Friday, May 25, 2018

The Secret Recording Career of George Bruns

One of the troubles with being canonized as a Disney Legend is that all of the rest of your life's output tends to become a sidenote to that studio in Burbank. There's a handful of artists like Rolly Crump and Walt Peregoy who were busy enough and rebellious enough to avoid total identification, but it's no coincidence that when we think of Disney Legends from Walt's time, we're thinking mostly of loyal Disney lifers like Frank Thomas and John Hench.

And then there's George Bruns, who probably ranks third in the Disney pantheon behind Charles Wolcott and the Sherman Brothers in establishing what Disney "sounds like". He wrote The Ballad of Davy Crockett, the bass inflected soundtrack to 101 Dalmatians, and the soothing, mysterious music heard in The Jungle Book. He wrote the original score heard in Pirates of the Caribbean, which to these ears may be the finest attraction soundtrack ever. His jazzy inflection of bluegrass means that his layered, toe-tapping orchestrations for Country Bear Jamboree haven't dated a lick in a half century.

But what isn't well known is that George continued to record other material before, during, and after his career at Disney. It may not be well known, but it's out there. So this time at Passport to Dreams we're going to be looking at and listening to the unknown recording career of George Bruns.

Early Life and Dixieland

Born in Oregon in 1914, the earliest places you can hear George Bruns doing his stuff is in Dixieland and Jazz recordings from the 1940s. The group he seems to have been most associated with was The Famous Castle Jazz Band, where he played lead trombone. The Castle Club was a nightclub south of Portland, and seems to have been famous and popular as a location for great jazz. Here's George on trombone in a 1949 recording:

He also seems to have appeared with jazz legend Turk Murphy on a handful of recordings around the same time, sometimes on bass and sometimes on trombone.

It seems fairly clear that before Castle Club, George had organized his own group of musicians as "George Bruns and His Jazz Band", and they had recorded a number of tracks for the famous Commodore jazz label out of New York. I can't find any evidence that these recordings were actually released at the time, and the only reason we know they exist is due to a pricey and out of print 60 LP (!) reissue of Commodore's entire library in 1990. George appears in Volume III of the set, which means he made the recordings sometime between 1938 and 1943. I tried to track down a library copy of this set to heard these recordings, but it seems that somebody with more patience or deeper pockets than I will have to be up to the task.

Which brings us to our first recovered recording, and the sad fact is that I have no idea when or where it was made, however it makes more sense to group it with these early Jazz recordings than the later ones, as we'll soon see. But first I have to explain how the heck we even have it.

In the mid-60s, Reader's Digest got into the business of promoting and selling huge boxes of LPs all under a certain theme. The original examples, such as a box devoted to Swing music or light classical music, were actually produced by other companies and sold by Reader's Digest through a mail-in voucher. They were enough of a success that Reader's Digest was producing several "theme" sets a year, and continued to do so well into the 80s on LP, 8-track, cassette, and eventually CD.

The company Readers Digest eventually settled on contracting to create these sets was RCA. RCA already had a massive back catalog of releases because they operated a program in the 50s and 60s very similar to the Columbia House CD programs of the 90s - where new albums would be sent to you directly, monthly. As a result RCA recorded a lot of albums that never saw general release outside of special "RCA Music Service" shipments, and probably sat on many more without ever releasing them. It was primarily this back catalog of recorded music that filled out the Reader's Digest "theme" LP sets, especially the early ones.

Which is how George Bruns managed to appear in a Reader's Digest compilation album, Gaslight Varieties, released in 1969.

1. The Cakewalk in the Sky 00:00
2. Down South 02:44
3. Any Rags? 05:32
4. Kentucky Babe 08:06
5. I Love My Baby 10:40
6. At A Georgia Camp Meeting 13:30

Gaslight Varieties is pretty interesting to Disney fans - besides the Bruns tracks, there's a lot of Thurl Ravenscroft and Mellomen tracks throughout - but interesting isn't the same as actually being very good. RCA tended to use second best options when compiling these sets to keep costs down, and the result is albums that quickly wear out their novelty and have no real sense of progression.

Because of the way RCA structured these albums, we have only one side of one record of Bruns playing Ragtime music - the other side was never released. It's impossible to tell when this was recorded, and there are no personnel credits besides "George Bruns and his Rag-A-Muffins". We're not even sure what the album was supposed to be called, although RCA named that side of the record "Ragtime, Yessir!"

But at least get have six good tracks of previously unheard George Bruns music out of it! It's good stuff, wonderfully "hot" jazz similar to his work with the Wonderland Jazz Band on the famous "Deep In The Heart of Dixieland" Disneyland LP.

To The Tropics

George eventually provided jazzy music to several UPA cartoons before being scooped up by Disney and embarking on the recording career we know him for today. And despite his busy career writing music for dozens of Disney projects, he found the time to produce and record a tropical easy listening record!

As part of the background music for the Ford Magic Skyway at the 1964 World's Fair, George recorded a piece of music called "Moonlight Time In Old Hawaii", which he later expanded out to a full size album, released by Vault Records in 1969 or 1970.

This record is at least somewhat famous in Disney circles today for its use at the Adventureland Veranda in the 80s. It's also tough to say if it was really ever properly released at all - Vault, as a record label, was floundering in the late 60s, and ever copy of "Moonlight Time" that I've ever seen has its "Promotional Copy" sticker still attached. This scarcity and its mild fame in Disney circles has driven up its prices on the secondary market. Thankfully, Chris Lyndon beautifully restored a transfer of my copy, so now you can enjoy it whenever you like:

Side A
1. South Seas Island Magic (0:00)
2. Hawaiian Paradise (2:52)
3. Moonlight and Shadows (5:40)
4. To You, Sweetheart, Aloha (8:28)
5. Paradise Isle (11:24)
6. Song of Old Hawaii (14:36)

Side B
7. Blue Hawaii (17:04)
8. Moonlight Time in Old Hawaii (20:01)
9. Sweet Lelani (23.:24)
10. Aloha Nui Hawaii (26:38)
11. My Tane (29:30)
12. Ka Pua (The Flower) (33:16)

Now, I may be biased, because I obviously liked this well enough to seek out a copy and have it preserved, and I also have a weakness for atmosphere music, but I think this is a terrific exotica record. There's nothing quite like the soothing strings and languid pace of this music to make you slow down and relax when you need it. It's a shame it never got a real release of any kind, and that its one release has a cheap stock photograph from Pan American for a cover.

The world may have whipped clear past Moonlight Time in Old Hawaii, but I'm pleased to have helped it continue to weave its spell over listeners in the digital age.

Retirement and Beyond

Our final record is a treat, and one I'm very pleased to have been able to "rescue" for posterity. After his retirement from Disney in 1976, George moved back to Oregon and taught at a local college part time. And he recorded one last record, the delightfully titled "Have A Good Time With Big George Bruns".

It's tough to say if George explicitly intended this to be a testament record, but that's what it plays as: a summation of his whole career, mixing hot Dixieland jazz riffs with Disney tracks in equal measure. The albums begins with "Happy Rag", familiar from a million Disney promotional films, and ends with the theme music to The Love Bug. Throughout, he includes such deep selections as "Inky the Crow" and "Ah, See the Moon", a total nonsense song he wrote with Ward Kimball for Ludwig Von Drake!

But the real stand out aspects to Have A Good Time are its inclusion of an electric organ and Lou Norris - a jazz singer who adds a lot to the "throwback" numbers on the record. I can't determine if Miss Norris ever made another recording, so it's more likely that George met her locally at Sandy Hook. But she has a terrific voice, and it's easy to see why Bruns included a prominent credit (and caricature) of her on the cover.

That cover was drawn by famous cartoonist Virgil Partch, by the way, who is miscredited on the album sleeve as "Virgil Parks".

Side A
1. Happy Rag (Bruns) 00:00
2. You’re Gonna Be Sorry (Bruns) 02:57
3. Inky the Crow (Bruns) 05:53
4. Please Come Back Big Daddy (Hilton-Bruns) 09:00
5. Have A Good Time (Bryant-Bryant) 11:59
6. Ah, See The Moon (Bruns-Kimball) 14:57

Side B
7. When You’re Gambling (Fisher-Goodwin-Shay) 18:04
8. Where Has The Melody Gone (Hilton-Bruns) 21:04
9. Wabash Blues (Meinken-Ringle) 23:41
10. Mama’s Gone Goodbye (Bocage-Piron) 26:44
11. Uptown Downtown Man (Hilton-Bruns) 30:02
12. Herbie (Bruns) 33:20

As with everything George Bruns left us, it's a spritely, upbeat listen - craft and entertainment value seamlessly blended. Like all three of the albums we've looked at here, it received a minor and local release, if any at all, and coming across a copy isn't easy.

So give these albums a listen, and I'm sure Mr. Bruns will be smiling somewhere knowing that people are still enjoying his efforts five decades later. Here's to you, Big George.

Do you love theme park and atmosphere music? Then hop on over to our Music Hub, where dozens of obscure tracks - and the stories behind them - are preserved!

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Forgotten Shops of Adventureland

One of the main attractions that Disneyland pioneered was the concept of themed merchandise; that an area which appeared to be the Old West should sell leather goods, coon skin caps, and toy rifles. Although the masterpiece of such theming is probably New Orleans Square, one early and elaborate effort, the one that probably more than any other made the idea stick, was the Adventureland Bazaar across from the Jungle Cruise. Like Tomorrowland's Art Corner or New Orleans Square's One-of-a-Kind shop, the Bazaar was as much an interactive exhibit as it was a shopping experience, a chance to see some unique items and immerse in an environment. Featured areas included Polynesia (hawaiian shirts and dresses), India (etched brass), Asia (exotic imported items), and the Guatemalan Weavers.

Magic Kingdom would both expand and repeat much of the success of these Disneyland shops, and indeed had its own Adventureland Bazaar and more. But the Bazaar still stands at Disneyland - or, at least, the shell of it is still there, although it's now filled with the same Disney stuff everywhere else sells. But the Bazaar, and practically all of the original Adventureland shops at Magic Kingdom are gone, and have been gone for nearly two decades now. That's a long time, long enough for many fans who never set foot inside the House of Treasure to grow to adulthood.

We are dedicated as always to attempting the stem the tide of forgetting on this blog, and having been made aware that many not too much younger than I don't even know what the shape of these original Adventureland pseudo-attractions were like, the time to assemble and preserve this information was upon us. So set your time machines to the early 70s and let's discover those forgotten shops of Adventureland!

The Bazaar Complex

We're going to begin with the most difficult of these areas to mentally reconstruct, which was the central Adventureland Bazaar, in the center of Adventureland near the Sunshine Tree Terrace. This area was destroyed for good back in 2001 when The Magic Carpets of Aladdin was installed, totally changing the relaxed vibe of central Adventureland. The Bazaar complex was made up of five shops surrounding a central open air courtyard.

Also included was a tall, pink covered area very much like the glass canopy over by the Adventureland Veranda that today acts as the entrance area to the Skipper Canteen. This was the original home of J.P. and the Silver Stars, Adventureland's steel drum band. When the drums were not set up, this was the de facto entrance to the Bazaar courtyard. In later years, as the steel drum band was more frequently seen in Caribbean Plaza, this area became home to exotic bird displays and, inevitably, merchandise.

Here's J.P. and the Silver Stars doing their thing in 1971. This is the Band Stand / Gazebo on the left of the picture above. Check out the awesome chandelier above them.
Alternate access to the central courtyard could also be achieved through a narrow covered passage that squeezed between the Band Stand and the Tiki Tropic Shop, seen here in a 1974 view.

Or by walking straight through Traders of Timbuktu.

Inside the central courtyard, moving from West (Tiki Room side) to East (Swiss Family Treehouse side) were three doors leading into the various rear shops. Starting near the breezeway, we have the other entrance door to the Tiki Tropic Shop:

(That little covered area between the two potted plants has an ornate door below it, which leads to a small backstage hallway that connects the Tiki Tropic Shop and Magic Carpet, as well as an elevator that can take you down to the Utilidor and stock rooms.)

Next to that is the main entrance to The Magic Carpet, with its impressive tower and moorish window:

Here's some guy checking out the weird little animal figures in the window from the 1972 Pictorial Souvenir:

Here's the view he would have had, looking from the Magic Carpet into the courtyard, towards the rear entrance to Traders of Timbuktu. This is the same door we were inside, four pictures up.

Just past the main entrance to Magic Carpet was another entrance, although it led to a part of the shop more correctly known as Oriental Traders, Ltd:

Here's a map to help you visualize all of this:

Island Supply pretty much still exists, and the patio that once connected it to Tropic Toppers is still there. Most of Tropic Toppers has been walled up, and the bit that still remains spits you out into what was once the side entrance to Traders of Timbuktu instead of allowing you to continue into Oriental Imports as it once did.

So now that we know what we're talking about, let's take a closer look!

The Forgotten Shops of Adventureland

Tropic Toppers
Opened: October 1971
Closed: 1988
Became: Zanzibar Shell Company

This sunny patio mostly specialized in hats and toy jungle animals, appropriate to the Jungle Cruise entrance, which it pretty much directly faced. Disney had a LOT of hat shops prior to the 90s, and this was Adventureland's. Hats!

Oriental Imports, Ltd.
Opened: October 1971
Closed: 1987
Became: Elephant Tales

The first of the rear complex of shops, Oriental Imports was a showcase of eastern silks and inlaid woods, and pretty much anything that could be manufactured in Japan or China. Steve Birnbaum writes in 1982: "This shop, hung with silk-tasseled oriental lanterns, stocks the sort of goods that merchants in Hong Kong sell in quantity: lovely satin change purses and eyeglass cases [...] and hand-gilded and engraved copper plates."

The shop was accessed by a ramp from the rear of Tropic Toppers down into the central sunken area; note the elevated area behind the half-wall on the right of this photo. Actually, note the half-wall on the right of this photo generally, because we'll be seeing it again.

The Magic Carpet
Opened: October 1971
Closed: 1987
Became: Elephant Tales

Flowing from Oriental Imports and through a door, The Magic Carpet, despite its name, offered very few carpets and more brass and inlaid pearl items, including a huge Taj Mahal music box. Here's some folks enjoying it in 1972 - notice the nearly identical merchandise display fixtures that we saw in Oriental Imports above, as well was the return of our odd painted animals from the Moorish window.

Traders of Timbuktu
Opened: October 1971
Closed: Late 2000

The most distinctive of the original shops, Traders of Timbuktu housed African wares under a rich green hexagonal dome.

Consisting of two rooms, a flow-through larger room and a smaller cash wrap room pictured above, the store was stocked with the sort of merchandise you find everywhere at Animal Kingdom these days.

This part of the structure, as well as the Band Stand and breezeway alongside the Tiki Tropic Shop, were totally demolished as part of the construction of Magic Carpets of Aladdin, seriously compromising the intended aesthetics of Adventureland.

Here's a shot by Mike Lee in 1994 showing the later incarnation of Traders of Timbuktu with a good deal more bric-a-brak nailed to the walls.

Tiki Tropic Shop
Opened: October 1971
Closed: Late 2000
Became: Backstage Office

Surprisingly given its microscopic size, one of the longest lived of the Adventureland shops was the Tiki Tropic Shop, which sold Polynesian and Hawaiian shirts and dresses, similar to shops at the Polynesian Village.

I will warn you first that much as everything else at Magic Kingdom, the 90s were not kind to the Adventureland shops. By late in the decade, the once vibrant paint has been faded to dull colors and the merchandise had begun to slide into increasingly suspicious directions. Here's a shot of the Bazaar complex in 1994 and you'll see what I mean:

I bring this downer up here because the only photos I have of the Tiki Tropic Shop are from the same era, and to put it lightly this is not a pretty sight.

If you replace the gaudy 90s shirts with aloha shirts and leilani dresses and subtract the 90s "beach bum" props, you can get an idea of what this used to look like.

The chandeliers are the same beautiful brass lotuses that hang outside the Enchanted Tiki Room.

Tiki Tropic continued peddling garish 90s 'tude until the Bazaar complex was demolished to make way for Magic Carpets of Aladdin. The exterior door facing the Tiki Room was walled up and converted to a planter, the side door became a merchandise shelf. This left only the interior cast member access door seen in the first photo here, which led to the backstage hallway that connected Tiki Tropic, Magic Carpet, and the Utilidor. The room was gutted, repainted blue, and became a computer office for Merchandise managers.

That's all of the original Bazaar shops, but our story doesn't end here, because in the 80s a few of the shops changed theme.

The Zanzibar Shell Company
Opened: 1988
Closed: 2000
Became: Zanzibar Trading Company

A conversion of Tropic Toppers, Zanzibar Shell Company came into being with the retirement of ticket books at Magic Kingdom and the conversion of the Adventureland ticket booth into a shop selling all of the Jungle Cruise-related hats and wares that Tropic Toppers used to specialize in. Instead, shells and shell-based jewelry and wind chimes became this shop's stock in trade.

Here's our only good view of the original interior, probably only lightly changed from its days as Tropic Toppers.

In the late 90s with the rise of Paul Pressler and the then-new insistence that every part of Magic Kingdom individually turn a profit, out of the way shops like Zanzibar Shell Traders were converted into merchandise stock rooms. The existing merchandise was pushed out onto the shaded porch area of Traders, and the rear room became an offstage space. This new incarnation was called Zanzibar Traders and continued in operation until fairly recently, when it was turned entirely into shaded seating.

Elephant Tales
Opened: 1987
Closed: Early 2000
Became: Merchandise Stockroom

In the 80s, Oriental Imports and The Magic Carpet were combined into the more explicitly safari-themed Elephant Tales. This mostly involved hanging props from the ceiling, converting the more modernistic light fixtures to a hodgepodge of "themed" ones, taking down the wall between the two shops, and stocking more of what Traders of Timbuktu was already selling.

By the 90s, Elephant Tales had morphed into a catchall shop, selling Princess dresses and lots and lots of Aladdin and Lion King toys. Here's a shot Mike Lee took in 1994, taken from NEARLY the same location as the shot of Oriental Imports:

You can see that some of Oriental Imports' old merchandise has been repurposed. You can also see the elevated area behind the half-wall I pointed out to you earlier. Off to the right is the ramp down into the shop. If you squint close, at the top of the ramp you can see a painted mural of a tropical scene that's still visible today at Magic Kingdom:

Up in Elephant Tales' raised area, notice all of the leftover Magic Carpet stock.. this was in 1994, so this brass stuff had been hanging around for six or seven years by now!

This was the former Magic Carpet area, nearer the Moorish window. Magic Kingdom really began to take down walls in their retail locations in the mid 80s, bringing them closer in look to the Department Store style favored by the EPCOT Center shops. The Emporium had all of its interior walls removed around the same time, too:

Elephant Tales hung in, on and off, until it was shuttered and became a stock room for the new Argrabah Market built in 2001 to accommodate The Magic Carpets of Aladdin.

Colonel Hathi's Safari Club / Island Supply
Opened: Late 1972
Became: Island Supply, Ltd

As documented by Mike Lee, the Safari Club was originally intended to be Adventureland's Arcade - and it was, for less than a year, until it was abruptly closed and reopened as a shop in late 1972 or early 1973. Birnbaum describes the shop in 1982 as being "summer stuff", and by the early 90s when I remember it it was selling rainforest-themed items and small garden fountains. By the late 90s it had switched to selling swimwear and "beach" themed items.

The shop did receive the same ludicrous "beach" overlay that Tiki Tropic did, included the well-remembered game of hopscotch printed on the floor called "Island Hop". With the exception of the blue ceiling and beach theme, this interior was basically unchanged since its days as an arcade:

In early 2015, Island Supply was converted into a Sunglass Hut location. As we've seen earlier in this article, selling vaguely themed "beach" stuff is not a new concept in Adventureland. The interior is still basically the same as it always was.

Bwana Bob's
Opened: 1985
Closed: 2000
Relocated Elsewhere

The original Adventureland ticket booth, Bwana Bob's was repurposed in the 80s to sell vaguely Jungle Cruise-related knick-knacks. Here it is as a ticket booth in the early 80s:

And as Bwana Bob's in 1988, thanks to Mike Lee:

Bob's also makes a quick appearance in the 1990 A Day at the Magic Kingdom souvenir VHS:

"Don't worry dad it's only a fake snake!"

The original structure was demolished to make way for The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, and in the process "moved" nearer the Adventureland Bridge in the early 2000s.

The Forgotten Shops of Caribbean Plaza

Caribbean Plaza opened in 1973 with a much reduced version of its central anchoring ride, but in many other ways it was attempting to be as fully realized an area as New Orleans Square at Disneyland, containing five trickling tile fountains, three secluded courtyards, and a number of exotic shops to wander through. A lot of this has been chipped away today and many have forgotten how nice Caribbean Plaza was supposed to be, so let's move on from Adventureland to its neighbor for a quick look at what was there originally.

Plaza Del Sol Caribe
Opened: 1973
Still in Operation

The Plaza Del Sol, today simply known as the "Pirates Shop", may have been the original gift shop that an attraction exited into, but it was once quite different than it is today. Originally as much of an atmospheric area as a gift shop, it sold Sombreros, silk flowers, pirate heads carved into coconuts, pirate swords, hats, as well as wind chimes and other "patio" pieces.

There were very few freestanding merchandise display racks, with the merchandise overflowing from carts, similar to the visual presentation of the Plaza De Los Amigos at EPCOT Center. Indeed, the overall impression was as much an inviting plaza, similar to the one the attraction enters through, as it was a gift shop.

Inevitably, this could not last forever, and by the time the 90s has rolled around, the Plaza shop was becoming increasingly cluttered with both Pirate and faux "caribbean" items, making it more of a true shop and less of an atmospheric walk past a trickling fountain. The writing was on the wall...

The House of Treasure
Opened: 1973
Closed: 2001
Became: The Pirates League

Originally, if you wanted to buy Pirates of the Caribbean stuff, you had to go into the House of Treasure. This high ceilinged, atmospheric shop had three entrances: the high traffic one from the Plaza Del Sol Caribe, one facing north that spit out by the Caribbean Plaza pay phones and a shaded porch, and a rear exit that flowed into the secluded courtyard alongside the Pirates of the Caribbean queue, with the Fuente de Cielo azul.

When it was in operation, this was probably my favorite shop in Magic Kingdom. With walls lined with Spanish royal flags and decorative shelves stocked with pirate treasure, it reminded me of being inside the treasury room that appeared at the end of the attraction.

House of Treasure was shuttered following the 2001 recession, and by 2003 its main entrance has ominously become home to a dressing room, sealing off the rest of the area. It never returned. In 2009, the space become the pirate-themed version of Fantasyland's popular Princess makeover experience, The Bippity Boppity Boutique.

The Pirate's League, although beautifully themed, has never found the widespread success the Bippity Boppity Boutique has. When Disney closed the House of Treasure, they tore out the heart of Caribbean Plaza, and it's never quite been the same. I await the day when somebody in merchandise with real vision will turn this back into a shop that's accessible to everyone. Given that asking Disney to open a shop is something they'll happily do at any time, this evocative space shouldn't be closed off the way it is today.

The Pirates Arcade / Laffite's Portrait Deck
Opened: Late 1974
Closed: Late 90s
Became: Merchandise Stock Room

Many of you know about or remember the House of Treasure, but have you thought of the gift shop on the other side of the Plaza recently? In late 1974, this small space, tucked between the main walkway of Caribbean Plaza and the restrooms, had replaced The Safari Club and become Adventureland's main arcade. Around 1978, the Pirate Arcade changed names, and was now known as Caverna De Los Pirates. By 1980, the arcade games were cleared out.

What replaced it was an uncharge experience where guests could don pirate garb and get their photos taken in front of two backdrops: a tropical beach overflowing with treasure, or the deck of a sailing galleon. Similar to a photo experience on Main Street and frankly probably "inspired" by Knott's Berry Farm, Lafitte's Portrait Deck hung around at least until the early 90s.

Originally featuring sculpted pirates, the location later began printing cartoon characters on top of photos, such a pirate Mickey and the Little Mermaid.

By the mid-90s, Lafitte's Portrait Deck had become an unnamed side-adjunct to the Plaza Del Sol Caribe, selling pirate swords, hats, and other stuff. In the late 90s, it was closed and became a merchandise stock room.

The Crow's Nest
Opened: 1988
Closed: 2010
Became: A Pirate's Adventure Game

A tiny little shop that opened next to the Frontierland Train Station and survived its demolition and relocation, The  Crow's Nest offered film and disposable cameras, as well as being a drop-off spot for the park's in-house express photo developing service (such things did exist!).

Main Street Gazette

It had a tiny interior, with a register on the rear wall in front of a number of backlit photos of Magic Kingdom such as the castle and Splash Mountain. With the decline of film cameras and the exit of Kodak from the park as sponsors, the little hut became a quick stop for autograph books, toys, and toy guns. In 2010 it closed and became the "headquarters" for a Jack Sparrow themed interactive game, A Pirate's Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas.

The Golden Galleon & La Princesa de Cristal
Opened: Early 1974
Closed: 1998
Became: El Pirata Y El Perico Seating

The two most obscure Caribbean Plaza shops may be so for good reason. The area across from Pirates of the Caribbean was originally intended to be a shopping complex with a snack bar in front; the snack bar would eventually grow to take over its neighboring shops. In 1982, Steve Birnbaum describes El Pirata Y El Perico as offering "ham and cheese submarine sandwiches, hot dogs, burritos, hot pretzels, brownies, and ice-cream bars" - fairly standard for Disney snack stands of the era, where everything came directly out of a fridge or warming tray.

Just past the main entrance to El Pirata, near the large arch that anchors the rear of Caribbean Plaza, is a large planter with walkways on either side of it as well as an open space that leads directly back towards an isolated courtyard that sits between the original locations of The Golden Galleon and La Princesa de Cristal. Today, this space is jam packed with tables, but imagine for a moment if instead it was an open space, with signs in the planter directing you back to the courtyard where you would discover yet more quaint and interesting shops. This is how it was in 1973, and how it remained until, along with so many other interesting features of Walt Disney World, was tossed out unceremoniously in the late 90s.

The shop on the left was the Golden Galleon, home to gold, brass, and jeweled decorative fixtures. Anchored by an antique diver's helmet, the shop sold brass fittings, door stops, wall plaques, mirrors, ship's wheels, and spyglasses. It also featured a large number of authentic ships in bottles and, at least in the early 70s, was home to a large collection of authentic and reproduction scrimshaw!

Across the way, La Princesa de Cristal was another Arribas Brothers location, very much like the ones that still exist on Main Street, in the Mexico Pavilion, and elsewhere. La Princesa was notable for specializing in crystal reproductions of sailing ships, ranging in size from a few inches to a few feet long. I haven't ever found anybody who took a photo of this location.

Here's a view looking into Golden Galleon:

That door and arch still exists, below the Caribbean Plaza arch. Modern park goers will be confused by a sunlight coming in the rear of the shop, but the 1998 expansion of Pecos Bill in Frontierland swallowed up a sunny courtyard that used to sit between Frontierland and Caribbean Plaza.

That 1998 expansion of Pecos Bill is what finally sealed the fate of Golden Galleon & La Princesa. Foods took over pretty much the entire western end of the west side of Magic Kingdom, filling in all of the space surrounding Pecos Bill which used to be open patio seating, and pushing into The Mile Long Bar at the exit of Country Bear Jamboree in the process. La Princesa was "upgraded" to a green-fringed cart which sat just outside its former digs, while El Pirata expanded to fill what was previously two shops. The crystal shop became home to a topping bar and restrooms, and Golden Galleon was converted to seating and connected directly to Pecos Bill via a ramp.

The timing of the conversion for El Pirata was not fortuitous. Park attendance was already slipping following years of eroding fan goodwill during the 90s, and the opening of Animal Kingdom did not grow attendance as expected but instead cannibalized the other three parks. Following the dip in tourism following the 2001 terror attacks, El Pirata went on seasonal operation and has never really came back.

In late 2005, Magic Kingdom toyed with offering El Pirata as a buffet location. Catered by the Contemporary, the buffet was operated for a few weekends. The topping bar was cleared out of the La Princesa space, hot food was brought in, and steaks were grilled in the courtyard. It never returned.

In February 2011, El Pirata Y El Perico received a name change and new theme: Tortuga Tavern, with a vaguely defined tie-in with a line of Captain Jack Sparrow young adult novels being published at the time. The cosmetic overhaul did nothing to change the location's fortunes. This "restaurant" has rarely been open two months out of the year for nearly 20 years now.

There's no reason that Disney needs to waste all of this valuable real estate - it's hard to imagine that clearing out The Pirate's League and reopening it as a store would make that location any less profitable than it is now. La Princessa de Cristal is never coming back, given that it now houses two restrooms, but the former The Golden Galleon space sometimes isn't even open when Tortuga Tavern is. Merchandise across Walt Disney World has been experiencing something of a renaissance lately, and specialty shops like Memento Mori or the Dress Shop regularly set social media ablaze with new and exclusive merchandise offerings.

It's hard to see that a new line of Pirates of the Caribbean merchandise offered in either of those two spaces wouldn't do well. More importantly, reclaiming House of Treasure and Lafitte's for merchandise sales would both help traffic move through the exit of Pirates of the Caribbean and restore much of the charm of the area that's been lost.

As for the Adventureland Bazaar, it's safe to say that for now removal of the Magic Carpets of Aladdin is unlikely. However, there's still the old Magic Carpet / Elephant Tales space sitting right behind and connected to the operating Adventureland shops. Again, an exclusive line of Jungle Cruise and Tiki Rom merchandise in this location could do well, adding some prestige to this very compromised area and the semi-hidden nature of the location wouldn't matter much in the era of social media marketing.

Given that Disney just spent the better part of a decade rebuilding Downtown Disney into the high-end retail mecca of Disney Springs, it seems strange that so little attention is being paid to underutilized areas of their keystone park that were intended to offer the kind of varied, exclusive, themed shopping experience that Disney can deliver. These spaces are sitting there, just waiting for somebody to come along with the imagination to use them properly.

Special thanks to Mike Lee, Todd McCartney, Whit Elam, and many others who contributed to this article.

Want more vintage Walt Disney World history? We have an entire indexed archive of that, right here on the WDW History Hub!

Friday, March 23, 2018

All the Lights of Main Street, U.S.A.

Disneyland Paris is full of things that make you wonder why every park doesn't have them: the hotel at the entrance, the tunnels under the castle, the peek into Pirates from the train, a watery Fantasyland. But it's also full of things that make you wonder why Disney has continued to try to emulate a concept already done to terrific effect; the case in point here is Main Street, which simply buries every other Main Street USA.

To walk through Main Street at Disneyland Paris is to see the pinnacle of the concept of Main Street; if you enjoy things like fussy little details and elaborate interior finishes, it's the Space Mountain of that. It's one of those cases where, even if you know it's going to be good, you can't possibly be prepared for just how good it is.

I loved Disneyland Paris, but Main Street rapidly became an obsession. Time when I could have been queuing up for a ride again, I simply stood in the shops and stared. There's places and times where detail on top of detail on top of detail gives you a junk shop; I call it the "frosting on top of frosting effect". But the level of detail on Main Street is organic, it's logical, and in most cases it's deployed exactly proportionally for the overall effect.

When it came time to document my ardor for this park entrance of park entrances, it seemed most logical to hone in on its remarkable light fixtures. Main Street at the other parks is already a master class for awesome light fixtures, but Paris manages to top all others simply through pure, staggering variety.

Magic Kingdom and Disneyland kept it fairly simple outside their parks, with straightforward city park-style globe fixtures and plain green fencing. Paris takes the reminiscent approach, but of course the effect of the whole area is anything but understated thanks to the Disneyland Hotel dominating the area. Magic Kingdom uses simple frosted globes to create a uniform look across its entrance area, whereas Paris is already introducing complexity to the same spot, with upward-facing and downward-facing lights here.

Of course it's fair to say that Main Street has already "begun" by the time you're approaching Disneyland Paris from the Village, whereas Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, and Tokyo all withhold that richer theming until you get inside their Main Street areas. Disneyland Paris rolls out the red carpet from the start with a staggering gauntlet of architecture and gardens, and the effect is unlike any other park entrance in the world.

Covered breezeways with turn of the 20th century wrought iron frills bring to mind Paris train stations and protect from the weather; the plain frosted globe lights continue here and indeed through the first leg of Main Street, as seen in an example from Town Square below. Until Magic Kingdom's Hub area was rebuilt and claimed by Fantasyland, all three of the original castle parks defined the areas in front of the entrance tunnels and the areas between Main Street and the castle as decompression spaces, where there could exist any theme or no theme. This is especially apparent at Disneyland, where each land encroaches on the Hub as if to reach out and offer a preview of what can be found inside. Paris keeps each land separate, requiring visitors to walk through green, empty spaces to reach the next area, almost like each is a self-contained theme park. But here we can see how, through the elaborate hotel entrance and amplified complexity of even minor features, Paris is fixing to top every other park.

Frosted globes on Main Street

Perhaps the biggest departure from the classic Main Street model in Paris are the covered Arcades that bypass the bulk of the land; whereas Disneyland and Magic Kingdom have somewhat themed bypasses, the Arcades are central to the appeal of the Paris Main Street. The effect of entering and seeing all of the dozens of lanterns with their singing gas flames all the way down the length of the arcade is one of the most impressive things in the whole park.

Real fire!
About halfway down the Discoveryland-side Arcade, the unified steel and glass look stops and we pass through a rustic barn-style area, originally intended to open up to a Farm Market behind Main Street. This area has its own unique light fixtures:

The Frontierland-side Liberty Arcade also sometimes takes time to rest and offer a visual break, as in these simple chandeliers outside the Restrooms. Notice that the green and bronze look brings to mind the Statue of Liberty without ever having to be overt about it:

It's hard to understate the effect these traffic and weather crowd relief valves have on the whole feeling of Main Street. If there ever was a spot in any Disney theme parks where it feels like great light fixtures are the whole show, it's in these Arcades.

Huge clusters of lights add a busy feeling to the Emporium. I wasn't super impressed by the DLP Emporium, but it does have a bright, "modern' feel that contrasts nicely with the burnished browns and golds elsewhere on Main Street.

One exception is this amazing stained glass dome above the Emporium cash wrap. Besides housing an impressively exuberant chandelier, the stained glass images represent American industry and ingenuity and this is one of the coolest details in any Disney park anywhere.

Across the street, the Boardwalk Candy Palace has light fixtures which drip with brightly colored pendants.

Besides bringing to mind hard candies, this design touch adds to the carnival atmosphere in this store.

Even the outside light fixtures are studded with hard candies. This is a great example of how choosing to isolate one specific design choice to one specific area can really have an impact. Remember the darkened interior of Magic Kingdom's House of Magic and what a cool contrast it was with the rest of Main Street?

Casey's Corner has their traditional Tiffany-esque lamps which bring to mind advertising of the turn of the 20th century.

The interior of the Market House Deli is cluttered, warm, and red, and these simple hanging lamps add to the cosy atmosphere.

Additional globe lights in the rear hallway to the Arcade.

Disney Clothiers is interesting, and has a refined, feminine elegance to it's various rooms.

The lights in the boy's clothing rooms have a subtle hint of blue in their frosted globes, hard to capture in this photograph:

The lights in the girl's rooms, of course, and tinted pink. Here's a very fine gas lamp-style fixture in the far back room:

Much of Paris' Main Street shies away from the sentimental sides of Victoriana, instead preferring to push towards the brass, barnstorming aspect, but Disney Clothiers has layers of detail that really bring the era to life.

Harrington's, up the street, is a monied and masculine counterpoint, bringing to mind a bank:

Harrington's has another over the top glass dome, although the effect of this one is less surprising and more stately. Everything about the layout and design of the store is based around this impressive centerpiece.

Nearby, Cable Car Bake Shop uses gas-style lights and stained glass to evoke a homey atmosphere:

It also features these incredible, strange tables topped with lights and then fans for good measure:

If we head over to the Liberty Arcade, the rotunda just off Center Street which includes the Statue of Liberty Diorama has a unique array of light fixtures which reinforce the Lady Liberty theme:

Stars and Federal eagles immediately create an American atmosphere without finger-pointing.

Liberty Torch sconces here are a bit more overt.

Statue of Liberty face details hidden in the overhead light fixture.

If we stop next door in the lobby of Walt's, we encounter unexpected Gothic Revival influences:

Dragons ands gryphons are design motifs tied in with the Victorian fixation on a sentimental conception of medieval times, a design language we can also see being used in the Haunted Mansion. In this case, the fantastic creatures bring to mind fairy tales, appropriate for a restaurant bearing the name Walt's.

Victorians didn't just cover their stuff with detail to be obtuse, all of this design work was meaningful to them. One of the strengths of the Paris Main Street is that it actually uses these submerged meanings to help create new ones in each interior space.

On the Hub, I think the most impressive interior on Main Street is Victoria's Restaurant, which serves things like pot roast and absolutely nails the feeling of sitting in a Victorian parlor. The level of detail in these rooms is staggering.

Main Street at Disneyland Paris is a definitive Main Street, the Main Street that makes subsequent attempts to do other Main Streets look like fool's errands. It's tough to top the level of care that went into this one.

But that's most of Disneyland Paris, isn't it? Throughout the park, even in places where it didn't really work, there's a real attempt to present the best version of everything. And when you start really drilling down to the level of, say, a lighting fixture, a door handle, or a wallpaper, that's where the extra effort begins to come out. The park really is the culmination of everything that was learned between 1955 and 1990, before Imagineering went hip and ironic in the 90s.

Feature Animation gets a lot of credit for pushing the boundaries in the 90s but Americans hate when ambition meets mixed success, and while Lion King is an international blockbuster, Disneyland Paris got off to a rocky start. In a fairer world, it would be remembered as a monumental achievement  instead of an expensive and problematic folly. The executive's backs were turned, and these design teams were reaching for heaven.