Several months ago, I wrote at length about the problems with the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street USA, and how they can be fixed. One of my throwaway suggestions was to scrap it and rebuild it from scratch. At the time, I hadn’t given that idea much thought, but as I was writing my last blog about a potential new American park, I was seriously brainstorming ideas of how to differentiate it from the other castle parks, and actually came up with (what I believe is) the perfect way to do a “traditional” Main Street for mid-21st Century America.
First, we must examine what makes Main Street Main Street. As described by Disneyland’s park opening announcements in 1956, Main Street is “a typical American town at the turn of the [20th] century.” The primary reason for this very time period is because Walt Disney wanted the opening land of his park to remind him of the downtown he grew up in, Marceline, Missouri (although, actual architectural inspiration apparently came more from Harper Goff’s hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado). Walt was born in 1901, so making the cutoff near that year ensured nothing would be anachronistic — on the surface, at least.
Disneyland opened in 1955, so most of the grandparents and many of the parents probably recognized Main Street as similar to their own. It was a seemingly perfect tribute… in the mid-20th Century. But as nostalgic as the land is, to anyone visiting the Disney Parks today, it is an arbitrary nostalgia, brought on by period movies and TV rather than any actual memories of days past.
Tokyo’s World Bazaar sort of addressed this issue by incorporating elements from the ’20s and ’40s, but even that’s ancient history by now. Shanghai doesn’t even have a Main Street, opting instead for an amalgamation of diverse early 20th century architecture for their unique Mickey Avenue.
This works in our favor. You see, in my last blog, I placed my third North American Disney Resort near Chicago. In order to differentiate it from its cousins in Anaheim and Orlando, I changed up a few familiar characteristics in order to warrant its existence. Being so close to Walt’s birthplace, I decided Main Street in Disneyland Chicago would take inspiration from Walt’s own life, progressing temporally as the guests progress geographically towards the castle.
Follow me, won’t you?
We enter our new park as we do any other: under the train tracks, passing through a train station. This station will be inspired by the ones built in that region during the late 19th century.
We then enter a Town Square from right around 1900. City Hall, Exposition Hall, and the firehouse would be dated no later than mid-aughts. The first row of storefronts facing the entrance, including the Emporium, would all be based on buildings from 1910 and into the teens. As you walk down the street, the buildings on either side would start to resemble the ’20s.
Disneyland has two side streets at this corner (Magic Kingdom used to, but one side was closed up to extend the Emporium). DCHI (I’m pronouncing that “dee-chee”) would too, but the castle-facing sides of both streets would have a 1930s vibe, with the entrance-facing side being more ’40s themed. While the 1950s line façades of upper Main Street, the final row of buildings, adjacent to the Hub, would be straight out of the ’60s, maybe with a classic steel diner for Casey’s Corner.
Why stop at the ’60s, you ask? A few reasons. As I’ve said before, Main Street is about nostalgia, and the 1960s is the least recent decade most adults are nostalgic about. Secondly, too much later, and we risk losing that retro atmosphere, and becoming too modern.
The third reason is directly inspired by the hypothetical park’s proximity to Walt Disney’s former home. Walt lived from 1901 to 1966. This places Main Street USA somewhere within his lifetime at all times. Whether the hometown corner store from his childhood, or the roadside diner where he might have bought his weenies, everything on Main Street should look familiar to Walt Disney himself.
Everything would modernize as you walked right down the middle, from gas lamps turning into electric streetlights. The signs would go from hand carved, to stenciled, to mass produced, to neon. Even the businesses could modernize, with old-timey offerings like the barbershop and chapeau nearest Town Square, and plastic toys and home media closest to the Hub.
Perhaps Disneyland’s never built Edison Square could branch off the west side street, leading to a refurbished Carousel of Progress. This walkway could lead to another walkway into the 1800s-themed Frontierland (or whatever period locale exists in that area).
The East side could house a modern recreation of the Carousel’s futuristic sequel, Horizons, and let guests out in Tomorrowland (or whatever future-based area would be present). This creates a clear passage of time in both directions.
There are so many other time-based themes that could be played with. The Main Street Arcade, located in the southeast building, could have vintage penny machines up front for looks, with pinball machines in the middle, classics like Space Invaders and Donkey Kong would be hidden in the back, with typical modern Disney Resort arcade offerings like Mario Kart, Guitar Hero, and Dance Dance Revolution (no, Exceed does not count) lining the back walls.
The Emporium could offer more era-appropriate products near the entrance, like clothing and kitchenware, and near the castle end, guests could find movie, music, and video game media, and more recent Disney acquisition merchandise like Star Wars and Marvel.
You get the idea. It’s a little high-concept, I admit, and probably difficult to maintain, especially as the park adapts and evolves. But this is just me dreaming out loud, which — let’s be honest — is what built the Disney Parks in the first place.