This beast looks like wood but drives like steel. It’s an anchor attraction at what many consider a lesser gate. It explodes into movement but then never goes any faster, reaching peak velocity after only four seconds. Yes, California Screamin’ is a ride with many incongruities; it’s also a badass coaster at a park with a paucity of them. Let’s take this opportunity to go Behind the Ride once again, learning the four Imagineering tricks that make California Screamin’ so great.
The Experience: Faux wood
The Trick: Making the best of a failed theme park concept
Have you ever heard of Disney’s America? It was a pet project of divisive former CEO of The Walt Disney Company, Michael Eisner. He hoped to build a new Disney theme park in Haymarket, Virginia, roughly 40 miles outside of Washington, D.C.
The new theme park would offer patriotic themed lands such as President’s Square, Civil War, Fort, and Victory Field. Oddly, the locals rebelled at the idea of a Disney theme park bringing tens of millions of dollars in annual commerce to a town with a current population of less than 2,000 people. Disney gave up on the idea in 1994.
Three years later, a beloved California park, Knotts Berry Farm, became available for purchase. Disney executives loved the idea of expanding their park presence in the area. Knotts Berry Farm is only 7.2 miles away from Disneyland!
Again, Disney faced unexpected resistance. The Knotts family refused to sell to a corporation that they didn’t trust, worried about what Disney would do to the inimitable theme park. After all, the park had been owned by the Knotts family since its debut in 1920. They needed assurances about its future that Disney simply couldn’t give.
Once again stymied, Disney park planners huddled. They eventually decided that the attempt to buy a competing California theme park was a misplaced effort. Disney could simply add a second gate at the Happiest Place on Earth!
What’s strange about the creative process for this park, Disney California Adventure, is that they recycled many existing ideas from the Disney’s America blueprints. One of them was a wooden roller coaster.
The idea was that a themed land involving American history would break the illusion if the primary roller coaster were steel. After Disney’s America failed, the new Disneyland gate had different park restrictions. Park planners realized that using a wood roller coaster would prevent Imagineers from building the ride that they envisioned. So, they had a plan for a patriotic wooden roller coaster, only now they needed a California-themed one that was steel.
In a decision that Disney execs regretted for some time afterward, they chose to theme Disney California Adventure as “the heyday of the great seaside amusement park piers.” Then, they turned around and constructed a very modern roller coaster in style that looked like wood from a distance. This incongruity was one of many that the second Disneyland gate faced during its earliest days, and Disney eventually addressed it, as we’ll discuss in the final Behind the Ride trick.