One of the most beloved aspects of the Disneyland architecture and atmosphere is the sense of realism guests have when they walk into the park. It's something Disneyland has had, or has strived to obtain, throughout its nearly 60 year existence. We all know the story of Walt and how he came up with the idea to build Disneyland. In a moment of aspiration, while he was sitting on a bench in Los Angeles' Griffith Park, he came up with the idea for an "amusement enterprise", as he puts it, where families and children could have fun together. This story has been told and retold many, many times throughout the halls of Disneyland history, and even the bench Walt was sitting on has been put on display at Disneyland. But Disneyland's design is much deeper than just the idea where families could enjoy a day out together on rides. Disneyland was built as a place for families to escape the reality of their lives, and venture off into worlds of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy. Besides these general time and reality spaces, Disneyland was also a place where its visitors could take an adventure through the rain forest and visit main street America at a time, even then, long gone. Walt Disney eventually expanded on his park by building one of the last projects he personally worked on, New Orleans Square.
Disneyland was born to not only entertain and promote the Disney brand, but also born to tell as story and help people escape the daily stress in their lives. Today, as guests enter Main Street, they walk through one of two tunnels. Over each of these tunnels a plaque reads: "Here you leave today and enter a world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy". In order to create, plan and construct Disneyland, Walt brought in his most talented story tellers; up until this point Disney had mostly been an animation studio. Walt wanted his park to captivate his audience, the visitors.
During the early design for Disneyland, a concept for an International Street was created. However never actually built due to financial constraints, International Street was to be located behind the east side of Main Street U.S.A. and would have been filled with shops, dining and entertainment and reflected architecture from around the world. Think of International Street as a small version of what would eventually become EPCOT's World Showcase. Below you can see a 1955 concept model of International Street which was on display at the 2013 D23 Expo. Take a look at the model and the small corners which were created in some of the earliest designs for Disneyland. Walt wanted his guests to forget they were in Anaheim and feel as if they were somewhere else in the world.
In 1966, only a few months before his death, Walt Disney opened the first new Disneyland "land" since the park's 1955 opening. New Orleans Square was a highly detailed area, containing shops, restaurants and an attraction on a scale not previously seen. New Orleans Square was built in a French Quarter architecture style that included wrought iron, balconies, and court yards. The food in New Orleans Square reflected Creole and French influences as did the entertainment. Jazz bands played for diners at the French Market and on the streets of New Orleans Square.
Much of the the ambiance of New Orleans Square remains the same today as it did when Walt Disney and the then Mayor of New Orleans Square, Victor H. Schiro, opened it in 1966. Guests can still hear jazz being played, sample jambalaya at the French Market, and visit the highly detailed and quiet corners of the last remaining inner court yard of New Orleans Square. The area is so detailed, each location has its own address. It was only recently that Disneyland management began to make major changes to New Orleans Square, changes which would begin to alter the most detailed "land" at Disneyland.
When Walt Disney planed New Orleans Square in the 1960's he had two 'secrets' built into the area, one of which is now quite well known. An exclusive members only club was to be built on much of the upper stories of New Orleans Square, and a large apartment would be constructed over the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. This apartment was built to serve as a in-park residence for Walt and his family and would replace the tiny apartment Walt had built over the Main Street firehouse during the initial construction of Disneyland 11 years prior. The apartment contained several rooms, built in a semicircle and connected by an inner court yard. The entrance to Walt's apartment was located inside an inner court yard known as the Royal Courtyard, located at 21 Royal Street. In the years following Walt's Death, the location was used as a space for various businesses and offices. In 1987 Disney opened the apartment up to guests. The location served not only the purpose of educating visitors on the history of Walt Disney and New Orleans Square, but also served as the Disney Gallery, a place where guests could view concept art from Walt Disney Imagineering and purchase Disney art. It was then that the large external staircases were placed over the entrance to Pirates of the Caribbean to provide easy access for the park guests.
In 2007, major changes began to happen in New Orleans Square. Disneyland management closed down the Disney Gallery so that the space could become the Dream Suite, a high-end luxury apartment to host VIPs. It was also used as a give away prize during the 2008 "Year of a Million Dreams" promotion. Within a few years, the Royal Courtyard at 21 Royal Street was converted into a pass-through shop and the gates which allowed guests walking through New Orleans Square access to the area were closed.
The exclusive club Walt built, Club 33 - so named for it's address on Royal Street - took up most of the upper floors throughout New Orleans Square. Club 33 is very exclusive. To enter, one must either be a member or have a reservation made for them by one. Membership dues are (as of 2012) $25,000 in initiation fees and $10,000 annually in dues, and there's a waiting list [source]. For years Club 33 management has been lobbying for more space to expand. In fact, the fate of the Walt's apartment at 21 Royal Street was once debated over as a possible expansion location for Club 33 before it was settled that the space would be opened to the guests as the Disney Gallery.
With the closure of the Disney Gallery and the Royal Courtyard to guests, New Orleans Square has but one last quite corner for guests to enjoy. Located at 27 Orleans Street, the Court of Angels - Court des Anges, remains one of the most beautiful locations inside Disneyland itself. Like the Royal Courtyard, the Court of Angels has an arched, gated entrance, as well as entrances from nearby shops and a large staircase. The staircase in the Royal Courtyard is mostly straight, along the back wall, and served as the entrance into 21 Royal, or the original suite above Pirates of the Caribbean. In the Court of Angels, the staircase is much more grand, with a large opening and gentle curve. The walls contain balconies, plaques and several strings of lights. Halfway up the stairs, guests find an alcove with a statue of an angel holding a woodwind instrument flanked by oil burning lamps. The Court of Angels is a beautiful corner of Disneyland.
UPDATE: The following information has been confirmed by multiple Club 33 Members who cite information disseminated to them during a member only preview. It has since also been confirmed by Disney. Read the comments at the end of the article for more information.
UPDATE (Oct 7, 2013) As of this morning the Court of Angels is closed
I want to stress that the following is not currently confirmed by Disney management, although is coming from multiple, trusted sources who are connected to those in management, including MousePlanet and MiceChat. After September 28, 2013, Disneyland management will be closing the last remaining corner of New Orleans Square to aid in the expansion of Club 33. The Club 33 expansion was confirmed by Disney in a letter recently sent out to its members, but what isn't being talked about is what is rumored to become the new entrance lobby for Club 33, the Court of Angels. One of the New Orleans Square shops, L 'Ornement Magique, will provide as a pass through check in for the Club's members and become an exclusive entrance into the Court of Angels. The back winding staircase, which currently leads to a backstage area behind Club 33, will be reconfigured to lead into the club. I am personally not a Club 33 member, but I have to wonder how they feel as not only is the Club being severely altered on the interior but the lure of the "speak easy" small green door with the number "33" next to it may be lost forever. Behind these massive changes to the Disneyland guest experience is the need for the expansion of the exclusive club's kitchen, which currently shares space with other New Orleans Square restaurants.
The Court of Angels is not just a space for guests to find a quite corner on a busy day, it's also not just a place to capture a beautiful photograph of the area or of your family on the staircase, it is part of the concept for Disneyland and something that was clearly part of the earliest plans for New Orleans Square.
In the video below, Walt Disney introduces us to New Orleans Square. He showcases the atmosphere and music. Pay close attention to the video, as the Court of Angels can clearly be seen being utilized as an entertainment venue.
It is a sad thought to contemplate, but these managerial decisions which result in guests loosing access to treasured and historical locations throughout this particular section of the park is tragic. Management is clearly favoring the exclusive guest over the day guest, for whom admission prices continue to rise each year at a staggering rate. The Disney Gallery, once intended on becoming a private apartment for Walt Disney himself, was closed off to the regular day guest in 2007 to become an exclusive, in-park suite. Very few have since seen New Orleans Square from the balcony, or have ventured into the beautiful courtyard that's hidden on the second level above Pirates of the Caribbean.
So what can we do about this?
If the plans hold true, I really can't see Disney making massive changes to their already developed expansion plans for Club 33, but making your voice heard is never a bad thing. In fact it can have a profound impact on future decisions for the park. While some fans are still recovering from the take over of the Carnation Plaza Gardens, and are clearly upset by the changes that have already taken place in New Orleans Square, it is helpful to know Disney is listening. In recent years, with the explosion of social media, blogs and forums, the Disney community is linked to Disneyland management in ways never before. Disney has addressed various key points in blog posts and on social media when they detect a "fire storm" of angry fans approaching. Most recently with the addition of Starbucks to Main Street and the redesign of the Market House. Disneyland has addressed many of the key concerns on their blog. What makes me personally nervous in regards to the the Court of Angels is with the lack of attention it is receiving from the Disneyland media department. Without reading into the silence, Disney has not publicly addressed these concerns, making for more speculation.
If you would like to contact Guest Relations directly, here is their address:
Disneyland Resort Guest Relations P.O. Box 3232 Anaheim, CA 92802-3232
Other articles recently written on why the Court of Angels is important to Disneyland ... Read them and share them!
- Disney Photography Blog: Why the Court of Angels is important to Disneyland and photographers
- Disney Tourist Blog: The Court of Angels is Important to Disneyland