Like most Disney theme parks, California Adventure has a very interesting origin story. Read below to learn about the stops and starts that occurred on the way to the second Disney theme park in California, as well as its recent creation and debut.

1. The resort concept was farmed out to a third party

Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.

Walt Disney himself bought the land that would eventually contain California Adventure sixty years ago. For most of that time (over 40 years) the land served as an extended parking lot for Disneyland. One thing Walt didn’t own that’s paramount to California Adventure, though, was the Disneyland Hotel. He gave up the rights to it to friend Jack Wrather, who built a motor lodge. The sacrifice was because so much of Walt’s money was tied up in his first theme park. The Walt Disney Company eventually gained control of it, but it cost a significant sum.

2. California Adventure wasn’t the first park conceived for the location

Image: Disney

After finding success with multiple parks at Walt Disney World in Florida, the Walt Disney Company wanted to try out a multi-park resort complex in California. Then-president Jack Lindquist advocated heavily for it, and played a big part in making the Disneyland Hotel the ownership of its namesake. Lindquist also succeeded in getting the lease to operate the Queen Mary ocean liner that served as a tourist attraction in Long Beach. That gave Disney two options. One of them was DisneySea, a nautical-themed park that would have been placed next to the Queen Mary in Long Beach. After a bidding war with Long Beach that ultimately wasn’t worth its while, the Walt Disney Company ended up offering over a similar concept to the Oriental Land Company, who created a DisneySea park as a companion to Tokyo Disneyland at the Tokyo Disney Resort.

Disney also announced a park called WestCOT in 1991, which would have served as a west coast version of what was then known as EPCOT Center. It would have even had another Spaceship Earth-like icon. That plan was squashed, though, for a couple reasons. One was the high cost of building the park (it would have cost a staggering $3 billion) and the other was Disney’s public relations and financial woes with Euro Disneyland, now known as Disneyland Paris. Those problems were due to a recession in Europe and the inclusion of six hotels, which left the resort in a mountain of debt. Eventually Euro Disneyland/Disneyland Paris would turn around. Regardless, because of those initial troubles the WestCOT park was ultimately cancelled in 1995.

3. California Adventure was planned six years before its debut

Image: Disney

In the summer of 1995, then-CEO of the Walt Disney Company Michael D. Eisner had a summit of corporate executives in Aspen, Colorado to discuss how to make that second California theme park happen. This one would have a lower budget and be less ambitious overall than WestCOT. The budget estimated was $650 million, though it was ultimately cost more than that to really complete California Adventure. This time, thanks in large part to the low price tag, the plan actually turned into a park, but it took until February 8, 2001 for Disney California Adventure to open.

4. California Adventure was created to celebrate California

Image: Disney

Continuing the pattern Disney showed with Main Street, U.S.A. and its botched plans for Disney's America, the second California theme park was designed to celebrate Americana. California, the home of Walt Disney and the movie and TV industries where he flourished, was specifically the focus. Disney wanted to create "precise reproductions of California landmarks, charming streets and gorgeous landscaping that stimulates the state's forests and farmlands” in order to celebrate the California dream. It wasn’t an idea that was received well when it was first shared to the public, and still wasn’t after it opened...


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