Legacy Content

Kenversations: Lynn and Ken Present: The Buzz on CircleVision
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by Ken Pellman and Lynn Barron (archives)
September 7, 2010
Ken and Lynn take a look back at the history of one of Disneyland's oldest spaces - the Circlevision Theater.

Some Disneyland buildings have been renovated and reconstructed numerous times over the years. A good example in the building that forms the northern portion of the Tomorrowland entryway – currently featuring Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters.

This building will always be the Circle-Vision building to me (Ken), because that was the main attraction housed in that building for all of my childhood and through much of my 20s. Like many Disney shows, being 20 minutes or less gave people a chance to cool off from the heat and relax, without being so long as to get boring. This also allowed for three shows an hour, which meant wait times where kept to a minimum.

As a former cast member, I also fondly remember the building being a convenient place to take a break over the years, as the numerous rebuilds and downtimes created "unofficial" break areas that nicely complimented the official breaks areas in the building. By "unofficial", I mean the location of where I took my breaks, not the timing of when I took my breaks. But I suppose it doesn't really matter, as cast members are not only not supposed to take extra breaks, they are not supposed to take breaks in places other than official break areas - largely for safety reasons. Still, as a couple of Custodial cast members and leads. we found that, either violation was a possibility because when covering an area or doing restroom shifts, Custodial cast members mostly worked alone, had wide-ranging access, and had an assigned area large enough to give a plausible excuse to not being visible from any given point in the area.

Lynn and I, however, were dedicated to the guest experience, and as such, weren't prone to taking unofficial breaks, though we were prone to taking them in places other than official break areas. When I did so, it was mainly for peace as I wanted to read without being interrupted. If we were having trouble finding one of the cast members under our direction, though, all of these hiding places became a problem instead of a benefit.

The Circle-Vision building was often a wonderful place for that.

Like I said, the building had an official break area, complete with restrooms and offices adjacent. I did note, as I cleaned the old cast member restrooms, that the fixtures were from Crane, and I couldn't help but think that was because Crane used to have a Bathroom of the Future in Tomorrowland.

But what was the origin of this building?


When Disneyland opened in July 1955 this building housed CIRCARAMA, featuring the film "A Tour of the West" sponsored by American Motors. The name of this cinematic presentation was apparently inspired by a cinema format called Cinerama. For the Circarama format, Eleven film screens formed a complete circle around the audience, displaying scenes shot by eleven 16-milimeter film cameras that had been mounted in a circle on top of an American Motors automobile (It’s a good thing a hamster breeding organization wasn’t the sponsor... the camera contraption must have been heavy). Many modern cinema houses have many more than eleven screens – but they aren’t in a circle, showing different sections of the same 360-degree movie. Also on display were Kelvinator refrigerators and American Motors automobiles (both being products of the same company). This theater was set up in the western end of the building, in what was roughly the space that would later become a waiting area, the current entrance to the Buzz Lightyear attraction.

Space Station X-1 was also in this building on opening day, roughly in the space that would later become the Circle-Vision theater. This attraction was renamed the more descriptive Satellite View of America in 1957, and then closed February 17, 1960, replaced by the Art of Animation on May 28.

Roughly where the exit corridor and shop is now is where Richfield Oil's The World Beneath Us was from August 1955 (weeks after the park opened) to 1959, where the Art Corner was from September of 1955 until September 1966, and the Dutch Boy Color Gallery from March of 1956 to 1963.

In 1960, Bell Telephone took over the sponsorship and operation of the film attraction, getting mentions during the introduction and exit spiels. The method of presentation no longer needed in emphasize the “car”, and so the red lettering was no longer needed.

After “Tour of the West”, The next film using the original eleven-camera technique, “America the Beautiful” was first shown at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, and then came to Disneyland in June 1960, running through September 1966. It featured a tour across the United States visiting some historic sites and important places. Without a need to emphasize an automobile, the circular contraption of multiple cameras was freed to be attached to other vehicles, such as helicopters, to move about.

But the eleven-camera 16-milimeter method’s days were numbered. The switch was made to use nine 35-milimeter cameras to make the complete circular view, and presented in other places before Disneyland. “Italia” was presented in 1961, and “Magic of the Rails” in the mid-1960s. This version of the surrounding experience was called Circle-Vision 360 for these presentations elsewhere.

The Art of Animation closed September 5, 1966 to make way for the new Circle-Vision theater and related exit experiences.

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