Totally off topic, but awfully interesting …and, I think, even inspiring.
I stumbled on this intriguing account of a meeting between Walt Disney and a focus group of amusement park owners who, in the early 1950s, were given the first look at plans for Disneyland. What did they think of it?
Walt’s proposal to build his own attractions was met with skepticism. The naysayers said, “Custom rides will never work. They will cost too much to buy and they will be constantly breaking down, resulting in reduced ride capacity and angry customers.” They suggested, “Only stock off-the-shelf rides are cheap enough and reliable enough to do the job. And besides, the public doesn’t know the difference or care.” They also determined that there was not enough ride capacity to make a profit.
After reviewing the park’s layout as designed by Marvin Davis, they were critical. In their experience, the fatal flaw was the single entrance into the park. This would mean a bottleneck at the front gate and that was unacceptable. They suggested the need for entrances all around the park next to parking lots and transit if Walt wanted to be successful.
“Most of Mr. Disney’s proposed park produces no revenue but it will be expensive to build and maintain,” said the focus group. “Things like the castle and pirate ship are cute but they aren’t rides so there is no economic reason to build them. There is too much wasteful landscaping.” They also found other examples of waste. Spaces like Town Square with its little park, City Hall, and a fire station were not designed to make any money. That was a poor use of real estate and did not add to the bottom line. Even the Main Street vehicles like the horse trolley, fire truck, and omnibus would be money-losers because they also suffered from a capacity issue.
After reviewing other concept drawings, the men suggested that Walt’s commitment to the little design details was just not warranted. They felt, “People will vandalize the ride vehicles and destroy the grounds no matter what you do, so you may as well go cheap.”
Even the level of design for the building interiors became an issue. Walt wanted the interiors to be as highly detailed as the exteriors. The men told the team “the interior finishing concepts of the restaurants are too expensive, especially since a hot dog and a beer are about all anyone eats at an amusement park.” They said, “He will lose his shirt by over spending on things the customers never really notice.”
Then they began to really tear the project apart. Walt’s desire for year round operation was a bad idea when 120 days is “the only way to go.” Most importantly, the lack of barkers is certainly a bad idea. One critic said, “Without barkers along the midway to sell the sideshows, the marks won’t pay to go in. Customers are likely to leave with money left in their pockets.”
(Buzz) Price (a researcher from Stanford) summed up the thoughts of the participants with this statement. He wrote, “Mr. Disney’s park idea is too expensive to build and too expensive to operate.” Their advice was, “Tell your boss to save his money. Tell him to stick to what he knows and leave the amusement business to people who know it.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.