|By Keith Mahne|
Before New Orleans Square, Disneyland's Frontierland certainly had its fair share of southern charm. From the sparkling Rivers of America, to the Mark Twain River Boat and Aunt Jemima’s Pancake House, it made sense to build a new attraction at the bend of the river. Walt soon came to realize that New Orleans would make the perfect backdrop for a few new attractions his WED Imagineers were planning for the Park. And so, New Orleans Square was born and on it’s opening day, July 24, 1966, Walt Disney and the mayor of the real New Orleans were on-hand to present the first additional “land” to Disneyland. Hear the rare recording of Walt Disney from that very day as he opens New Orleans Square...
|New Orleans Square concept art|
From the moment Disneyland opened in 1955, Walt Disney had always wanted there to be a New Orleans-themed area in the Park. At Disneyland's opening day ceremonies, co-hosts Ronald Reagan and Bob Cummings both referred to the New Orleans flavor at the edge of Frontierland and, Ward Kimball's famous jazz band, the Firehouse Five Plus Two played Dixieland jazz to inaugurate the area just as they did for Walt and New Orleans mayor Victor Schiro on opening day of New Orleans Square...
|The Firehouse Five Plus Two performs on a balcony with Walt and (former mayor of New Orleans) Victor Schiro on opening day of New Orleans Square|
While Walt's WED Imagineers were hard at work on new attractions that included a Haunted Mansion, a Thieves Marketplace, and a Pirate Wax Museum walk-through, their ideas evolved into an entirely different land. New Orleans Square was the first added “land” to Disneyland since the parks initial opening day of July 17, 1955. The area at Disneyland was officially dedicated on July 24, 1966 by Walt and Victor Schiro, who served as mayor of New Orleans from 1961-1969.
|Walt and Victor Schiro, then mayor of New Orleans, opening New Orleans Square|
On the opening day of New Orleans Square, according to Disney historian Jim Korkis (author of the amazing Vault of Walt books), "a reporter in attendance for a New Orleans newspaper wrote that 'it’s the next best thing to being there' and repeated the information from the Disney publicity material that it was built for almost the exact amount paid for the entire Louisiana Purchase in 1803, roughly $15 million (just $2 million shy of the cost to build the entire Disneyland park in 1955)."
In the rare recording of Walt and Victor Schiro from opening day that you are about to hear, Walt was in an exuberant mood and kept interrupting the mayor, pointing out that they both had mustaches, and how the dollar has risen over the years since the original Louisiana Purchase. When Victor Schiro repeated that the Disney version was just like the real thing to reporters, a playful Walt off to the side and in a soft voice said “only cleaner.” Walt also makes a joke when the mayor makes him an honorary citizen of New Orleans, “You know I am already a Louisiana Colonel." Walt then goes on to say that maybe he should make the mayor an “honorary dictator of the Magic Kingdom.” It's a wonderful moment in Walt's life and we will now have the opportunity to live it with him.
In the Disney Avenue Production video below, I have taken the original film of Walt as he discusses the opening of New Orleans Square, which was part of Disneyland Around the Seasons, an episode of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. (It is notable for being the first episode that aired after Walt Disney's death that occurred three days earlier.) In the middle of the footage, we break away to hear the rare recording of Walt's and Victor Schiro's opening day speeches. It was really fun to piece together and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have...
Disney Avenue would like to thank Steve Privitera for sending us the audio recording of Walt Disney's opening day speech. Thank you Steve!
Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.