Disney history was made and lost this week, so let’s get right to it.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably already know that The Walt Disney Company made news this week when Shanghai Disney Resort opened–the first Disney park in mainland China. The $5.5 billion resort features hotels and shopping along with an updated Magic Kingdom park filled with new attractions tailored specifically to the 300 million people that live within three hours of the resort. Yes, you read that correctly. Almost the same number as the total population of the United States live within a three-hour-commute to Shanghai Disney Resort. Some of the new attractions look amazing, but if you plan to visit, expect to wait in line for a long, long time.
As for the history lost this week, sadly the Fantasyland Skyway Chalet at Disneyland was demolished to make room for the new Star Wars expansion.
After Disneyland opened in 1955, Walt and his staff ironed out the kinks of the new park then quickly turned their attention to expanding its potential. His first priority during the park’s first year of operation was to increase the limited ride capacity of the park. During the first twelve months of operation, the number of attractions was more than doubled.
One major addition Walt thought essential was an aerial tramway between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, which according to Walt would offer “a spectacular view of Disneyland.” Having heard about a suitable system already in operation in Europe, Walt sent Joe Fowler, the man who led the construction of Disneyland, on a mission to get it and bring it back to Anaheim as soon as possible.
In January of 1956, Fowler returned and he and Walt finalized the plans for ariel tramway, along with several other major additions to the park. In the summer of 1956, construction was completed and on June 23, 1956, Walt proudly dedicated the Disneyland Skyway. Built by Von Roll, Ltd. in Bern, Switzerland, it was the first Von Roll Type 101 aerial ropeway in the United States and used the 1947 Vonroll sidechair model. While the Tomorrowland station was futuristic, the Fantasyland Skyway station looked like an Alpine chalet.
The skyway was closed in 1957 while the Matterhorn was constructed, and reopened in 1959 going right through the middle of the new attraction and touched down in the newly expanded Tomorrowland featuring The Submarine Voyage, the Monorail and the Motor Boat Cruise.
When Fantasyland was renovated in the early 1980s, the Skyway only made round-trip voyages from Tomorrowland.
The Disneyland Skyway was closed on November 9, 1994 when stress cracks in the Matterhorn roller battery supports were discovered. The fact that the attraction was already not ADA-compliant and would require an expensive refurbishment meant that Walt’s “spectacular view” of Disneyland would not be seen again.
While the Tomorrowland Skyway station was quickly demolished, the Fantasyland station had remained virtually untouched since 1994 until this week. Off-limits to park guests, the Swiss chalet station hidden behind the trees became a home to the many, many cats that live at the park. If you don’t know about the cats, check back because we’ll save that story for another time.
Imagineers and Disney archivists attempted to save the wonderful artwork above the chalet entrance, but sadly it was made with asbestos in a time where no thought was given to preserving anything for history, making saving it for the Disney Archives extremely difficult. We’ve received conflicting reports whether or not the beautiful signs of the zodiac and surrounding artwork were able to be preserved.
In honor of this memorable attraction, we are very excited to present an exclusive limited edition piece featuring the artwork from the Fantasyland Skyway station. Main Street Art Corner artist Michael Levey has lovingly recreated the art using vintage photos. Don’t miss out on this wonderful piece before it leaves the station and is gone forever.
Summer 2017 Update
The area around the former Fantasyland Skyway station has been relandscaped, and all that remains are a few stairs that lead up to the station. In an effort to bring back the classic artwork to the park, the new clock above the Fastpass Return for the Matterhorn has included an attempt to recreate the original art.