Walt’s Fairyland Project

Ch. 3: “Project Mickey” from Divestment to Disneyland

J. Begakis

In the summer of 1954, Walt Disney met with the Orange County League of Cities to tour his new Anaheim property. Explaining to local officials that while the men of WED Enterprises were busy drafting construction plans, Walt was eager to begin building what Southern California journalists casually referred to as “the fairyland project.”[1]

Before Disneyland opened, Walt made it a habit to periodically check in with city and county representatives and chat about what they could expect at his theme park. He hosted dinner receptions at the Anaheim Elks Club, where he entertained guests with exciting stories about how he happened on the idea of Disneyland.[2] Ever the storyteller, Disney showcased all sorts of creative concepts and boasted the R&D expertise of his WED Imagineers.

Rolling out impressive artistry for his unbuilt Anaheim theme park was one of Walt’s strategies to generate and maintain public interest. At the same time, backstage, his team of strategic planners crunched numbers and plotted logistics.

Speaking to a reporter at the Los Angeles Times shortly after giving Orange County officials their first look at the plot of land, Walt Disney stated confidently that Disneyland “will be finished by July 1955.”

The journalist looked over a stack of sketches, including various WED drafts that the famous Hollywood film producer brought to her interview, and paused. “You’ll never make it.” July was less than a year away, and on-site construction was anything but finished. Walt responded, seemingly amused with the skeptical Times writer, “want to bet on that?”

Setting her practical concerns aside, Disney had managed to pull off herculean feats in the past. After all, he and his partner in animation, Ub Iwerks, created new sync-sound technology for the first Mickey Mouse cartoons. “No,” the journalist conceded. Explaining she “wouldn’t even bet that Walt couldn’t fly without wings.”[3]

All betting aside, it was clear to Walt Disney that he and his startup company, WED Enterprises, could not remain the sole financial backer of his ambitious project. With the latest estimates reaching well over $10 million, Walt’s theme park project needed to attract outside investment in order to finalize architectural plans and begin construction.

Walt turned to his brother Roy for advice. How might WED Enterprises finance and build Walt Disney’s Disneyland?

The notoriously prudent CEO of Walt Disney Productions was previously unwilling to back his brother’s independent ventures.[4] Only this time, all of Walt’s talk about his new “fairyland project” did not scare away Roy Disney.

Next: Disney on ABC. How Roy Disney secured the initial investment that afforded his brother a chance to build Disneyland.

[1] “Officials to See Disneyland Plans.” Los Angeles Times. Jul 08, 1954.

[2] “Chambers Will Hear Story of Disneyland.” Los Angeles Times. Nov 21, 1954.


[4] “1951, Roy Disney pitched to the WDP board of directors an ownership realignment deal with Walt Disney. Roy requested company shareholders vote on whether his brother’s private use of the Walt Disney name and likeness should be considered part of the company’s core competency and therefore owned by the firm. Between 1951 and 1953, the board negotiated a divestment deal with Walt. While shareholders initially held off on approval, the men of the board eventually voted in favor of Roy Disney’s realignment plan.” Begakis, Jennifer. Chapter three: “Project Mickey”; From Divestment to Disneyland.” As CEO of Walt Disney Productions, Roy Disney oversaw the shareholders’ divestment deal with Walt Disney. Divestiture realigned Walt’s considerable ownership stake in the company. Their decision to cease funding Walt’s independent business limited his access to company funds in the future, such as for his latest “fairyland project.”

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