"A cute movie set is what it is."
This comment, made by Walt Disney during the planning of Disneyland in March 1954, summarizes Disney's conception of the park as a movie lot. Yet, there is a long-standing belief in the autobiographical location of Main Street, U.S.A., in real world equivalents such as Disney's hometown of Marceline or the small towns of the turn-of-the-century midwest. Disney himself maintained that the idea for the park was a simple one: the essence of America - a place of warmth and illusion, with nostalgia of the past, complexities of the present, and glimpses of the future.
In "Disneyland's Main Street, U.S.A and its sources in Hollywood", Robert Neuman argues that one may also locate the source of Disney's inspiration for the backbone of the park, Main Street, U.S.A. within the images of small town America portrayed in Hollywood films and in the design and construction of the great Hollywood backlots of the studio era. As the point of entry for the park, and a point of transition between the real world outside the park and the fantastic and exotic lands within, Disney sought to locate the architecture of this zone within a peaceful period of American history that is both familiar and comforting, the mid-western town of 1890-1910. thus, the search for the source of Disney's inspiration for the park has generally been autobiographical in nature, seeking to locate Main Street, U.S.A. in real world locales such as Fort Collins, Colorado and Marceline, Missouri.
Although Walt Disney's hometown is generally considered the primary inspiration for Main Street, U.S.A, there was no mention of the town in early guidebooks for the park, and turn-of-the-century photographs of the real world town look very different from the idealized street that ushers visitors into the park's interior. furthermore, the concept of the turn-of-the-century, small town main street as a quintessentially American symbol was widespread in literature and film. Thus, a second source of inspiration lies within the Hollywood backlot sets used to recreate small town americana in films such as Our Town (Wood, 1940) and Love Finds Andy Hardy (Seitz, 1938).
Disney was familiar with the Hollywood backlot, where fictitious small town streets stood alongside medieval castles and western one horse towns. Main Street, U.S.A.'s designers were not architects but illustrators and continuity sketch artists. They drew upon the visual trickery and set design techniques used to create Hollywood backlots to create the idyllic set of Main Street, U.S.A. For example, the scale of the buildings is not realistic; upper floors are shorter than lower floors. Also, like the backlot set, the buildings are fragmentary. Only the parts visible to spectators are finished in period style. Furthermore, the park as a whole was conceived along the lines of a studio backlot with plans for three television production sites: the Opera House on Town Square in Main Street, U.S.A., Treasure Island in Frontierland, and Tomorrowland.
Disney and his biographers have also alluded to New York City's Coney Island, with its collection of amusement parks and boardwalks as an influence (perhaps, in the form of a cautionary tale) on the design of Main Street, U.S.A. Another oft-cited influence can be found in the cultural influence of the various world's fairs and expositions that were popular in the united states until the post-war period, beginning with the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893-94. These threads will be pursued in the next few pages.
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