As the first guests have been making their way through Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at the Disneyland Resort, many are aware that the Black Spire Outpost was created in an area that once encompassed a portion of Frontierland and the Rivers of America. Others know that a sizable portion of Disneyland’s original “backstage” was relocated as well. One small but significant structure that was removed predated Disneyland’s opening in 1955. This was the original roundhouse of the Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad.
Walt Disney loved trains. As a child he had thrilled to the special whistle his Uncle Mike Martin, an engineer on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, blew as he steamed past the Disney family farm in Marceline Missouri. Walt’s first taste of financial independence was as a “news butcher” on the Missouri Pacific when he was just a teenager. As an adult, Walt had made a special trip to the great Chicago Rail Fair. His backyard miniature steam layout, the Carolwood Pacific, was an important precursor of Disneyland.
Steam trains had played an important part in all of Walt’s plans for a special place where parents and children could have fun together. Because his brother Roy declined to finance the costly live steam layout that Walt envisioned encircling his magic kingdom, Walt put up his own money for what would become the Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad. The roundhouse, actually a somewhat nondescript looking rectangular structure, was one of the first buildings completed on the property. It was located in the northwest corner, just inside an entry that was once Winston Road in rural Anaheim.
Walt’s routine during Disneyland’s early years was to enter through the Winston gate. Straight ahead was the back of the berm enclosing the northwest corner of the Rivers of America, and to the right was the roundhouse. He would go inside to check on his trains and talk with the on-duty roundhouse crew. Workers on the Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad were personal employees of Walt Disney and received a separate paycheck from the other Disneylanders.
If there was time (and there was often time), Walt would have one of the two (later four) engines steamed up, and he would take it out for a couple of runs around the park before the official opening. To get onto the main line there was a tunnel cut through the berm.
In 1955 the northernmost section of the right-of-way traveled due east-west just above the Casey Jr. train in Fantasyland. The tracks were realigned by 1965 to make room for it’s a small world. In later years Videopolis and then the Fantasyland Theatre were built in the open area within the tracks to the west.
Walt’s original roundhouse was eventually replaced, as well. A two-story structure, with steam trains on the ground level and monorails on the second floor was built in the park’s northeast corner. It is still in use today. By 1967 the original roundhouse was being referred to as the “old roundhouse.”
Site preparation for Galaxy’s Edge was begun in January of 2016. At that time the old roundhouse was part of a jumble of shops, clearly visible from the Mickey and Friends parking structure. The vestige of Winston Road that still ran just north of the building was crowded with backstage cast member transportation and attraction vehicles awaiting repair, or a reappearance on stage.
Demolition began first on the berm, and then on structures to the north of the roundhouse. By April 2 it was possible to clearly see the original access tunnel, still in place in the rapidly dwindling berm.
Just a month later the roundhouse itself was nearly gone. To the north everything had been removed, leaving only a fenced-in backstage access road cutting through a desolate landscape of bare dirt.
By May 14 the entire backstage complex was gone. The land was returned to the state it must have looked like in 1954-55, when it was former orange groves undergoing its initial transformation into Disneyland.
Galaxy’s Edge has been opening to the public in stages. Through the miracle of modern aerial digital photography it is possible to determine just where Walt’s original Roundhouse was located. The front of the building, where once trains steamed out and into the tunnel in the berm, was located almost exactly at what will be the entrance to the Rise of the Rebellion attraction.
As to that long-vanished tunnel, there are now no less than three tunnels cut through the berm. But these tunnels allow the public to pass beneath the tracks of the Disneyland Railroad and into the Black Spire Outpost. The one at the center is south and east of the original. It is possible to stand outside this entrance and ponder the sight of 19th century locomotives passing within a stone’s throw of an entirely alien realm.
Rise of the Resistance is scheduled to open later this season. The entrance is currently not accessible to the public. But when it is, guests waiting to enter can pause a moment just before entering to remember that this was once Walt’s own “happy place” in the happiest place on earth.