Thursday, January 15, 2015

Throwback Thursday: C A L I F O R N I A at Disney's California Adventure

By Tim Callaway

In June 2012, Disney California Adventure put the final touches on a massive billion-dollar refurb and expansion that gave birth to Cars Land, Ariel's Undersea Adventure, Silly Symphony Swings and a re-themed entrance modeled after the Pan-Pacific Auditorium. Beyond the entrance sprang the charming 1920s architecture of Buena Vista Street, evoking the sights and sounds Walt Disney himself might have experienced when he first arrived in Hollywood. It was a long overdue upgrade for a theme park built on the cheap and for more than ten years labeled the ugly cousin next door to the Happiest Place on Earth.

Before all the necessary upgrades, though, were the letters in front of the old entrance: C A L I F O R N I A.

I miss them.

The entrance to Disney's California Adventure, January 2007
Pretty as a postcard. The entrance to Disney's California Adventure, January 2007 (click to enlarge).

Don't get me wrong. I love the new and improved Disney California Adventure, but I also loved those 11-foot tall characters welcoming you to Disney's California Adventure. Set against a colorful faux mountain backdrop and a faux Golden Gate Bridge, the look was supposed to resemble a vintage California postcard brought to life. It was an image few people picked up on, especially since you had to stand right in the middle of the esplanade to even get a hint of the concept.

But, the letters themselves were pretty awesome, a popular photo spot especially if your name started with one of the letters.

On a cool, but comfortable evening in January 2007, I wandered across the esplanade just before midnight. It had been a great evening spent with friends and I was taking a long stroll from the Lost Bar at the Disneyland Hotel (itself a candidate for Throwback Thursday one of these days) to the Marriott on Harbor where I was staying. Over my shoulder was a backpack with my camera equipment in it. It was a rare occasion where I also packed a tripod with the intent of shooting some night photos at Disneyland. For the duration of the weekend, I hadn't used it once, but now, alone on the expanse between Disneyland and DCA, CALIFORNIA was practically calling out to me.

So, I set my camera and tripod and went to work. The panorama you see above is a composite of three photos stitched together with photo editing software. It remains one of my favorite pictures taken at the Disneyland Resort.

The CALIFORNIA letters have since left Anaheim, but not the state. In 2012, Disney donated them to the Friends of the California State Fair, a non-profit organization affiliated with Cal Expo in Sacramento. Today, the letters greet visitors at the site of the California State Fair, the Sacramento County Fair and other events on the property. I suspect I should head to Northern California one day and pay them a visit.

I doubt I'll ever get a picture as good as this one, though.

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