Design & History of the Disneyland Hotel California: 1955 - 1965

Today's Disneyland Hotel is a far different facility than the one originally opened in October 1955. Over the years, returning guests have been witness to numerous changes and expansions. As with Disneyland, the Park, the Disneyland Hotel has never stopped growing and improving.


In 1954, Walt Disney asked his friend Jack Wrather to build a hotel in an orange grove across the street from his soon to be open theme park, Disneyland. On March 18, 1955, ground was broken for the Disneyland Hotel.


The complex was build by the joint venture 'Hodges and Vandegrift Construction Company'. 'Junior Steel Company' erected the structural steel. Atlas Ornamental Iron Works did the miscellaneous iron and steel work throughout the project which included the signature, decorative iron beams that were key to the modern design of the Disneyland Hotel.


The Disneyland Hotel was designed by Pereira & Luckman Architects, for the ultimate in the guests' comfort and enjoyment yet with an atmosphere of gracious, relaxed freedom and individual privacy. The original blueprints called for 300 (later changed to 650) motel and hotel rooms, suites, and garden apartments. Included were plans for three swimming pools, tennis courts, a golf course, cocktail lounges, and four restaurants.


One of the outstanding design features of the Hotel’s original administration building was both indoor and outdoor registration desks. Patrons driving to the Hotel could register without getting out of their cars and then proceeded directly to the private parking area in front of their living quarters.

After numerous setbacks, labor and material shortages, the yet unfinished Disneyland Hotel opened for business on October 5, 1955. The first night of operation saw only seven rooms available for paying customers with an eighth being used as a reservation area and lobby.


In August of 1956, the Disneyland Hotel had its 'official' grand opening at a gala, star-studded event.


The Hotel now featured 204 guest rooms and suites, an Olympic-size swimming pool, 17 distinctive shops, a cocktail lounge and several restaurants.


During its first years, the Disneyland Hotel expanded to more than 300 rooms. With a capacity of 1000 guests, the hotel became the largest hotel in Orange County.


At a press conference in 1960, Walt Disney and Jack Wrather announced plans for the extension of the Disneyland - Alweg Monorail System to link the Hotel to the Park. The monorail, with its extension to the Disneyland Hotel, opened to the public on June 11, 1961.


Other 1961 expansions included a new golf complex (covering an area of 40-acres) and a 13,000 square foot convention and exhibition center (built above the Hotel's shops near the main entrance on West Street). The convention hall became Orange County's first ballroom, the Embassy Room. The original banquet hall (to the south of the Embassy Room) would be redesigned and named the Magnolia Room.


At formal ceremonies held in October of 1961, ground officially had been broken for the construction of an eleven-story, high-rise tower. The new building, the first major expansion of the hotel, was designed by the Los Angeles architects Weber & Nicholson and erected by C. L. Peck contractors and engineers. These firms would oversee the expansion of the Disneyland Hotel for most of the next two decades.


The tower would be comprised of vertical pre-cast white concrete, inset with charcoal-tinted solar glass windows. The structure would be accented with horizontal wrought-iron railing across the balconies of each floor.


At the time of its completion, the 118 foot tower was the nation's tallest building constructed utilizing the post tension, lift slab method. A post-tension slab is a slab of concrete that has been pre-stressed using a specific method to increase the strength of the concrete. Lift slab construction is a technique whereby concrete floor slabs are poured on the ground, one on top of the other, and then lifted into place on top of columns by hydraulic jacks.


The tower was another great example of the new architectural concept that changed the Anaheim skyline dramatically between 1955 and 1960: 'building up' instead of 'building out'.

In 1965, the Disneyland Park and Hotel celebrated 10 years of successful operations. On the occasion of this special event, the hotel announced plans for the construction of an annex to the tower and a new shopping plaza building.


This article was written by guest writer Donald W. Ballard, expert in all things related to the Disneyland Hotel, California. 'Designing Disney' thanks Donald for the effort he made.