Monday, November 19, 2012

Fond Memories of Hills Bros. Coffee Gardens

My previous post on the Hills Bros. Coffee Garden stirred up a lot of memories for people, especially former cast member Ken S.

He was VERY kind in sharing not only his memories, but a number of very fun photos from August & September 1969 when he worked at the Hills Bros. Coffee Garden in Town Square. As he remembers:

I have fond, somewhat misty, memories of Hills Brothers. It was my first Disney job experience. It all started in 1954-1955 when I would sit in front of my parents 13” B&W TV watching the Disneyland show on ABC in Cincinnati Ohio around the age of 5. Who knew that in 1969 we’d be living in Orange County and I’d apply for and get a job at the Park. A sandwich maker at Hills Brothers Coffee House. What a thrill for an 18 year old. Back then Disney jobs…any Disney job… was hard to get as applicants far exceeded openings. My friend that day didn’t make the cut, only me. Was I excited? Must have been as I remember the person who interviewed me (Dave Workman). And I started at $1.40/hour.

So that April I had my 2 day Disney University training. The University was still run by Van France and I had a chance to meet him at that time (and later in my “Disney” career). The next weekend, wearing my white cook’s outfit with chef’s hat I reported for early morning duty in the kitchen of Oscar Martinez. Even then Oscar was considered a veteran…the ‘old man’. Really a great mild mannered guy who went about his work without drama. We razzed him constantly and he’d just smile. Frankly we thought sooner or later he’d pull a fast one on us but he never did. He’d been making scrambled eggs for breakfast for years and I helped in putting those meals on the paper plates we used at the time. Right around the lunch shift he’d be done for the day. So I began my Disney career training with what is now a Disney legend.

The Hills crew consisted mostly of 18-23 year olds…including the supervisors. Hills was a small place…no more than 2 chefs, 3-5 busboys and 7-8 waitresses a shift on maximum days. Being an only child this was really the first time I felt part of a family with siblings. Honest. We’d have fun banter, petty fights, dated one another, especially during the summer season as the ‘seasonals’ joined the team. I took the Summer night shift 4pm to 12:30am. The place and the Park turned magical. There would be the occasional ‘food fight’ when the supervisors weren’t looking…or the ‘oops, looks like I messed up this cheesecake, gee we’ll have to eat it' scenario. That lasted for a while until management realized too many cheesecakes seemed to be ordered from the bakery!

And of course the impromptu employee parties that went into the wee hours or into the next morning as we’d trudge back into the Park early for the Canoe race practices for which we never had a chance of winning. I still have one of the team “Hills’ Angels” T shirts.

Overall, Hills’ was generally a quiet and tranquil place. A good place for people watching along Town Square. The break area was filled with Characters readying for a parade…or Security and merchandise personnel. One day there might be George Kennedy and his family occupying a bench out in full view of the public without escort or Roy Disney and his family enjoying a light meal in the foyer. I saw them all.

August of 1969 was very exciting. The Haunted Mansion was to open and the employees were excused during breaks to walk over to experience it before its opening to the public. And we held our own HM parties. The push of crowds after the opening was overwhelming…record-breaking at the time. Just getting into the employee parking lot was an issue…and that was when we could park along side of Harbor House. We weren’t allowed to take our costumes home. We needed to get in early just to accomplish the wardrobe change. Man landed on the moon in July…Tomorrowland seemed all too real. It was an exciting time.

I made permanent “C “status in the Fall and continued working weekends and full time holiday periods into 1970.

In the summer of 1970,I did the 5pm-1:30am closing shift as the Park was now open to 1am. That was OK, but it wasn’t quite the same. Hard to party after that…most wanted to go home. But the Hills’ family remained my family. In August of 1970, I was there for Yippee Day. You have posted a comment of mine on it. Management closed the Park. The crush of guests through Main Street was so great, management opened the employee gates on the east side behind the merchandise buildings between First Aid and Hills Brothers. I’ll never forget that evening seeing the teeming masses walking backstage and into Town Square from my vantage point from Hills’ patio…and hearing the announcements as they closed the lands one by one. The traffic jam and confrontation out in the Parking Lot. Yes, I saw that too.

By summer’s end of 1970, and with my fleeting relationship with a gal at Hills’ sadly turned sour, it was time for me to move on. And so I applied for a transfer. To operations, and in October of that year I started training on the Jungle Cruise, eventually working all the attractions in Adventure/Frontierland between 1970-1977. That was a golden period for Disney employment and good for another story. Back then, by leaving one union (Culinary) to another (Teamsters), one was ‘busted’ back to seasonal and I had to start all over again up the wage and status ladder. I didn’t make permanent until l fall of 1971 and one of the few to do so.

In 1976, while still working in Operations, I developed and ran the North Orange County ROP program at the Park, under the auspices of the Disney University (as an ROP employee). So during the week I was ‘management’. But on the weekends I continued to be a ride operator. I may have been the only one with that unique situation in the history of the Park. In 1978, I left Disney altogether to start my career in telecommunications. But in my heart, I haven’t left. I have my pictures (including my ROP ‘kids’ who aren’t kids anymore) and my memories. I’ve been in contact with 3 of my former Hills’ co-workers in recent years including my former gal from 1970. Problem is though, my memories of her is as an 18 year old…and not as a grandmother.

What I love most about these photos from Ken is the camaraderie between the cast members; you can tell that they are truly having fun together. It must have been a very special time for them.

See more vintage and current Disneyland Town Square photos on my Town Square web page.


Thufer said...

Thank you Dave. One of my favorite spots in the park.

K. Martinez said...

Great article accompanied by some cool backstage photos. Nice post today!

Anonymous said...

What Thufer Said.

I knew I wouldn't get in before him.

What great stories about a favorite place.


SundayNight said...

Ken, thank you for sharing those great memories and photos. I enjoyed your descriptions of the working environment and the camaraderie you had with the staff there. Thanks Dave for posting this.

thepicklebarrel said...

fantastic post!!

Unknown said...

Aloha Dave,
I am a fellow Disneylander from '72-'76. I worked at the Plaza Pavilion,
So many things to remember about those times and the only people that really get what was goin on there, then were US.
Remember the first Electrical Parade? the workers coming in at night for what seemed like weeks drilling holes for the stainless steelcrowd control posts/ They were caught off guard by the size of the crowds..such a mess..I was trained for crowd control in front of the Pav..what a job.
Anyway, thank you for this article, we went to the Hills Brothers cafe(as my mom called it) evry time we came to dad ran grocery stores in LA and the company gave us some form of gift cert to go
Robert Jones

Daveland said...

Hi Robert - Thanks for "dropping by." Hard as it may be to believe, I never worked for Disney; I just visited the place a lot! This great article was from one of my readers, Ken. If you have any memories you'd care to share, let me know!