Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Kool Aid at Club 33, Pt. 1

First, many thanks to Andy Castro for generously allowing me to use his photos in today's post.

Up until the last few years, Club 33 has sailed through Disneyland history as a hidden part of the New Orleans Square landscape. It was that elusive place that some were aware of but weren't quite sure exactly where or what it was. Many have been fortunate enough to visit, thanks to the generosity of a friend of a friend, but only a select few who patiently suffered through the years-long wait list were actually members. They enjoyed the camaraderie of other long-time members and the ability to experience Walt's park in a private setting that he had helped conceive and design. Rich with history, there were a number of personal artifacts that he and Lillian had hand-picked for the decor. Its dark and richly adorned interior just positively oozed Walt Disney.

The once understated entry door (shown above), which was probably not even noticed by 80% of the people who walked by it, has given way to a more lavish (but not necessarily better designed) and ostentatious entrance. If you're not a member and can't afford the dues, that fact is now shoved in your face.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the lovely Court of Angels has also been taken away from the regular paying Joe Schmoe guest. What you once saw was this:

and this:

Now, you get two sets of colored acrylic doors:

Faux candles adorn the new addition above. Really?

Once unable to see inside the Club, brand-spanking new windows allow the guests who only pay $125 or so (and that's just to get into the Park) to see exactly what they're missing.

The worst offense was what was done to the portion of the Club above Cafe Orleans. Here is how it was originally designed:

And the hideous off-center window that replaced its tasteful predecessor:

For Club members though, the view is lovely. The Disney Corporation is sending a very clear message to the public.

If you think only the regular paying guests are getting the shaft, come back tomorrow for an inside look at the "new" Club 33 and hear what many of the members are grumbling about.

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See more Daveland Disneyland Club 33 photos at my main website.


orbitalpunk said...

I have suspected for the last year that Disney will open Club 33 to a new group of guests. Not necessarily to the general public, but there will be some easier way for people to get one off dining to the club. It would explain the not so hidden design the club has now taken. Its really obvious now and it doesn't make sense for Disney to make something so obvious now in plain sight and essential tell general guests, no you can't come up here. I think its designed to peak interest and in time, a new method will be devised by Disney to allow general guests to have the once in a life time dinner without paying 30k+ for membership. It helps explains the larger more obvious entrance, the gigantic windows, the noise that will soon emanated from the jazz lounge. Before, staying hidden was essential, but I think soon, making an even bigger presence is part of the club future non-annual membership plan. Cause Disney is more money orientated now than ever before and if they can come up with a balanced plan and not alienate the annual members, they'll do it. Cause for annual members, its not just about the club to many. Its the perks thru ought the resort the go along with it. And today's Disney doesn't care about the clubs tradition anymore. Just my guess :D

K. Martinez said...

To think at one time Club 33 was merely a special place for Disney to provide its corporate sponsors a nice place to dine and get away from the park while still in the park. It's kind of sad to see the club's history obliterated.

The poor architectural integration within its environment is even worse than that other monstrosity, the Emporium annex. In addition the interior doesn't even make me think of New Orleans. It looks like just another trendy Disney style high end restaurant.

When did Disneyland become so shi shi?

Darryl R said...

There could quite possibly be an additional thing going on...use of valuable and rare space. We saw the dismantling of Carnation Plaza Gardens that one could argue it was under utilized, so they made it a meet and greet area. Now the Court is gone for a restaurant/club entrance when it "only" was home to caricature drawers (we all know it was much more than that!).

I wont be surprised to see additional signs of this thinking such as the old Phantom Motor Boat area.

I don't believe this is what Walt referred to as "plussing".

Irene said...

Seeing the before and after photo of the area above Cafe Orleans is really jarring! I go to Disneyland a lot and had, along with many others, noticed the off centered window. But seeing the before photo makes it even more pathetic. Same with those acrylic stained "glass" doors. The people who are running the show these days have absolutely no sense of history nor do I think they care.

olegc said...

This goes hand in hand to what I felt with many events and pricing at the park these days - exclusivity. By putting it directly in plain view that something is very exclusive - but isn't it great and don't you want to be like these folks - Disney is trying to push the envelope for higher prices and more justification for getting more $$ out of the public. I suspect the Jazz Club will host musicians that then will not be on the French Market stage but in the salon and you can only listen to some of it while dining at FM. Oh - you want to hear it better? come up to the lounge - for a price.

Tim said...

One thing I haven't been clear on through all this has been what exactly brought on these changes? Were club members demanding it? After all these years why now?

outsidetheberm said...

Tim, maybe I can address your question if Dave doesn't mind. Judging from experience, the club was in need of some upgrades. As membership grew, the space became limited and sometimes performed in an inefficient manner. In addition, privacy and security for celebrity guests became a concern. Check in via the famous Club 33 door exposed some VIP types to worrisome security issues. So improvements seemed necessary. However, what was done appears to be heavy handed and poorly executed - as well as poorly designed. Losing the Court of Angels (from both a public point of view and design-wise) seems to have been completely unnecessary and a hefty public relations mistake. Maybe they should have considered closing the store next to the original Club 33 entrance door and using that connecting area instead as a private staging area / lounge for security minded guests. Instead, and to many, it's a crying shame what they've done.

olegc said...

i wanted to add to outsidetheberm. Recently (well, a couple of months ago) the Park discontinued any access to the Lilly Belle on the Disneyland Railroad and stated unofficially that it would be used for Club 33 members or special guests only. Other reports indicated it would be a limited view for very few people per day. This also fits with the overall scheme - that VIPs can be shuttled from a cut-off boarding area to the left of the station, then onto the lilly belle, then guided from the belle with security to the entrance to the club much more easily now. Nothing has ever been officially stated about this - but no doubt this is how high-end visitors will be shuttled to dining.

stu29573 said...

How could membership grow? Isnt there a set number of members at any time, hence the famous waiting list? Or did the idiot bean counters add more for more $$$?

Tim said...

I appreciate the insight, outsidetheberm and olegc. I'm not local to the park so I can only watch this play out from a distance and try to make sense of it.

However unlikely, it would be nice to hear some kind of rebuttal from the designers and decision-makers involved in the renovations. Whatever the necessary updates might have been for accessibility and security I can't see how any student/fan of Disneyland history would be okay with some of the changes made.

TokyoMagic! said...

In a comment on your "Court of Angels" post from last week I mentioned how they should have just added the new ADA-compliant elevator to the Court of Angels and still kept the original Club 33 entrance and foyer. However, now I think Outsidetheberm's idea of moving the entrance and foyer to the shop next door to the original entrance would have been the absolute perfect solution. The new elevator was built in the Court of Angels, but up against the outside wall of that shop.....in fact, they sealed up one of the shops doorways when they installed the elevator. Instead of being sealed up, that doorway could have been used as the entrance into the elevator, and the Court of Angels could have remained open to the public. How is it that the "Imagineers" were unable come up with solutions like this that could have minimized the amount of damage that has now been done to Walt's beloved New Orleans Square and the Court of Angels???

Fifthrider said...

"Is your wallet still bulging with cash to burn?"

You made me laugh right when I was taking a drink. Thanks pal.

OrbitalPunk nailed it. The only purpose for giant windows on a "secret" club is to make it not-so-secret. As Walt used to call it, a "weenie" to entice people to want to be there. Staggs and Iger have completely pissed all over the Disney legacy yet convinced themselves that they're plussing it. There is nothing good about them and I blame their parents for them turning out like this.

Guys like this exist because they fostered a culture of offering a premium experience. Eventually this experience reaches a point where people just don't care anymore. It was oversold, overhyped, and then something special became something banal that no one cared about anymore.

@Tim, I have heard of no club members asking for any of these changes. If anything, everyone liked everything just the way it was. It had a connection to Walt and that was all it needed, but the Staggs/Iger crowd got inspired to take action and it turned out about the same as usual.

@Outsidetheberm, as I knew it, the celebs who were security concerns could park in the small 2-car area below the club and take the kitchen elevator up to the second floor and enter there. I know Michael Jackson did this all the time.

The Lilly Belle is a major sticking point for many Club 33 members. In their charter this was exclusively theirs. I agree, you pay that much and you should get something exclusive with it. Today the conductors decide who rides, including the public. This has infuriated some Club 33 members with good cause. Any member of the public can ride the Lilly Belle but it only allows passengers on the first two trips in the morning, and you have to check in at City Hall first. If a Club 33 member sees that it's on the rails and wishes to ride, a conductor can tell them "Sorry, these regular park guests are going first and then there's no more trips for the rest of the day." even though the car remains connected to the train.

@stu29573 - How could membership grow? Easy. They build a larger club with more capacity to create more opportunity to expand their membership and collect more money. That's what caused this mess in the first place.

What we're looking at here is a complete and total disrespect for Walt and his vision.