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Designer Times
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by Bob Gurr (archives)
June 14, 2000
Legendary Imagineer Bob Gurr presents the second part in his series of columns on the early days of Disneyland.

Designer Times is a continuing column by legendary Imagineer Bob Gurr on his experiences in the early days of Disneyland. If you missed part one of this column you may want to read it first.

2) More Cars to Design ... WED Life at The Studio ... Beyond the "Carneys"

My regular week-day job as a designer at Channing Wallace Gilson Industrial Design in Hollywood, just a mile from where Walt and Roy first set up camp in the 1920’s no longer seemed like fun. Not when I could draw car sketches at night, then spend all day Saturdays at the Studio in Burbank caught up in the excitement of “Designing Disneyland”.

Walt wanted an antique car for Main Street.....maybe a miniature Autopia Greyhound Bus for giving rides to tiny kids. And the Disneyland parking lot might need some trams. So I was drawing stuff like mad in a little room Roger Broggie gave me in the Zorro building next to the Studio Machine Shop.

When Walt moved from the Hyperion Studio in Hollywood to Burbank in 1938, he moved some of the old buildings out to the new lot, like the Shorts Building and the little Cottage. A long apartment-like structure was called “Zorro”. By the spring of 1955, a portion of Zorro would be the Engineering Center for Railroads and Automobiles. Some old railroad guys were already there making up steam train drawings.

One Saturday in December 1954, Roger said “Walt was in here last night and told me to keep you real busy”. Gosh, maybe this Disneyland thing might amount to something later on. I told Roger maybe I should quit my regular day job and draw cars every day here. Without a word, he led me to Personnel and I hired on minutes later. Seems many guys came over to the Studio on a temporary project.....then stayed a lifetime!

Right away I found all the Iwerks clan; Ub, Don, and Dave at the Studio’s Special Process Lab. Then I learned that the quiet Ub Iwerks I knew from his home Sunday dinners was actually the Ub from the original Iwerks & Disney Company of the 1920’s. He and Walt were later the founders of Walt Disney Productions. He never mentioned this before. Shows you what genuine folks are really like.

Walt’s new private company, WED Enterprises, was now just two years old and was gathering up Studio artists as well as set designers from other Hollywood studios. We were scattered all over the lot, no real company center, other than Dick Irvine’s office. A small core of dynamic guys were getting things done real fast.

Walt trusted Dick Irvine to direct his set designers for the overall Disneyland architecture. Art Director Emile Kuri made sure the interiors were going to be beautiful. Roger Broggie was entrusted with all the unique mechanical rides. Admiral Joe Fowler made sure all the construction was happening fast. These few guys all trusted each other and made decisions quickly. As a young 23 year old former Ford Motor Company car stylist, I was awe struck by this exciting Studio world of WED Enterprises.

Walt was seen everywhere. Not just meetings, but wandering into everyone’s room, no matter how scattered over the lot. Everyone talked with each other to find ways to get each of their designs to fit together. No system of organized Vice-Presidents, Project Managers, and Coordinators like modern times. These guys just stepped up and solved conflicts on the spot. Walt could monitor the whole circus just by paying close personal attention to everything.

While I just drew cars, I was thrilled to meet some “real” Disney artists. Harper Goff was also a “car nut” who sketched up all kinds of Disneyland scenes. Herb Ryman delighted in showing me all his terrific renderings, and Sam McKim’s easy style left me so impressed. But the car body sketch stuff seemed pretty dry as I got into learning how to draft auto parts drawings so the Autopia cars could be manufactured.

I met other interesting characters at the Studio. Dick Stovall was a fast paced purchasing agent to whom I was to give the Autopia drawings. Others were from the Amusement Carnival business. “Carneys” as they were called. I was to learn later that Walt had to start Disneyland with the expertise of the “Carneys”, but Disneyland was destined to be as far from a Carnival as you could get. Walt had us all going in a whole new direction.....The Theme Park. But that generic name was not to be coined until almost 15 years into the future. Right now it was called Disneyland.

Next month: Walt Disney Productions gets into the automobile manufacturing business.

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Bob Gurr began working with Disney in 1954. He retired in 1981 but occassionally consults for the Company. Since Disney he's worked on the sinking ship at Las Vegas' Treasure Island, Universal Studios' King Kong, Godzilla for the film by the same name and much more. Among his proudest accomplishments he lists "making Walt tickled pink that some of the things he wanted to build actually worked. You could tell how proud he was when he would show off things to his friends and the press. Lincoln and the Monorail were two big ones for him."

Designer Times is normally posted the second Wednesday of each month.

The opinions expressed by Bob Gurr, and all of our columnists, do not necessarily represent the feelings of or any of its employees or advertisers. All speculation and rumors about the future of Disneyland and the Walt Disney Company are just that - speculation and rumors - and should be treated as such.

-- Posted June 14, 2000



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