Walt Disney World Chronicles: A Look at Echo Park

by Jim Korkis
Disney Historian

Feature Article

This article appeared in the November 19, 2013 Issue #739 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.


Dinosaur GertieFor business reasons and to meet the needs and wants of the current guests, Disney parks always change. Beloved attractions and large acres of land are replaced with newer entertainments and the previous things that occupied that space slowly fade from memory except for a handful of photographs.

However, it is important to remember that in good faith, The Walt Disney Company can announce something and even show magnificent concept art, but that for a variety of reasons the project evolves into something else.

Remember the initial plans for the New Fantasyland where there would be individual meet and greet areas for different Disney Princesses? Remember the hoopla about the new Downtown Disney entertainment area that was to be called Hyperion Wharf? Those announced venues evolved into something similar yet very different.

One area that may soon be evolving itself is the secluded little cul-de-sac known as Echo Park. While the specifics of the plan may change, it seems that Echo Park could soon become only a memory.

Few guests today recall that when Disney's Hollywood Studios opened in 1989, it was to celebrate the Hollywood of the 1930s and 1940s with iconic places from that era.

The original Echo Park, in a suburb of Los Angeles, California was dedicated and opened to the public in 1895. In the 1920s, Spanish-style courtyards and apartments sprang up (mixing in with the other architectural styles like Craftsman and Victorian) in the nearby neighborhood and became the residences of many aspiring actors.

Before the development of Hollywood as the motion picture capital, most of the Los Angeles film industry was centered in the Echo Park area, including Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios located on Keystone Street (now part of Glendale Boulevard). Sennett was known for his outstanding silent movie comedies, including those starring the frantic and inept Keystone Kops and Charlie Chaplin. Sennett often used the park as the perfect setting for some of those wacky comedies. At DHS, the Keystone Clothiers building on Keystone Street stands at the entranceway to the Echo Park area as a clever reference to that early filmmaker.

Just a few feet from the street sign that says "Keystone Street" is Peevy's Polar Pipeline, featuring frozen Coca-Cola Concoctions, as well as regular soft drinks and assorted snacks. The location was reformatted and named "Peevy's" to reference the mechanic character from the Touchstone Pictures film "The Rocketeer" (1991). The film was set in 1938 Los Angeles so it fits in quite well with DHS's theme of Hollywood of the '30s and '40s.

Many references to one of my favorite films fill the area, from blueprints of the Rocketeer jet pack on the outdoor menu board to actual props from the film, including a stunt helmet and a rocket pack. To the right side of Peevy's is a door with the logo for the Holly-Vermont Realty Office. This was Walt Disney's first studio in Hollywood.

When he signed the contract for the first Alice Comedies, he went to this office looking to rent an inexpensive space for the new Disney Brothers Studio. The owners rented him a room in their building for $10 a month from October 1923 to February 1924 when Walt moved to a larger space nearby on Kingswell Avenue. The sign in the upper window listing "space for rent" suggests that Walt has already moved out to bigger and better things, but that was the home to the original Disney Studio.

The Art Deco Hollywood and Vine, the "Cafeteria to the Stars", is modeled after a cafeteria that once stood at 1725 North Vine, near Hollywood Boulevard. Before the dawn of fast food, these cafeterias (like Clifton's Cafeteria) provided actors (and Walt and Roy as well) with inexpensive and varied choices. Walt would order a meat platter and Roy a vegetable platter, and then they would split both plates. Along the inside wall is a beautiful 42-foot by 8-foot mural depicting some of the highlights of the Hollywood area including the Disney Studios and the Carthay Circle Theater and is another wonderful hidden treasure that is rarely photographed.

During this time period, it was not unusual for the bottom floor of a building to showcase a business and the upper floor to provide housing for the owner or apartment space to rent. The "No Actors" sign in the upper window was authentic. Landlords didn't want to rent to actors because they were unreliable, might skip out of paying rent, would have low morals and hold wild parties.

Echo Lake ApartmentsEddie Valiant, the famous detective played by actor Bob Hoskins in the film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (1988), is apparently renting office space for his detective agency. Next to his name on the window is a silhouette of Roger Rabbit who has excitedly burst through the blinds just as he did at the Acme Studios in the feature film, which was set in 1947 Hollywood.

Tucked between the 50s Prime Time Cafe and Hollywood & Vine Cafeteria of the Stars, are the Echo Lake Apartments. The gate leading up to the apartments is locked, but a look at the names on the mailboxes reveals an often overlooked tribute to several Imagineers who worked on the park. Take a look at Apartment 105: "T. Kirk." Kirk is not actor Tommy Kirk, but Design Director Tim Kirk, who was a production set designer and art director for the "Great Movie Ride" and the "Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular," which may also disappear if changes are made to this area.

The 50s Prime Time Cafe is a tribute to Mom, meatloaf and Formica with a television set at every table and a surrogate mother reminding guests to eat their vegetables and keep their elbows off the table. The restaurant is meant to suggest the earliest days of television, as families ate their new TV dinners on TV trays in front of the set. Prime Time refers to a block of time, usually the early evening hours, when the viewing audience is the largest.

Gertie the Dinosaur is a tribute to a revolutionary early animated short that is considered the first example of "personality" animation where the character seems real. This animated silent short inspired not only Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, but also Paul Terry (responsible for Mighty Mouse, Heckle and Jeckle and others) to pursue a career in animation. In the 1940s, people believed it was the Ice Age that killed the dinosaurs, which is why Gertie is selling the "ice cream of extinction" and is covered in snow. She is so cold that steam occasionally comes out of her nostrils.

On one edge of Echo Lake is Min and Bill's Dockside Diner. It was named after a 1930 MGM film (just one of the 250 that Disney originally licensed the rights to from MGM) starring Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler, who are both caricatured in a circle by the entrance. Dressler won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the character in the film, but was best known to audiences as "Tugboat Annie" -- although she is generally forgotten today. She was a dockside innkeeper who had an ongoing tumultuous relationship with a drunken fisherman who lived at the inn. The name of the tramp steamer, "S.S. Down the Hatch", is not only a reference to the hatches on the ship but also Bill's drinking. The boat was designed by Ray Wallace, who had been designing boats for the Disney Company since 1957. He was the one also responsible for the Columbia sailing ship at Disneyland.

This building is another example of the architectural style called "California Crazy," since it originally served some seafood treats. This "building" is supposed to represent a cargo ship. If you look around, you can see freight ready to be loaded aboard. Since this is Hollywood, those crates currently reference various feature films, including "Gone With the Wind," "It's A Wonderful Life," "Casablanca" and "The Producers." Over the years, the crates by the Dockside Diner have been either blank or labeled somewhat differently. (Previous references have included "The Wizard of Oz" and "Lawrence of Arabia.") Because of the weather conditions, the crates are sometimes replaced or repainted.

Min and Bill'sWhile some references are fairly obvious like the Rosebud Sled Company shipping to Charles Foster Kane, others are more obscure. The ZIP code for Kane's Xanadu Compound in Florida is actually the date the film "Citizen Kane" was released. ZIP codes did not exist at the time the film was released so Xanadu could not have had one.

I have always enjoyed this quiet suburban area, although I wish it had more shade, as a little cul-de-sac sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the park. It is filled with so many more secrets and wonderful stories waiting to be discovered and photographed before it is transformed into a something totally different.

I realize I am as much a dinosaur as Gertie, whose delightful dancing, playful stubbornness and lovable naughtiness have rarely if ever been seen by today's audiences, despite the easy accessibility to do so on sites like YouTube. However, I wanted to remind readers that nothing at a Disney theme park is permanent, so they might want to take a few moments to visit, enjoy and document the place before it is no longer there to appreciate.

How many readers would still like another ride behind the wheel on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride attraction (and the opportunity to go on both tracks once again to compare the differences in the experience) or another visit on the Horizons attraction and the chance to select how the journey ends?

Unfortunately, those opportunities no longer exist, but there is still time to take a photographic safari through Echo Park or just to sit on a bench and be immersed in the many details. That's what I intend to do in the next few months.

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RELATED LINKS

Other features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives:
http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim also writes for the AllEars® Guest Blog every other week, contributing entries under the heading of "Jim's Attic." Find his latest entry, on where you can find the Rocketeer references in the parks, here:
http://land.allears.net/blogs/guestblog/2013/11/where_in_the_world_is_the_rock.html

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Jim KorkisABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Disney Historian and regular AllEars® Columnist Jim Korkis has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of two books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:

-- "Who's Afraid of the Song of the South?"

-- "The REVISED Vault of Walt": Paperback Version / Kindle version


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.