Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Walk Down Liberty Street

By Keith Mahne

Originally scheduled to open in the fall of 1957, Liberty Street was founded on Walt Disney's belief that Americans often failed to comprehend the tremendous significance of their heritage. In Liberty Square, Walt intended to dramatize the events of the Revolutionary War period in an entertaining way, and provide Disneyland guests with a better understanding of, and sense of pride in, the American way of life. Join us after the page break as we take a stroll down Liberty Street...

 A sign touting “Liberty Street Grand Opening 1959” featuring peep holes that revealed artist sketches of the new attractions that were suppose to come to Liberty Street.

The area as it appears today.

"Actually, if you could see close in my eyes, the American flag is waving in both of them and up my spine is growing this red, white and blue stripe." 
- Walt Disney

Liberty Street was designed as a cul-de-sac, extending westward from Town Square on Main Street, USA. Unlike any other area in the park at the time, Liberty Street's buildings, exhibits and presentations were all integral to the total show.

The Street was to be an architectural composite of several American cities as they existed in the Revolutionary War era. Cobblestones would pave the way down Liberty Street and into Liberty Square, past shops and exhibits - a blacksmith shop, apothecary, glassmaker, weaver, print shop, insurance office, silversmith and cabinetmaker - representing the types of enterprises found in America during the 1770s.

Also to be located in Liberty Square was a scale model of the Capitol that Walt had purchased himself from an artisan who devoted twenty-five years to carving it completely out of stone. Liberty Hall was the centerpiece of the Square, and the entrance to the two major attractions - Hall of The Declaration of Independence and Hall of the Presidents of the United States. A large foyer with dioramas depicting famous scenes of the American Revolutionary War period would serve as a common entrance to the two auditoriums.

Entry to Liberty Street, concept drawing by Herb Ryman, 1957

Hall of the declaration of Independence would represent the stirring and dramatic story of the birth of the United States in three scenes based on three famous American paintings. The Colonial auditorium was designed to seat 500 on bench-like pews. Thirteen stars in the ceiling would light the auditorium, representing the 13 colonies. The proscenium would hold three framed settings occupied by sculptured, life-sized figures in costume.

More concept art

The first scene, taken from "The Drafting of the Declaration of Independence" by J.L.G. Ferris, would depict Ben Franklin and John Adams in consultation with Thomas Jefferson as he drafted the Declaration. As the curtain closed, another curtain opened to reveal the " Signing of the Declaration of Independence" taken from the painting by John Trumbull. The final scene was from Henry Mosler's "Ringing of the Liberty Bell." Narration, sprinkled with quotes from the Declaration, would tell the story and historical significance of each scene.

At the top of the picture is a Liberty Street aerial concept visualization, 1957

In Hall of Presidents of the United States, stage lights would gradually brighten and curtains partially open to reveal life-size sculpted and costumed figures of George Washington and the presidents immediately succeeding him, in silhouette. Martial music would come up as lights played on the features of Washington, creating a feeling of reality. Narration of the trails, decisions and formation of America's heritage was to be complemented by excerpts from presidential speeches. At the conclusion, all the nation's presidents (34 by 1957) would be seen on the enormous stage against a rear-projected image of the United States Capitol, as clouds panned across the sky and a musical finale closed the show.

The concept of Liberty Street and its two major attractions depended heavily on the development of Audio-Animatronics, whereby music, voices and sound effects would be electronically synchronized to the motions of three-dimensional animated figures and objects. New WED technology in stereophonic sound, lighting, narration and staging would provide an over-all feeling of reality in both presentations.

WED began to produce prototypes, including the head of a Chinese man for a proposed Disneyland restaurant, the entire feathered cast of what became The Enchanted Tiki Room, and the first figure for the Hall of Presidents of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

New York World's Fair promoter Robert Moses (left) with Walt Disney

When New York World's Fair promoter Robert Moses came to the Disney Studios for an update on Walt's attractions for the 1964-65 Fair, he noticed the Lincoln figure and requested a demonstration. Walt explained that the technology was years away from perfection, yet after watching the figure "come to life," Moses insisted that Walt prepare the Lincoln figure for the Fair. Although it premiered a week late at the fair, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln in the State of Illinois was a tremendous hit. The public had never seen anything like it. Many were convinced that Lincoln was an actor! A second show was quickly created for Disneyland; it opened in 1965 in the Main Street Opera House - just inches away from where Liberty Street was originally planned.

Shortly after the Fair, WED began work on the Magic Kingdom for the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. One major difference from its California counterpart is that the Florida park features a variation on Liberty Street, renamed Liberty Square. Located off the hub at the Magic Kingdom, Liberty Square three attractions: the Haunted Mansion, Liberty Square River Boat, and the original survivor of the original concept for Liberty Street, The Hall of Presidents. Also located in Liberty Square are Colonial-themed restaurants and shops.

WDW's Liberty Square Concept Art

Although in the 1980s Disneyland displayed announcements of the Hall of Presidents coming to Anaheim, current scopes fail to mention such an addition. But guests experience the pages of American history come to life through Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at Disneyland, the Hall of Presidents at the Magic Kingdom and the most recent addition to the list of patriotic attractions in the Disney theme parks (1982), The American Adventure in World Showcase at EPCOT. Each attraction both educates and entertains as only Disney can - with liberty and justice for all.

Watch now as Walt Disney discusses the proposed addition to Disneyland that was to become Liberty Street...


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.

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