Disneyland, the 76.6-acre Anaheim theme park that has enchanted almost 250 million visitors, celebrated its 30th birthday Wednesday with a bang.
Out on Main Street, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck bopped to a disco anthem heralding "30 years of magic." Minnie Mouse, Goofy and Pluto followed close behind amid cheers and off-key renditions of the "Mickey Mouse Song" by spectators.
At the town square, after a brief rededication ceremony on the spot where the park was opened to the public on July 17, 1955, 30,000 balloons soared skyward while fireworks cracked and confetti showered to the street.
The celebration began at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and was scheduled to last until midnight. As part of the festivities, Disneyland officials expected to give away eight cars, one to every 3,000th visitor.
Late Wednesday morning, in the area Disneyland employees call "backstage," tired actors who portray Disney characters rested their feet while longtime employees reminisced about the park's beginnings.
Ken Anderson, 76, an architect, joined Walt Disney Enterprises in 1946 as an animator. After working on animated feature films such as "Ferdinand the Bull" and "Goddess of Spring," he helped with the design of Fantasyland, including Snow White's Castle, which was an empty building before the current diorama version of the fairy tale was installed.
Unbeknown to Disney personnel, the castle had become inhabited by about two dozen wild cats. Shortly after the park opened, Anderson said, he and Walt Disney were walking though the castle and found a gunny sack the cats had slept on. When they lifted the sack up, thousands of fleas jumped onto Disney's white suit.
"His suit was crawling gray from the fleas," Anderson said. "Walt came tumbling down the ladder real fast and called for an electric cart to pick us up. He said 'Ken, stay out of the crowds.' His main concern wasn't for me, it was for the people."
Another longtime Disney employee who attended Wednesday's event was Randy Bright, vice-president for concept development at Disneyland, Disneyland Tokyo, and Disney World in Florida. Bright, a Yorba Linda resident who resembles Paul Newman, started selling souvenirs in Adventureland 30 years ago and worked his way up to playing a "spaceman who roamed Tomorrowland."
"That was in the period when John Glenn first went up (in space)," he said. "People would come up to me and say, 'Col. Glenn, I presume?' and I had to pretend it was funny and that it was the first time I had heard it. It was driving me crazy."
Among the six original Mousketeers who attended the celebration was Sharon Baird, 42, a diminutive woman in a hot pink jump suit who now plays animal characters for Disney television productions. She wistfully remembered that the theme park had been surrounded by orange groves when it opened in 1955. "I can remember how wonderful the setting was," she said. "Now it's just hotel, hotel, hotel."
In fact, the number of hotels in Anaheim has grown from 70 to 170 since 1955, keeping pace with the growth of Disneyland. Instead of the 15 major attractions in the park in 1955, there are now 55 in seven "theme lands."
For current Disneyland employees and tourists who visited the park for the 30th Anniversary party, everything appeared to be rosy.
"Snow White," a sweet-looking woman with round eyes and a turned-up nose, stood outside her castle clutching Dopey by the hand while a bevy of fascinated youngsters reached out to touch her. She refused to divulge her real name after glancing at a Disneyland entertainment division employee for guidance.
"I can't answer questions like that; I'm Snow White," she said. She also appeared somewhat at a loss for words when asked how the park had changed over the years. "Goodness, gracious, we've seen so many changes at Disneyland. We have new rides coming up. My goodness, Dopey, there have been so many different things," she said.
Lenny Mei of Taipei, Taiwan, who was on his first visit to the United States with his wife and two children, said the day was "wonderful, of course."
Orange resident Mark Archibald, 15, who had been at the park since 5:30 a.m. helping to blow up and bag the 30,000 balloons released at the rededication ceremony, was making the rounds at Adventureland with a half-dozen friends. He said he was enjoying the party in spite of five bandaged fingers that were rope-burned after a helium-filled anchor balloon almost carried him off into the sky.
"It was freaky; I was walking and then I just started floating away," he said. He said the rope burns were the only injury he suffered after he let go of the rope and fell about three feet.
Other Disneyland visitors, including Michelle Christian, 8, of Arroyo Grande in San Luis Obispo County didn't even seem to mind the long lines at some of the rides. Michelle, who wore bright pink plastic sandals and a plastic clip holding back her blonde braid, said she was a little nervous about going on the Matterhorn bobsled ride, however.
"This ride's scary, but my dad made me go on it," she said.