Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Carnation Plaza Gardens: A Fond Look Back
With the imminent destruction of the Plaza Gardens looming, I thought it was time to do a tribute to this very special spot at Disneyland. The original bandstand that was located in this area was moved over to Adventureland to become part of Magnolia Park, leaving an opening at the end of Main Street for a place that guests could listen to live music. Thus, the Carnation Plaza Gardens.
Although it opened on August 18, 1956, the earliest photo in my collection is this first image dated May 1959, followed by a July 1963 view.
When it was recently announced at the D23 Expo that the Gardens were going bye-bye and being replaced by a Fantasy Faire Princess Meet-And-Greet, a minor rumbling ensued. What caused the ruckus over a parcel of land that rarely sees much guest traffic on a typical day?
I can't speak for everyone else, but for me, that's exactly why I loved it. It's one of the few remaining "undeveloped" parts of Disneyland where you can take a load off your feet and not be surrounded by a swarm of slobs running over your feet with strollers and swinging ten-ton souvenir bags loaded with plush.
The main outcry has been over the historic nature of the bandstand. Many legends of the music world have entertained guests here, including The Osmonds (before Marie had gotten her first Paper Roses):
and the list goes on: Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Tex Benecke, and Cab Calloway. Besides the gifted professionals that played here, High School Bands, Choirs, Orchestras, and Dance Groups also entertained guests from the Plaza Gardens. I know because my High School Band played here back in 1980.
As you can see by the sign here, Vesey Walker & The Disneyland Band made this their home as well:
Guests were also able to get food and beverage from a walk-up counter located at the back of the wall here. Eventually, it was replaced by the Frontierland-themed pass-through and restroom area. Guests who were hungry would have to settle for the cart that sold turkey legs on Central Plaza after that change.
Another reason I feel the new Fantasy Faire is a blunder is because it's another blurring of the lines between lands. Each land has a special entrance, giving guests a sense of wonder as they pass underneath the arches or through the gate or over the drawbridge as they step into the magic.
The Tomorrowland remodel blunder of the past which stuck the Astro Orbiter smack-dab in the entrance only served to make Disneyland look more cramped. It broke any illusion guests were previously given about scale and chipped away at their sense of wonder. Sure, Walt stuck the House of the Future outside of the Tomorrowland gate originally, but he had it removed when the 1967 New Tomorrowland project was begun.
For what it is, Pixie Hollow was done very well, but it's still a meet-and-greet with a blatant push at the end for guests to buy merchandise. Tacky tacky. At least the Snow White Wishing Well is peaceful and gives guests a teaser of what lies beyond the Castle without any gimmicks or crass commercialism.
The folks at Disney have promised that the beloved Swing Dancing at Night will continue, but holding it in a Fantasyland Village inhabited by the Disney Princesses just doesn't have the same vibe. I view this as a half-hearted appeasement to keep the loyal few quiet. I realize that the majority of guests at Disneyland probably don't care about the history of the Plaza Gardens or its peaceful nature; they are probably excited about seeing something new, regardless of any of the reasons I've stated here. I also understand that it's a matter of dollars and cents; why not put something here that can generate revenue instead of just being dormant so much of the day?
If you have to ask, then you just don't get it. In the meantime, I'll be hunting down a new spot that the typical park patron avoids in their rush to buy another churro. Auf wiedersehen, Plaza Gardens. One day you're in...and then 55 years later, you're out. I will miss you.
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