Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dissecting Disney's Lands: Main Street USA

On the opening of Disneyland back in 1955, Walt was able to introduce each of his fantastic lands in just a few sentences each. But as they’ve grown, and even when they first opened, their component themes are incredibly wide ranging; an eclectic collage of ideas and settings grouped loosely by their land’s title. In this series, I hope to break down these sub-themes (their settings both in location and in time) to better understand how to lands come together as a cohesive whole.

“Hello, welcome to Disneyland. We have dedicated this happy place to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America. This dedication is engraved on a plaque at the foot of the flagpole in the Disneyland town square. Suddenly as we come into this square, the cares and worries of today are left behind and we find ourselves in a little town in the year 1900. On one hand is the City Hall and on the other is the fire station. Down Main Street we see the Emporium and all the many shops. There is the old music store, the penny arcade with its blaring orchestrion, the popcorn man, and the old calliope. At the end of the street, the marching band appears in full regalia. But lets take the horse-drawn street car and ride down Main Street.”

I want to finish this series with a short article about the land where every Disneyland adventure begins; Main Street USA. Main Street is perhaps the simplest of the lands; no variations exist within each individual land, but I thought it was worthwhile examining the differences between the Main Streets worldwide, including Tokyo Disneyland’s unique Main Street World Bazaar.

Lacking the ‘land’ suffix, some people don’t consider Main Street USA a legitimate land, describing it more as a transition or entrance area. Still, current Disney policy categorises it as a land and with no larger land to label it a subland of, there seems little reason to deny it the status.


Main Street USA at Disneyland, whilst inspired by Walt’s hometown of Marceline, Missouri is actually more similar to Fort Collins, Colorado – the childhood home of its designer Harper Goff. It is an idealised, nostalgic remembrance of small town life where everyone knows each other. This Main Street is presented in an almost dollhouse style, with sleepy porches dotted with benches and rocking chairs, cosy alleys and ragtime music.

The first theme was Patriotism, drawn from the classically Americana presentation of Main Street USA. It is a place where the Fourth of July could be celebrated every day, supported by the inclusion of attractions such as Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.
At opening, Main Street USA contained just three attractions. The first two, the Disneyland Railroad (then the Sante Fe & Disneyland Railroad) and the Main Street Vehicles perhaps hint at a Transportation theme, similar to Tomorrowland, however it is not transportation for its own sake; rather it is to give realism and dynamism to the land and park. Rather, it they demonstrate the theme of Invention and the progress the spark of an idea can have to lead us forward.

The third attraction, the Main Street Shooting Gallery and the later Babes in Toyland exhibit did very little to impact the theme.

It was not until the addition of attractions such as the Legacy of Walt Disney, Disneyland Presents a Preview of Coming Attractions and The Walt Disney Story in the 1970s that the next theme was added to Main Street USA; that of Disney itself, both the man and the concept. It was this development that tied into the Disneyfication of Main Street’s shops as they eschewed period products in favour of Mickey Mouse memorabilia and Goofy gifts. Main Street took the role of the gift shop exit for the entire park. Main Street USA became the spokesperson for the entire park, with exhibits presenting the history of the park and of Walt Disney.

Magic Kingdom

At the Magic Kingdom, increased funds allowed the buildings to be built at a scale approaching full size – and so ambition increased along with it. The inspiration for the land expanded to locations across the United States, from Missouri to New England, expanding its focus beyond small town life to become Big Town.

Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland is the most radical of the Main Street variations, abandoning the explicitly American setting, and instead creating a curious combination of Main Street USA and Epcot’s World Showcase. This land is called Main Street World Bazaar (this is the full name – most places just use World Bazaar), and is made up of a montage collection of shops and restaurants sourced internationally. America is still represented of course; many of the facades echo the traditional Main Street and an American style fifties diner is included. The first Disneyland outside of America, the sole theme here is Internationalism.

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris returns to the Americana of the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street (many of the facades are identical), but moves the time period on a bit further. Even more so than the Magic Kingdom, its components are sourced not only from Marceline or Fort Collins but from locations across the United States; San Francisco, the Midwest and New York. This Main Street holds more dynamism and urbanism than the other Main Streets – perhaps more akin to a Small City.

The idea of American Patriotism and Internationalism were blended with the inclusion of the Liberty Arcade, an indoor walkway themed around the Statue of Liberty and its symbolism of the relations between France and the United States. At the other end of the street was the Discovery Arcade, which presented then current inventions and patents amongst Victorian visions of the future; the theme of Invention was reborn.

Hong Kong Disneyland

Hong Kong Disneyland’s Main Street USA reverts back to the Main Street of Disneyland California, but places an even greater focus on the Disney theme. In its brief history, it has included attractions such as Mickey’s House, Turtle Talk With Crush and still has an Animation Academy – significantly more obvious in its Disney theme than other Main Streets.

However, one attraction does highlight a theme that may exist in other Main Streets worldwide – particularly Disneyland. The Main Street Haunted Hotel brings forth the theme of the Supernatural, as guests walk with flashlights through a genuinely scary walkthrough. Disneyland’s Main Street has hints of this supernaturalism with the famous fortune teller, Esmeralda, in the Penny Arcade and Fargo’s Palm Parlor across the street. This theme is certainly not at the forefront of Main Street, but is an interesting observation nonetheless.


Although the simplest of all of Disney’s original lands, Main Street USA has a wide range of its own themes and ideas. With each successive version, Main Street USA has grown and progressed, whilst at all times remaining a hold on that nostalgic optimism of a time that now exists only in collective memory. Main Street USA’s themes comprise of;

- The Small Town, the Big Town, and the Small City
- Patriotism
- Invention
- Internationalism
- Disney
- The Supernatural

The Future

Main Street USA’s need to recreate a rose-tinted remembrance of how America used to be; simpler times with quaint ideals. While Main Street USA is the land least likely to warrant expansion, future directions could include;

- The 1920s, and the Jazz Age, with speakeasies and silent films.
- The War Years, and the triumph of American spirit and ingenuity.
- The 1950s, and the carefree dawn of the teenager, with sock hops, diners and drive-in movies.

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