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Prior to Disney’s California Adventure’s Grand Opening on February 8, 2001, Disney held a huge media event starting on February 5th. During that event LaughingPlace.com had the opportunity to interview a number of Imagineers about the soon-to-open park.

As we celebrate DCA’s 15th anniversary, we’ve combined all those interviews into one article here. Our interviewees, and their contributions to DCA, are…

  • Tim Delaney: Entrance and Paradise Pier
  • Neil Engel: Superstar Limo and ABC Soap Opera Bistro
  • Alec Scribner: Condor Flats and Soarin’ Over California
  • Marc Sumner: Soarin’ Over California and Grizzly River Run
  • Chris Runco: Grizzly River Recreation Area
  • Steven Davison: Eureka! Parade and DCA Opening Ceremony

One thing you’ll notice about these interviews is that many of the attractions discussed are now either gone or have been thoroughly rethemed. To no fault of the people we spoke to, the original California Adventure seemed to fall short of what guests and critics expected of Disney. Part of its failure could perhaps be contributed to the Internet where the park received scathing reviews. As you’ll see from the interviews, even before the park opened the team knew that building this park was going to be a little different thanks to increased scrutiny that message boards and chat rooms brought.

15 years later, it seems like the perfect time to look back at a time before the gates were opened and when people were excited to discover what Disney’s California Adventure held:

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Tim Delaney was one of the first Imagineers to join the Disney’s California Adventure project in 1995. Delaney joined Walt Disney Imagineering in 1976 where his first assignment was designing the Starcade at Disneyland. He’s since worked on The Living Seas at Epcot and Discoveryland at Disneyland Paris including Space Mountain: From the Earth to the Moon. LaughingPlace.com interviewed Delaney during the DCA media events a couple of days before DCA’s grand opening.

LaughingPlace.com: What was your specific role in the development of Disney’s California Adventure?

Tim Delaney: My specific job was I was the designer in charge of the design group for the entrance complex here at Disney’s California Adventure, as well as for Paradise Pier. Two very exciting, very exciting projects.

LP: Regarding Paradise Pier – two people I’ve interviewed already have made a point of saying how Disney’s California Adventure is about now. It’s not about fantasy. It’s not about history. It’s about right now. That doesn’t seem to quite apply to Paradise Pier. Can you talk about that?

TD: The thing is the way we designed Paradise Pier was not necessarily historically. We didn’t take any buildings and directly lift them. We actually took bits and pieces of them. We actually designed it nostalgically, something meant to really create the dream quality of what a seaside amusement park was meant to be. In California we had a huge history of these seaside amusement parks. Their heyday was from 1905 to 1929 just prior to the depression. They were very elegant places, had very exotic architecture, wonders of the mechanical age. They were just really wonderful places.

After that they began – after the depression, after World War II – they began to deteriorate and eventually most of them ended in fires. We only had three left, Belmont Park, Santa Monica and Santa Cruz. Santa Monica and Belmont Park are really just a shadow of what they were originally. So what we wanted to do was bring these places back. Bring it back to the nostalgic quality and the emotions and the feelings that they had. So in a way it is really meant to be; I guess timeless would be a better word rather than historical. It’s really touching on emotions about places like that. Paradise Pier is a very energetic place once you step into it. The more people you get the more sound. We get all the rides running tomorrow. Disney had a couple running today and you’ll see that there’s something so fundamental and intrinsically entertaining about it that again, that quality remains timeless with everybody.

LP: A specific question, before I forget. I know that during it’s testing the Sun Wheel had a lot of different light patterns going on. Since the park began soft openings it seems the patterns have gone away.

A: No, no, you should see them on tonight. We’ve gone through some interesting challenges with the lighting on this. It rains and they’re like “oh…” It will have the full compliment of all its lighting. There is about a 20 minute cycle on the lighting and it’ll be spectacular. It better be spectacular or I’ll kill someone on that too.

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LP: Can you talk about the sun icon?

A: The sun icon. The sun icon is the ultimate final statement for our entire entrance complex here. The whole idea is that we’re walking through a picture postcard starting with the California letters, going through the images of California with the mural and kind of looking through the Golden Gate Bridge. I love the idea of the bridge because of what it represents. It’s like the ultimate icon for California as well as having the Monorail go through – the ultimate icon for Disney and then at the end of that long line is our plaza here with our wave fountain and the sun icon.

The intent here was to actually make it – it doesn’t have any historical historical reference in Disney, but that’s okay. Sometimes you just want to create something on your own. You create your own images. I designed it so it had kind of a compatible size relationship with the castle at Disneyland, it has the certain height and all that. I didn’t want to have an icon which is 500 feet high. This isn’t meant to be that kind of relationship. But just like everything else at Disney’s California Adventure it’s meant to compliment Disneyland as well as contrast it at the same time. I was very much inspired by the Unisphere for the World’s Fair in New York in 1964, and it was built of stainless steel, very elegant, very timeless in its quality with a fountain to it and that’s what we wanted to create here.

As you well know – it’s been well documented, I’ve said it hundreds of times – icons usually face the south and this one faces north and I quickly figured that one out and I said “how do we make it interesting?” I love building and designing things that have not only what appears to be its design but also some context to it. A good example is the Golden Gate Bridge. As a gateway for this park the Golden Gate Bridge is fantastic. The fact that the Monorail goes through it and it had to live with that, it’s like “oh, Monorail, yeah.” It works great. Well the sun icon, just being on its own, works on its own. But now that we add the heliostats to illuminate it, it adds another level of intrigue. It actually adds that kind of quality of California art and science. You put all that together with a little bit of technology – technology that we had a company in San Diego actually build all the software for it. It’s a neat thing. With the sun icon, I’ve been doing things – trying to create architectural gold is very difficult to do. So every time you paint it, it doesn’t look very inspiring and everything else fades away until we found titanium. Look at it, it has a gorgeous color to it. It’s a very rich, warm color. It has a kind of a timeless quality to it also. It will be timeless. It’s never going to change for the next 500 years. There are a lot of subtle colors to it. I’m hoping it becomes just as strong an icon for this park as the castle is for Disneyland.

LP: This is the first park Disney had to build where people could watch it go up. Did that make any difference to you?

A: Not at all. I actually think it’s very interesting. People do see what we construct within the theme park and with those signs, ignore our dust and all that stuff. I just relate back to when I was growing up and going to Disneyland and looking at all the other parks. There is something very, very exciting about seeing things being built, especially when Disney is building. There is an anticipation that kind of gets you saying “oh, something new.” I find because of the interviews that I do, there is a huge interest in the workings and the on-goings of Imagineering, about how we do things. People really want to know. I particularly notice – you notice it here – but I particularly noticed it when I was in Europe when I did Space Mountain over there, or did Discoveryland over there. People were completely fascinated by the concept of Imagineering. People over there thought “well, Imagineering must be like four guys sitting around a coffee table thinking stuff up.” Well that’s not it. When I say we have 1,500,o 2,000 employees, whatever it is, people are like wow. Then you have all these people that designed this.

So there’s this process of constructing, the people really are enthused about it. So when they actually see trucks coming in and dirt moving out and things being build, people are always looking over the fence going “hey, so what is it?” They’re always curious. Look how many planes are going over taking pictures. There were images on the Internet of like what we were doing and all that. I actually find that to be very interesting because I think people show their enthusiasm for what we do, even when there’s speculation on the Internet. At least it’s kind of interesting because they take their time to be curious and there’s people out there who are as vigilant as we are to the same standard. [They were saying] “It’s not going to be like Disneyland.” My attitude is right, it’s not going to be like Disneyland. It shouldn’t be. It’s meant to compliment and contrast at the same time.

The other issue, of being able to see the outside world, to me that’s all part of the California story too. There are certain things that we have tried to block out but other things – like I had to sit and look at that Pacific Hotel for a long time and then I said, let me see if I can fix that, so I redesigned it. So now it looks great. Now it looks better. There’re certain things, you know the old Disney quote about we love doing the impossible. It’s more fun to do and all that. I think the more challenges we have the more fun it is. It’s like “okay, it’s going to be in Anaheim and we got to build this urban thing.” It’s fun. It’s different. I’ve done everything else. So you can go out in the middle of nowhere like in France or like in Epcot. That had its challenges but this is something different. One thing about me, I’ll just tell you, I don’t like doing anything twice. Spend all my time design this, design this, it’s great. It’s exciting. Now when it’s over, okay, now what? What’s new? What’s next?

LP: Is there much room to add things to Paradise Pier? Do you think there’ll be a lot of changes over there?

TD: What we did is I left three – without addressing our little Paradise Bay in front – I purposely put in three vacant lots where we can add attractions and we’re beginning to talk about that. We’ve been talking about it for the last month, as to the attractions we’re going to put in those places. Just throughout the park each land has – they’re very well disguised, but each land has some what I call vacant lots to build things and we’re planning on it. We have plans for that. That’s just within the current configuration of the park. We’re also beginning to explore other possibilities beyond this too. It all takes time and we’ve really devoted all of our attention just to trying to get things going today.

LP: You mentioned Paradise Bay which is a large part of Paradise Pier. Is there a plan for that area, or is there just supposed to be a lot of water there … or can you not say anything about that?

TD: I don’t want to say anything about that.

LP: Fair enough. Given the history of seaside parks and all you had to chose from, how did you end up with these particular attractions?

TD: There were a couple of things. First of all, we knew that the backbone of the entire land, the whole district, was going to be the coaster. We designed that coaster. Pat Doyle and I sat down to design that coaster from scratch. We actually literally write a script of how we want the coaster to go. Where the high spots are, when the intensity is. We actually designed it so you actually can relax as you go to certain areas.

Then I have to say, regarding the wheel, the Sun Wheel, it’s the only thing I hate to say that I borrowed from New York, from Coney Island. I just said if we’re going to do a Ferris Wheel we’ve got to do something totally and completely unique. And I’m not a big lover of Ferris Wheels. I find them to be not very interesting. But I said, if I’m ever going to do one, this is the one we’re going to do and it took us a long time to try and find somebody to build one but we did and they did a great job.

Then, like for example the Golden Zephyr, the Zephyr is a cable rocket swing ride from the beginning of the 20th century. There were 400 of those in the United States. This one we have here is the only one in North America right now. And what we wanted to do was bring back – a little bit like the Sun Wheel is from New York, that was built in 1927 and most of the rocket the swing cable rides were built like in the 20s. So I wanted to bring back some of those lost rides. More family oriented, just variety, just different.

In terms of the Maliboomer, I just love that ride and it’s proven to be enormously popular. It’s incredibly popular. It is what it is. In both the case of the coaster and the Maliboomer, I’m very, very intrigued about putting our guests on stage, making them part of the show. So for the coaster launch we put it right so it flanks the Boardwalk. You can’t see it now because of all those [media] tents that are out there but usually people hang on that edge and they watch people’s faces. I insisted it must come to a stop, no rolling start. It must come to a dead stop. Sometimes people go, “hey,” when it stops then as soon as it starts they’re like “hold on!” It’s funny to see their faces. And the same thing with the Maliboomer. We raised the platform up so you can watch people’s faces.

My feeling about Paradise Pier and all the attractions there is that I consider Paradise Pier one attraction. It’s got a number of rides. My concern with the attractions is everything about it – the music, the sound, the food, the Boardwalk. If you don’t even want to go on the rides you can be entertained because of the energy in that place. And if you want to go on the rides, it’s great fun and it’s great fun for everybody. It’s like it says – “fun under the sun for everyone.”

I think the coaster is kind of typical of what we did. I wanted to create something that was a real family Disney thing. It was meant to be fun. It’s not the tallest, not the fastest, not any of those extremes. It’s 6,000 feet long. We want to create it so as soon as you get off you want to ride it again and that’s what we’ve done. I’ve had so many comments, literally hundreds of comments from people who even their little kids, six or seven years old, will ride the thing eight times because it’s so smooth. That’s what we wanted.

To answer your question specifically, I chose rides that I felt would be most appealing to all audiences. After 25 years here, I feel like I know our audience very well and I know what they like and what they want to do. So we tested a lot of things but those are the ones… I wish we had more rides.

LP: Have you been confident this whole time that this park would be able to please Disney guests?

TD: Absolutely, no question in my mind. Absolutely. The reason is because of the combination of the way it’s laid out and the art direction, everything about it. I am also confident because I’ve worked on other parks, other Disney parks, where when you think about the references here in California people reference Disneyland. I love Disneyland. I have pictures of myself here. I love it. It’s just great. But I also know because I worked on Epcot. I worked on all the other parks. There is another quality. It’s a different subject but there is the same quality of Disney entertainment. I like Paradise Pier. I knew it would be challenging but I knew we could do it. I knew that there was something there so I had to fight. It’s a fight.

One of the things is when you see that place all lit up at night. I told everybody we’re going to make this place like the city of Oz almost. It has to be so with the rides around you, and it’s something so basically entertaining, fun and energetic about it, that I knew people would love it. They’re going to love it and this is how I felt about this entire California project from the very beginning. Barry [Braverman] and Rick [Rothschild], just the moment we started I was there. I said I want to do this because I knew it would have an impact on Anaheim.

I love it when people properly speculate and are concerned. I think it’s great on the Internet. I think they have every right in the world to do that. I don’t think they have a right to make up things that are untrue. But I love taking people on tours here. Not so much now because it’s easy now but six months ago taking people on tours and they’re going, wait a minute, wait a minute, there’s something wrong here. “Oh what’s that?” This looks kind of good. It’s going to get better too.

Then on this side of Paradise Pier you’ve got not the Boardwalk but what I call Paradise Beach and the Jellyfish and the Orange Stinger. As I mentioned, the Boardwalk area where the coaster is, it’s mostly nostalgic but there’s another side too to the beach area. There is another side to the beach environment. And there are other subjects such as there’s the surfing context and then there’s kind of a, and we’re going to explore this more in the future. There’s a bit of a car culture going on with the Dino Jack’s Sunglass Shack, kind of a California Crazy architecture experience that with the giant Burger Invasion. In California there’s a period of time in the 20s and 30s where California Crazy was a big thing. Los Angeles in particular was a car culture and a bunch of people kept saying “gee, how do we get people’s attention” so they used to build these big things – Randy’s Donuts and Boulevard Cafe and all those things, so we want to kind of capture that too. So that’s where that spirit is. Then we put it right in the middle of Mulholland Madness which being a wild mouse ride is kind of like a car ride, but it’s also the slowest most terrifying roller coaster you can go on. I mean I’ll go on the coaster a hundred times before I go on that. It’s scary. I feel like it’s going to fall off the track.

LP: One thing I found interesting is there are very few Disney characters in this park but there happens to be King Triton’s Carousel.

TD: That is a little inconsistent. There’s also a little bit of inconsistency, although I’m thrilled by it because I did it myself, with the mouse ears right there where the coaster goes through and that wasn’t meant to be Mickey in terms of a Disneyland Mickey. It’s meant to be Mickey as a symbol of Disney. I knew there were going to be a million photographs taken of this coaster and one of the first sketches I ever did I had that loop and we had the loop right through the mouse ears. I had a presentation with Mike Eisner. He looked at it and said “yeah!” and so we just did it.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the entire TV special [the DCA special that aired February 4th on ABC], but I saw the other night there were some beautiful shots for the loop going through right in front of the mouse ears with the light changing and all that. It’s an instant icon. I kind of design stuff from a marketing approach. That’s why you see the Golden Gate Bridge and the Sun, mouse ears, sun face and all that stuff because I know that’s what people want to see and it’s fun. You can make things anonymous but I actually design everything as a photo shot. So you can stand in front of something, “oh, I was there.”

LP: My favorite little detail, so far anyway, in Paradise Pier is the water fountain that looks like a beach shower. Do you have a favorite one?

TD: My favorite place in Paradise Pier is just the launch area for the coaster because it’s shared by so many people and also the wave. The wave machine that we have over there. We have 90 feet of wave machine kind of working its thing over there. Just keep that on. I like that. Keep it on. Actually there’s another area. I like that part near the Maliboomer where people walk through there because you got the coaster going around and the ride going up and people are laughing.

I like the whole place.

Doobie is the co-owner of LaughingPlace.com having founded the website with his wife Rebekah in 1999. He became a “hardcore” Disney fan in 1995. His favorite Disney film is Snow White and his all-time favorite attraction is the PeopleMover. Having lived near both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, he’s visited them literally thousands of times.

Doobie is the co-owner of LaughingPlace.com having founded the website with his wife Rebekah in 1999. He became a “hardcore” Disney fan in 1995. His favorite Disney film is Snow White and his all-time favorite attraction is the PeopleMover. Having lived near both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, he’s visited them literally thousands of times.

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