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):

Bill Elliot:

Stan Kenton:

Count Basie:

Lionel Hampton:

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.

Follow my Daveland updates on Twitter. See more Disneyland Plaza Gardens photos on my Plaza Gardens web page.


Thufer said...

I know that that 'real estate' is prime and it may be (in reality) time has moved pass the garden. I am sadden to see it pass into history. So much really good memories for my parents and myself reside there.
One could say that most anywhere in the park is a 'special' spot for someone. Walt himself knew that the word change was not a bad thing.
I personally morn for the older attractions when business decisions cast a shadow over their fate. This location doesn't really have the 'sexy' appeal of say a submarine ride or the devoted following of a people mover. Somehow, I just think the Gardens were really what all of us want lying at the end of our Main Street USA. A place where grandparents, parents and children could come and be a community.
I am sure that the new attraction will be of quality. I just wonder what loss of 'quality' to Main Street is coming.
I apologize, but this does in fact bring a small tear as I know somewhere in heaven my dad remembers all the dances he shared with my mom.
It will always be a special little corner of the park.

stu29573 said...

This is wrong and short sighted by Disney. A HUGE part of the appeal of Disneyland is the historical significance. If you are a music lover this move reeks of...well, it just reeks. You might as well tear down the fire house and make it another tacky cheap merchandise store....Opps I'd better not say that too loudly....

Vintage Disneyland Tickets said...

Awesome post! I still am in disbelief that they would remove this! A reader (DMarsh) to my blog made the following comment:

"Just a quick note-- the Plaza Gardens dance stand is not being demolished, It is being rethemed for the Fantasy Faire. Weekend dancing will still be featured when the area reopens."

Hopefully "rethemed" means just a bunch of tack-on crap (Think "What will you celebrate")that can be removed once the concept flops!

If they ruin this part of the park I'm really gonna be PO!!!

Hey Everyone, LETS DANCE! (link)

Major Pepperidge said...

I'm with you, I think that the destruction of the Plaza Gardens is a big mistake. Maybe they could have used the Skyway chalet for the princess meet 'n greet, since it is a beautiful building IN FANTASYLAND that is just sitting there unused. (Who knows, maybe that's a bad idea too, for some reason!). Here's a major example of a bad creative decision, apparently made by people who have NO understanding of what makes Main Street special or why it should even matter to anybody.

Anonymous said...

A swarm of slobs? That's a bit harsh. I hope you weren't talking about me.

TokyoMagic! said...

I agree with everything that's already been said here. BIG MISTAKE! Keep Fantasyland off of Main St and out of the Hub! Why not have the Princess meet and greet in the old dance pavilion during the day. They used to do character shows on that stage during the daytime ("Disneyland Is Your Land" in 1980 for DL's 25th birthday)...why couldn't they work the Princess stuff into the existing structure the same way. I had the same comment from DMarsh on my blog about the pavilion NOT being demolished. I hope this is true and I'm also hoping the same thing that VDT is and that the remodel will just be some painted plywood "stuck" onto the existing pavilion and that it can be removed at some point.

Davelandweb said...

Tokyo & VDT - My understanding was that this project was a scrape and burn. I was told that yes, there will be an area for dancing at night, but that the original structure was being torn down.

Anonymous - I don't know if I was talking about you, because you are anonymous. I'll let you be the judge on that one.

TokyoMagic! said...

Dave, unfortunately, that was my understanding too. I remember we were told that by a pretty reliable source on Dapper Day. I was just hoping that maybe the plans had changed and this blog reader/commenter was correct. Wishful thinking on my part, I'm sure.

Connie Moreno said...

I am glad you did this excellent post. The photos are great and they brought a tear to my eye. I agree with the Major - the abandoned Skyway Chalet should be used for a meet and greet. The building is there and it could easily be cleaned up and made presentable. I personally don't spend much time at the Carnation Gardens but I love knowing it's there. Guess I'll say my goodbyes this Friday...

Katella Gate said...

Just another bad decision really. One of many, many, many. But it's the jingle at the end of the day that counts, right?

Darryl said...

I couldn't agree with you more Dave. Blurring the lands. Remember these are the same people who built DCA...and now fixing it for $1 BIL. Sad to see it go, I played there myself in 1976 in my high school jazz band (and marched down Main street for "America on Parade", thank you very much). Last August when I was there I did "find" an out of the way quiet place...but I aint gunna tell no one!

CoxPilot said...

Crap! That place has more memories for me than the Flight Circle. I must have danced EVERY weekend I worked there, and saw all the bands mentioned. Change hurts.

thepicklebarrel said...

I SOOOO agree with Major on this one. Why not use that amazing building that used to house the Skyway Chalet?

I'm sure the answer is the steps/handicap-unfriendly nature of it. Besides, the Carnation Gardens is in prime real estate.

In the end, the Skyway Chalet is too remote to make an effective demonstration. But don't worry, i'm sure they'll deal with our rebel friends soon enough....


Chiana_Chat said...

Disneyland management shouldn't be confusing itself for McDonalds. But it often does. Not just in the low value it places in its employees when it comes to filling out the payroll checks, but in needlessly weak, blunderingly executed "cost effective" short-term profit ideas that always end up costing a lot in other ways, the only indicators for which are sense and taste.

Instead of effectively managing the Gardens to be a live music attraction, which as live music revenues today will tell you has potential, they axe the Gardens for the easier way: to milk a Princess franchise that turned the fantasy story princesses and fairies into money-making celebs for parents who want their little girls to be money-making celebs. That is something that does not sit well with me. Yes it will make money but it has hidden costs and it could have been done in a way that way that reduces them.

Sorry for the rant Dave.

Chiana_Chat said...

Since I already ranted, might as well ad this. Notice how Walt Disney managed to make his profit-making enterprises (which the current management uses) out of things that built humanity - celebrating the good times and good things in culture, history and fantasy, stories of Princesses and fairies whose personal qualities and dreams were what proved to matter more than their status or beauty. Successes were rewards for those qualities and dreams.

The modern management exploits marketing and social trends and relies on the good will Walt's work established whether or not its own work supports or even undermines it. There's no mistaking which management was actually valuable leadership and which are expendable followers.


Davelandweb said...

Chiana - You are preaching to the choir. Someone in the organization needs to be a balance for those pushing the $$$-driven decisions.

Chiana_Chat said...

I agree these guys need it but it's more than that. Walt's stuff did both! All the money making is on the back of his ideas. His ideas had built-in money-making ability, how much came down to how well it was exploited. Their ideas shouldn't need balancing but they do because they're weaker creatively. The weaker the quality, the more likely a wheel will need balancing weights.

Hopefully it isn't as bad as it seems. Again I feel kinda bad ranting on it, this one kinda hit a nerve I guess (as it did for others). I can see I'm not alone in that. Thanks for this place and its participants for that as well as the great coverage and tribute by you, Dave. :)

JG said...

I am sad to see this go, especially to the Princess wave. It was never a big attraction for me in my prime years, but I can sure hear the hurt in the voices in these comments.

I know Mr. Disney said Disneyland would never be completed, and he had a habit of removing expensive works, but replacing them with better (think Viewliner).

I am afraid that Chiana is right, I also find that the social implications of the Princess boutique is downright scary. I think the original Disneyland would have run from such a notion, rather than capitalizing on it. Nothing wrong with kids dressing up, but there's a line between fun and creepy and they have crossed it.


my word verification is "lessever", "less ever". Somehow appropriate.

DisWedWay said...

I was visiting my gal pal Esmeralda the other day on Mainstreet and she said Walt was very upset over removing his Carnation Plaza Gardens. He felt every Mainstreet America 1920 era should have it's Gardens with a vintage bandstand. Less spooky would be to have "Dancing With The Stars" guest appearances and music all through operating hours of the park. I would rather meet a dancer than a princess. A new kitchen to provide food and beverage as the Gardens all had, should be added along with a canopy of trees for shade during the day. Put the princesses with their respective prince behind Sleeeping Beauty Castle near the back of Fantasyland for their garhering. She said Walt said "Don't throw out his sign!"

Davelandweb said...

Esmeralda is one smart cookie. Those who are wise heed her advice!

210Frwy said...

I almost wept the other night as I watched Disneyland After Dark. It’s so much fun seeing all the kids dancing at the Plaza Gardens to the Elliot Brothers band, just having a great time in a summer night so many years ago. So long Plaza Gardens. Thanks for the memories.

Bronwen said...

I'll have my memories of my dad taking me on the teacups and then going to the Plaza for Fantasia ice cream, then putting my little feet on top of his to dance. He was in the military so those times were special since he was gone a lot. Then the teen years of dancing with this boy or that one and just having one heck of a time. Finally finding 'the one' and dancing on New Years eve to the dreamy Big Band sounds. One day sitting with my dad as he listens to the memories of his youth in music with a stroller near by with his sleeping grand child. Finally dancing with my child with his feet on mine, thinking of my dad so long ago and now gone.

They may want to 'improve' the park with yet another line for children to stand in to meet a princess. But they are destroying the real things that happen there, the things that will be long remembered. Long cherished. Not yet another line. I'm thankful we will be visiting on April 28th so that we can go there and say our sad good byes.