The amusement park industry existed prior to the debut of Disneyland in 1955, but Walt Disney's creation was very different to the typical fun park of the day. It replaced steel thrill rides with carefully-crafted dark rides, surly operators with friendly Cast Members and ugly concrete surroundings with beautifully-themed landscapes. It was so different that it became known not as an "amusement park", but as a "theme park".
Despite an infamous opening day beset by overcrowding and technical problems, Disneyland proved to be an overnight success. During its first week, 161,657 visitors passed through its gates. Just seven weeks after opening, the park registered its one millionth guest, and by the end of the first year total attendance had reached 3.6 million.
Others were looking on enviously as Disneyland thrived. Inevitably, a slew of rival parks were soon announced, each looking to cash in on the new market for family-friendly theme parks. Tens of millions of pounds were invested in creating these wonderlands, but they were lacking a critical ingredient: the influence of Walt Disney himself.
Modest, "regional" theme parks such as Six Flags Over Texas found a market, and Universal succeeded in creating a new type of attraction with its studio tour. But those that attempted to become Disneyland-style "destination parks" failed one-by-one - often quite spectacularly. Let's take a look at 5 of the best examples.
5. Magic Mountain (Denver, Colorado)
During the construction of Disneyland, dozens of talented art directors and engineers were hired to work on the project. After the park opened, many of them were let go. Naturally, those looking to build rival theme parks were quick to hire them to take advantage of their expertise.
One of the enterpreneurs looking to enter the theme park business was Walter Francis Cobb, who had already created several roadside attractions in the Denver area. In 1957, he teamed up with John Calvin Sutton to form Magic Mountain, Inc. and announced plans to build the first full-scale theme park to be constructed by a company other than Disney.
Immediately, Cobb began hiring ex-Disneyland employees. The most prominent was C.V. Wood, the man who led the construction of Disneyland but later fell out with Walt Disney and formed his own consulting firm, Marco Engineering. Wood's firm included a host of veteran Hollywood art directors, including some who had helped design Disneyland.
Magic Mountain was to occupy a sprawling 600-acre site at the foot of the mountains at Apex Gulch. The park was to celebrate the past, present and future of Colorado, and its design was strikingly similar to that of Disneyland. A narrow-gauge railway would circle the park, which would feature lands including Centennial City (similar to Frontierland), Storybook Lane (similar to Fantasyland) and Magic of Industry (similar to Tomorrowland).
From 1957-59, a host of attractions were built, including the railroad and a Main Street, USA-style area. Almost immediately, though, financial problems surfaced, and the plans were scaled back - with Magic of Industry and Storybook Lane being dropped altogether. An artifical ski slope was installed and proved to be successful, but the theme park was shuttered in 1960. Many of its rides were sold off to Six Flags Over Texas, a regional theme park with more modest ambitions.
Eventually, in 1970, Magic Mountain was resurrected as Heritage Square, a themed shopping village that is free to enter. It is still operating today, although some areas are left as abandoned reminders of its past.