much land around the new tourist destination as quickly as possible.

The potential of high-rise hotels and resorts around the park posed a threat to the sight-lines and immersion within it. It all started in 1963 when Sheraton-West submitted plans to the city of Anaheim for a 22-story hotel just to the northeast on Ball Road. At the top of the hotel would be a penthouse restaurant that would allow people to look into Disneyland.

Walt wasn’t concerned with people seeing into the park, however it meant that at the same time, guests within the park would see the hotel.

In 1964 Walt personally reached out to the city council and asked that they consider imposing height limits. His argument was that Disney was committed to helping grow the city of Anaheim through Disneyland’s success, however that success was dependent on Disneyland remaining a high quality experience people would continue to want to visit. So in a way, it was in these businesses best interest to help maintain the illusion and the magic that Disneyland created in order to keep tourism healthy in the region.

The council ended up approving the Sheraton plans, under the condition that the building be reduced from 22 stories to 14 stories. However with other high-rise proposals coming in, including a 750 foot tower resembling the Seattle Space Needle, a more permanent solution needed to be put in place.

So in August of 1964 a joint meeting between the Anaheim City Council and Planning Commission took place to vote on a proposed sliding scale height limit in the area. The idea was that the height limits would be reduced the further away developers built from Disneyland. Properties right next to the park, for instance, would be limited to 75 feet in height, while properties 2,200 feet from the hub would be allowed to build up to 125 feet. The concept itself wasn’t a new one. It would be often used in areas near airports in order to allow planes to takeoff and land without issue, however this would be the first time it would be used for something as recreational as a theme park.

While some in the community felt that Disney was overstepping the line of what they should be allowed to control, the proposed height limited passed unanimously with a 6-0 vote. This policy would sit untouched for over 15 years, until it was revised for the first time in 1980. This time, instead of the limitations applying evenly in a radial pattern around Disneyland, height limits would depend on the direction of the property. Property to the north if Disneyland was further limited by up to 50 feet, while limits to the west were increased.

Additionally developers were asked to float balloons to their project’s max height to ensure that it wouldn’t be visible from within Disneyland, a common practice that even Disney employs today when planning new lands and attractions. These limits were adjusted once more in 1993, and are still in effect today, over 50 years after they were first introduced.

As for the resistance to the height limits, well there really aren’t any. According to Anaheim city officials in 2015, developers hadn’t filed any lawsuits to try and overturn the limits. It’s possible that they agree that in order for their developments to flourish Disneyland needs to flourish, and that maintaining the illusion of the magic is important to do that. It’s also possible they just don’t want to deal with the legal headache that comes with challenging the city, and by extension The Walt Disney Company.

The height limits around Disneyland wouldn’t be the last time the Walt Disney Company influenced local or federal laws, and whenever they did, it invited debate from both sides. Wherever you stand on the issue, it’s hard to deny that when Disney has a vision, in this case literally, they’ll do what it takes to make it a reality.
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Caption: If you’re standing in the center of the. hub at disneyland you can see many exciting. parts of the park, but you don’t really. see much else. for as crowded as anaheim has become over. the years, you truly do escape it when you’re. in those parks. that’s intentional, and it required far. more than just luck on disney’s part. when walt disney built disneyland sight-lines. were important to him. having careful control over what a guest was. and wasn’t able to see at any given moment. was an important element in crafting a story, and if disneyland was about nothing. else, it was about telling stories. luckily, walt being walt, there was no concern. about keeping that in mind when it came to. what was built in the parks. however he still had to worry about what was. built outside of the parks. while it was an uncertainty at the time of. its opening, disneyland would ultimately become. a wild success, and as a result businesses. small and large were quick to buy up as much. land around the new tourist destination as. quickly as possible. that very landgrab would be part of the reason. why, years later, walt would purchase as much. property as possible in central florida while. planning disney world. his hope was that with a buffer area between. his projects and the outside world, the sights. of uncontrolled development would never have. an impact on a guest’s experience. in any case, the reality of the situation. in disneyland was that he didn’t have that. buffer to depend on and so the potential of. high-rise hotels and resorts around the park. posed a threat to the sight-lines and immersion. within it. it all started in 1963 when sheraton-west. submitted plans to the city of anaheim for. a 22-story hotel just to the northeast on. ball road. at the top of the hotel would be a penthouse. restaurant that would allow people to look. into disneyland. walt wasn’t concerned with people seeing. into the park, however it meant that at the. same time, guests within the park would see. the hotel. that would be a problem. it wasn’t his land though so there was nothing. he could do about it. unless of course he could control. what other people could build. in 1964 walt personally reached out to the. city council and asked that they consider. imposing height limits. his argument was that disney was committed. to helping grow the city of anaheim through. disneyland’s success, however that success. was dependant on disneyland remaining a high. quality experience people would continue to. want to visit. so in a way, it was in these businesses best. interest to help maintain the illusion and. the magic that disneyland created in order. to keep tourism healthy in the region. the council ended up approving the sheraton. plans, under the condition that the building. be reduced from 22 stories to 14 stories. however with other highrise proposals coming. in, including a 750 foot tower resembling. the seattle space needle, a more permanent. solution needed to be put in place. so in august of 1964 a joint meeting between. the anaheim city council and planning commission. took place to vote on a proposed sliding scale. height limit in the area. the idea was that the height limits would. be reduced the further away developers built. from disneyland. properties right next to the park, for instance,. would be limited to 75 feet in height, while. properties 2,200 feet from the hub would be. allowed to build up to 125 feet. the concept itself wasn’t a new one. it would be often used in areas near airports. in order to allow planes to takeoff and land. without issue, however this would be the first. time it would be used for something as recreational. as a theme park. while some in the community felt that disney. was overstepping the line of what they should. be allowed to control, the proposed height. limited passed unanimously with a 6-0 vote. this policy would sit untouched for over years, until it was revised for the first. time in 1980. this time, instead of the limitations applying. evenly in a radial pattern around disneyland,. height limits would depend on the direction. of the property. property to the north if disneyland was further. limited by up to 50 feet, while limits to. the west were actually reduced. additionally developers were asked to float. balloons to their project’s max height to. ensure that it wouldn’t be visible from. within disneyland, a common practice that. even disney employs today when planning new. lands and attractions. these limits were adjusted once more in 1993,. and are still in effect today, over 50 years. after they were first introduced. as for the resistance to the height limits,. well there really isn't any. according to anaheim city officials in 2015,. developers hadn’t filed any lawsuits to. try and overturn the limits. it’s possible that they agree that in order. for their developments to flourish disneyland. needs to flourish, and that maintaining the. illusion of the magic is important to do that. it’s also possible they just don’t want. to deal with the legal headache that comes. with challenging the city, and by extension. the walt disney company. it’s also possible they just don’t care. after all, building anything in a city today. means following a staggering amount of regulations. and rules, and this is just another one of. them. the height limits around disneyland wouldn’t. be the last time the walt disney company influenced. local or federal laws, and whenever they did,. it invited debate from both sides. wherever you stand on the issue, it’s hard. to deny that when disney has a vision, in. this case literally, they’ll do what it. takes to make it a reality. .
 

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