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Women Who Changed the Disney Parks Forever: Dorothea Redmond

Redmond goes to work for Walt Disney

Plaza Inn Restaurant at Disneyland

Image: Loren Javier, Flickr (license)

In the autumn of 1964, Redmond was hired by WED Enterprises (now Walt Disney Imagineering) to help flesh out some up-and-coming areas for Disneyland. The park was almost ten years old, and Redmond was fresh off of a multi-year gig with the architectural firm of William Pereira and Charles Luckman, for whom she worked on distinguished landmarks like Seattle’s Space Needle and the restaurant in Los Angeles International Airport’s post-modern Theme Building.

With Disney, Redmond’s two premier talents—her expert sense of set and interior design and attention to setting the right mood—were utilized in still more creative ways. Among her first projects was a redesign of the interior of the Red Wagon Inn, the Swift & Co.-operated fine dining establishment perched on the corner of Main Street, U.S.A. and Disneyland’s central Hub. Disney had recently booted their sponsor from the park and was nearing completion on a $1.7 million rebranding they called the ‘Plaza Inn.’ Redmond’s elegant designs transformed the restaurant from its full-service, English-tavern aesthetic to a cheaper buffet cafeteria with a more delicate, turn-of-the-century Victorian feel.

Over the next decade, Redmond’s elegant illustrations provided Walt and his team of Imagineers with a framework for some of their most recognizable restaurants, shops, and lands. She delivered luminous renderings of the Blue Bayou Restaurant that bordered Pirates of the Caribbean, completed Glendra Von Kessel’s intricate mirror panel paintings for Mlle. Antoinette’s Parfumerie shop, and even created concept art for what would later become the famed and exclusive Club 33. (There has also been speculation that Redmond’s eerie watercolors helped Imagineers devise a water vehicle-based Haunted Mansion attraction, though this doesn’t appear to have been officially confirmed at any point.)

In one of her more ambitious assignments, she designed the lavish interiors for Walt’s new apartment, which was to be placed in the heart of New Orleans Square. Walt passed away before the project could be completed, but Redmond’s plans were finally realized with the opening of the opulent, First French Empire-style Disney Dream Suite in 2008—right down to every gilded mirror, marble fireplace, and floor-to-ceiling draped window she conceptualized. Today, the Dream Suite has been converted into a laughably exorbitant dining experience at 21 Royal (starting at $15,000 per meal), but Redmond’s vision lives on in a two-fold tribute to her incredible designs and Walt’s enduring legacy.

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