Monday, August 20, 2007

Disneyland's Saddest Hour

Friends, easily coming in as the saddest news I've received in the last week is Disneyland's little publicized closing of The Disney Gallery located above the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in New Orleans Square on August 7. I know it may seem trivial, but this closing has come as one more in a series of knives in the gut from Disney which on some level is about as heartbreaking as the loss of a close loved one. My emotions are a slurry of disbelief, sadness, and anger.

As it has been pointed out by fellow disneyphiles and bloggers, The Disney Gallery was perhaps one of the only corners of the park which provided valuable respite in the often overcrowded magic kingdom. But aside from the calm solitude of the Disney Gallery, was something truly irreplaceable. The Disney Gallery was one of the few remaining locations where classic and unadulterated Disney magic was present. And to the few park visitors who opted to skip out on another ride on Splash Mountain or a trip to the Emporium to grab one more overpriced stuffed Pooh bears and visit the Gallery instead awaited a real treasure trove - a place for "insiders."

Many of you know may know that the Gallery location was originally intended to home a private apartment for Walt. The above painting by Dorthea Raymond illustrates the original concept of that apartment, which unfortunately for Walt but fortunately for park visitors was slashed after Walt died and before the space was completed. Since that time, the space has housed a magical world where original art and one of a kind collectibles and souvenirs (I hesitate to use that word as the mere thought of it conjures up all kinds of bad Disney marketing images like mountains of Buzz Lightyear light-up spinner wands) could be found.

Merely being present in the location brought a sort of camaraderie among the Gallery visitors far above the bustle below. I'd like to recount such a special visit that I had there at least three or four years ago while I was still an aspiring animator/illustrator. I spent one afternoon voraciously studying art pieces on display for Disneyland’s 50th Anniversary celebration at The Disney Gallery in Disneyland (this has always been infinitely more exciting to me than Space Mountain). I think I had my eyeball nearly as close to the glass of one such drawing as humanly possible in order to see every pencil stroke – each one so fluid, yet with perfect precision – and was marveling over the idea that Ward Kimball or Marc Davis’ hands had actually floated over these pages to create the flawless lines when I was approached by a gentleman of about 40. His name, as I recall, was Joe Hadar, a Disney animator who was being let go by the company, as many animators were at that time, and who had decided to spend one of his last days before leaving his job at Disneyland, and here in The Gallery no less.

Evidently the curious sight of this young girl taking so much time to take in every drawing caused him to inquire about my penchant for studying such small details that most visitors, especially at my age, would have walked by without a thought. When he found out I was an aspiring animator he became very enthusiastic, leading to a nearly hour-long conversation. That encounter was truly inspiring. Here was a world fast being overtaken by the art of computer animation, an art which had more or less put him out of a job temporarily, but he was passionate as ever to have found a young person that cared about the labor and care of the original hand-drawn art created by the masters before us. He insisted that I needed the book Nine Old Men, which I've mentioned in an earlier post, and even offered to buy it for me. He told me that in that business one needs as many friends and contacts and possible, and offered up his phone and e-mail should my endeavors require it. My heart breaks for young people like me who will never get to experience that specialness the Disney Gallery held.

For those people who have never been, this probably seems silly or overemotional. But I can't help but feel like something sacred and sanctified has really been taken out of the park. Metaphorically, it was the heart of what Disney was all about. Located in practically the bustling epicenter of Disneyland, The Gallery was a sanctuary of original concept drawings and paintings, ideas, stories, sculptures and illustrations that can't be replaced. I think David Koenig does a lovely job expressing this sentiment in his article on

Out of desperation to see the Disney company get its act together and give what few remaining fans are left a little something for their willingness to continue supporting Walt's dream despite the blasphemy that has unfolded from the company in the last 10 years, some bloggers are are rallying on the web on sites such as Re-imagineering, one of my personal favorites (a great posting of nothing but some famous words by Walt up right now, do check it out...), to try and organize the effort to get the company back on track. I wish it were that easy. This new closing has really drained what little hope I had that maybe Disney was on the right track following Iger's inception.

Anyways, I apologize for the negativity that this lengthy blog post has espoused and will welcome any words of positivity and encouragement as always from readers in the comments section. Posted above is the last item I bought at The Gallery. It's a fantastic layout diagram of the teacups for Disneyland's Mad Tea Party. I encourage you to click to enlarge the image to see all the notes and scribbles. I just love it. Again, this is one of those items that you just couldn't find anywhere else. Shame on Disney for closing one more amazing park experience that didn't "bring in big bucks" or attempt to shuffle guests into one more souvenir stand afterwards. This really is one of Disneyland's saddest hours.


Daveland said...

Lainey - I have to admit, I had mixed feelings about the closing of the Gallery. It was sad to see it go, but I was also excited to see what would become of the space, especially if they were going to use Walt's Dorothea's original concept. It is still possible that the Gallery concept will land somewhere else, especially if its fans are vocal enough. Let's cross our fingers and hope...and ESPECIALLY that it doesn't land in the Main Street Cinema as has been posted elsewhere - THAT would make me sad!

Jessica said...

I have only been to DL once (going again in October) and I absolutely loved the Disney Gallery. As a Disney geek, that place was absolute heaven for me and I couldn't get enough of it. I was very sad to hear of its closure.

Unknown said...

Wonderful post, Lainey. I found you through Jessica's site.

I visited the Disney Gallery in 1996 and 1998. I will be very sad to see it go. It was such a tranquil and amazing space to be located mere feet from Pirates and overlooking Tom Sawyer, er, Pirate Island.

I will mourn the loss of the Disney Gallery--but I feel more sad for the Disney Geeks that will never get to see it.

Lainey Schallock said...

thanks to all of you for your responses - I'm overwhelmed, especially as I'm new to the blogging world here. I just really wanted others to know how sad this nostalgic loss is to myself, the park, and other Disney fan. Thanks so much for keeping tuned into my blog. I hope to bring more interesting posts soon.

Andrew said...

I sorely regret that I never saw the gallery. For many of us, it will exist only through the memories of others. Thanks for posting about it because the voices do add up and hopefully the gallery will land on its feet somewhere else. It will lose some magic for not being in such a historic yet overlooked place anymore.

Unknown said...

My wife, is very torn up about this because it was one of the biggest highlights of her trips to Disneyland.

I'm glad that we were able to make our way into the Gallery when we went to Disneyland this past June

Unknown said...

I've never been to Disneyland (only been to the west coast once - I'm from the east coast) but this sounds like a real treasure. The kind of thing where I'd get lost in thought only to be brought back to reality by those with me wondering "Can we go now?" ;-)

I had a nagging thought while I was reading this, that you ought to contact Uncle John Lasseter directly (don't ask me how, just do it ;-)) and bring your case just as you have in your post.

From what I know about him (based only on interviews and articles, nothing more) this is the type of thing he LOVES, too. I just wonder if he was in on this decision or not. I'm sure he must be aware of the place, but after that, who knows?

I'm sure he's quite busy, but such an impassioned essay (that doesn't run off into the lunatic fringe) might catch his attention and, if nothing else, give you some idea of what will happen to all that stuff. You might not get anything either, but at least you'll have made the effort, if you truly believe the place should be open in some manner. DL PR might give you the 411, as well.

Good luck!


Chef Mayhem said...

When the gallery first opened 20 years ago, I bought a number of prints and greeting cards with some images from the inaugural show "The Art of Disneyland" - with everything marked "The Disney Gallery" on the back. What an amazing treat!

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but it has seemed for the past few years, the merchandise in the gallery is no different than the merch in the Main St. Disneyana store or the collectibles section of World of Disney. So from the retail point of view, I guess it's not much of a loss.

But it was a really pleasant (and usually uncrowded) diversion to peruse the exhibits. I'll miss that.

DisneyDave said...

One of my favorite places to visit in the park. Very disappointing news.

Anonymous said...

Just as an FYI, I have heard from a reliable source that the Disney Gallery is likely going to reopen in a currently (mostly) unused area of the park. As with most Disney rumors it may or may not happen, but this person was in a position to know.

stir said...

I have hanging on my office wall a print of Autopia framed with a tommorrowland pin and my 50th Anniversary ticket (which also happened to be a Club 33 ticket/visit!) ensconsed. What a treat the gallery is/was! We had been trying to track down a large monorail train poster for our son's room and were directed to the gallery. We ended up buying two prints for the son, a Sleeping Beauty for the daughter, and my Autopia print. I've got to think those kiosk/browsing stations will pop up somewhere -- but yes, marvelling at the gallery of prints on display that I couldn't afford was a real treat. And we got a private tour of the Club 33 Kitchen! My wife is handicap and they brought us up to the gallery through the kitchen elevator, through the kitchen, over a catwalk and into the back door of the Gallery. That in itself was kinda cool!