Imagineers and Executives Chat About Buena Vista Street, Annual Passholders and More

| July 29, 2012 | Reply

Following the Grand Re-opening of Disney California Adventure, The DIS, along with other members of the online media, was able to sit down with some of the creative teams that made it happen.  With several conversations going on in the room at once, the audio is not “podcast worthy”, but I’ve been able to sit down and put together some transcripts to share with you.

First is an interview with Buena Vista Street’s Senior Show Producer Lisa Girolami and Creative Director Ray Spencer who talk about the creation of Buena Vista Street, then Disneyland Park Vice President Jon Storbeck and Walt Disney Imagineering Senior Creative Executive Tom Fitzgerald talk about Buena Vista Street, Annual Passholders and more.

June 14, 2012
Carthay Circle Restaurant

Q:  The theme of Buena Vista Street is Walt Disney arriving in Los Angeles in the 1920s and Disney fans know about that, but the general public by and large, they don’t understand Walt’s history.  How are you gonna communicate a little bit more of his history through Buena Vista Street?
LISA:  I think first and foremost…there are many people that don’t understand that Main Street is Walt and Roy’s hometown of Marceline, Missouri…but I don’t know that they need to.  Because when you have a back story like we do with many things—there are a lot of people that don’t know the back story of the Haunted Mansion, don’t know the back story of Pirates of the Caribbean. But when you create something with a back story, there is a level and a thickness, as it were…there’s meat to what we’re doing  And I think with Buena Vista Street it’s the same thing.  If you want to get into the levels, the deeper levels of detail…they’re there.  But if you are, for instance, a little kid and wanna just run down the street and hear the music and smell the candy coming from the candy store, all those different things, you have that as well.  So, we, I believe deliver on all different levels, whether you get a little bit or you get the full back story…so, I think that’s why OUR street, Buena Vista Street, compliments Main Street so well and that’s we aimed to do.
RAY:  I think Walt himself used to refer to the four levels of detail.  One is seeing the church steeple off in the distance, then you approach the town limits, then you get to the church, then you go to the front door.  So…we’ve created the steeple, we’ve created the town, we’ve created the front door…and I’m hoping that through the use of all the exquisite materials and all of the different architectural references that we’ve employed throughout: the period tile work, the period art glass work, the architectural ornamentation with the friezes, the names of the shops, all of the Disney history that’s incorporated into that…my thought is that by the time we get to the statue and you read the text of the statue…there’s a powerful story there and it may be that we’re not going to spell out the story literally, step by step, but the goal would be that the inspiration is there and that once that seed is planted, you can go back and find the story.

Q:  Buena Vista Street is certainly an active environment.  There’s the two shows [Five & Dime, Red Car News Boys] that happen in Carthay Circle and the Red Car Trolley.  Was the goal to offer more than just the shopping experience, drive it home as a place to hang out and enjoy?
LISA:  I think that’s always what we endeavor to do. We want you to feel welcome and entertained no matter what you do, so again I think having all that and bringing the street to life…or that first level of bring a street to life.  We salt and pepper it with characters and entertainment and background music…we even have some Easter eggs, I don’t know if you’ve found them on the street, but we have three upstairs windows that have things going on.  We have an eye doctor and you can kinda hear him giving eye exams.  We have a dance class over in the corner by Kingswell Camera Shop.  And we also have an art studio. [LAUGHS] I keep laughing, cause there’s a thing—they bring in an elephant for life drawing and everything goes a little haywire—you have to listen to that.  It’s pretty funny.  It makes me laugh every time.  But, you hear some business going on there.  So, that’s what we love to do—and even things like the catenary lines for the trolley. That’s exactly what you would’ve seen in 1920s Los Angeles.  Different from the streets we have HERE in Los Angeles, you don’t see those anymore.  But that again creates almost like a proscenium and just gives you that feel of what it was like.
RAY:  I think, just getting back to the comfort…the place to hang out—our hub now is, if you’ve noticed, it’s not directly at the end of the street.  There’s a jog in the street and it’s shifted off to one side, and that’s because we don’t have a berm and we wanted this hub to be very intimate and once you’re there, you’re in the Park, you’re not looking back outside, you’re not distracted by other outside elements.  And then the goal with the fountain, the restaurants, the statue, Carthay Circle—was to create a place that would just be a comfortable place to be and to hang out and to get shade and rest and to get grounded and—from a town square/hub point of view, it’s a very comfortable place to dispatch yourself to the rest of your adventures during the day and we really wanted it to have that kind of DNA, not the kind of place you want to get out of, but the kind of place where you feel comfortable being.  So, just from a satisfaction point of view, that was really important to us.

Q:  Where are you at in the process of turning this into the 4 and 5 day resort?
JON:  Wow.  I think we’re always looking for an opportunity to bring guests into the resort and give them an opportunity to stay another day, and I certainly think we’ve done that here with what you see with Cars Land.  I think what we’ve done here…what the Imagineers have done…is just give the guests a reason when they come to Southern California to stay one more day here, whether they’re on a three day vacation and they want to stay a fourth or a five day vacation and they want to stay a sixth, so it’s just a great environment for them.  I think Buena Vista Street, to me, is a great way to bring guests into this park, and you can sit on Buena Vista Street now like you could sit on Main Street USA and just watch the guests come in, and to me, we’ve done a lot of big things around here and it always, for me, comes down that individual guest.  What I get my most enjoyment of—when I’m looking through the Park and I see an individual guest with a smile on their face.  Whether it’s just a small location that we’ve opened, a brand new E-ticket attraction, or in this case, almost two lands…it all comes down to: did we entertain that one guest and did we put a smile on their face…and I can tell you right now, just walking around as an observer here over in this Park, we’ve done that.

Q:  We’ve talked a little bit about multi-day guests, but so much of the demographic is Annual Passholders and local guests, and it seems like there’s been an emphasis to reach out to them and provide entertainment value to bring them back.
JON:  Absolutely!  I think every segment of our guest population is important to us.  Whether you’re traveling a long distance, you’re coming from somewhere in California, or you’re like me and all of you that really are from the local area…either grew up with Disneyland or just come here regularly because you love it.  We take each one of those segments seriously—each one is important to us—and we need to make sure that we entertain our Annual Passholders, because they ARE different than a guest that might go to Walt Disney World and visit once every seven years.  Our Annual Passholders are here all the time.  We have to keep it fresh for them.  We have to keep it unique.  We have to make sure that they’re constantly entertained.  And you’ll see more and more things—I think you’ve already seen some of the special events that we’ve done where you kinda get to lift the hood up just a little bit and we did our celebration for Fantasmic!, so I think you’re gonna see more things like that, that create a rich experience for Annual Passholders.
TOM:  I think that’s another reason for something we did on Star Tours.  When we redid Star Tours, Annual Passholders was one of the main things we took into consideration.  If you have guests coming again and again and again, how do you keep it fresh each time?  So, I think it’s a critical part of our audience.  I think you also see in things like Carthay Circle…putting a lot of richness of detail and putting a lot of layers of Disney in there.  Even look at things like The Disneyland Hotel re-do.  How do we put more Disneyland in there for the fans?  So it’s a mix.  As Jon said, it has to appeal to the audience that comes here that may be coming for the first time and it has to appeal to and resonate with our Annual Passholders and fans that come here all the time that want to see what’s new, what’s new, what’s new.
JON:  And I think actually Carthay Circle Restaurant is a great example, because if you go back early in my career, where guests would come once a year or something like that, they’re probably not gonna devote as much of their time to a meal experience or a restaurant experience like they would today, so when our Annual Passholders come, sure they want to ride their favorites or do some things, but they can afford to invest some time in an immersive experience like Carthay—thirty years ago you probably wouldn’t do, so to me, this is a very relevant facility now that maybe thirty years ago would not have been.
TOM:  And I think the richness of detail in Buena Vista Street and Cars Land—they’re places you want to hang in now.  Just being in Cars Land last night saying…I can just imagine coming here in the summer and just want to be in that environment, with all the neon, and the music and that beautiful rockwork in back, you just wanna be there…and I think Buena Vista Street —I always say I think this is the sleeper, because when you down the street you say…I’d like to hang here and I’d like to have some coffee and I’d like to be over here in the shade of these beautiful big trees…the fountain in the center.  It’s a place that you want to linger in and enjoy.
JON:  I’m a fan like all of you and, to me, one of the things that I always felt intuitively about Disneyland—it kinda felt like this warm blanket that was on you when you came in it was very familiar and now when I walk in here, I get that same kind of feeling that I do when I walk down Main Street.  I get that warm familiar feeling.  It’s just really, really neat as a fan of our theme parks.
TOM:  And when we actually started on Buena Vista Street, we really were looking at Disneyland saying….okay, how does this become the companion, in a sense, to Disneyland?  If that really was inspired by Walt’s childhood in Marceline, this can be inspired by Walt coming to Hollywood…and what does that mean?  So, conversations like…well, what is our castle?  That was probably the toughest thing and ultimately we said well, the castle should be a movie palace, because to Walt coming to Hollywood, that would’ve been the castle in his mind.  Of course, that lead to, well which movie palace…and that to the Disney history…well it needs to be Carthay. It needs to be where Snow White premiered and it’s no longer here, so it’s a part of the Los Angeles story that’s gone and we can recreate that—and then the wonder of Carthay being a shell for a long time, designers saying…what should be inside it?  It went through all sorts of ideas of what could be inside and ultimately deciding it should be a fabulous restaurant and lounge—all the things you see in here.  Some of which I’m just seeing for the first time.  You want to look at everything!  For those who have the true, really hardcore affinity for Disney, to me, this is a fabulous celebration of Walt.

If you enjoyed this chat, be sure to check out our chat with Cars Land Imagineers Kathy Mangum and Kevin Rafferty as well.

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