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Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Look Back and Ahead to the Carthay Circle Theater

Disney Conceptual Model for the Carthay Circle Theater at DCA

Well they couldn't build another castle. When Disney announced their 1.1 billion dollar expansion of Disney California Adventure they knew they needed a signature structure, a park focal point, something sorely lacking in the original DCA. What to do, what to do... The new theme for the entrance of DCA was early Hollywood in the 1920s and 30's when a young Walt first came to town and made his mark. I'm sure imagineers pouring over black and white photos didn't have to look too far before they came up with the striking Carthay Circle Theater in Hollywood. And the theater had a history with Disney because this where Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt's first feature length animated film, made its stunning premier in 1937.

Well now that the imagineers had a structure they had to give it a purpose. This is were it got kind of murky for awhile. The early stories had the building becoming a kind of tribute to Walt Disney, part museum, part exhibition hall for treasures of the Disney archives. A sort of west coast version of Walt Disney World's One Man's Dream. Disney wasn't saying. They let people believe what the wanted to believe, their only commitment was to build the structure.

And then the story began to change. It wasn't going to be a museum at all. It was going to be a restaurant. And I think all but the ardent traditionalists were OK with that. Goodness knows...the Disneyland parks need good restaurants. Besides, when Disney digs down deep, despite the rich history and legacy, few people care about museums. One Man's Dream in WDW is sparsely attended. I remember looking intently and fascinated by the actual office of Walt Disney when it was set up behind glass inside the Disneyland's Opera House but as I recall, I looked at it pretty much alone most of the time as the other people milling around stared into the piece of Disney history for all of 5 seconds then moved on.

And then there is the other side of the coin so to speak. Disney has to actually pay of the DCA expansion. There is no money in people wandering around a museum once they have paid their way through the turnstiles. There is money to be made if the structure actually housed a restaurant. Then things became more clearer. This wasn't going to be just a restaurant, this was going to a high end restaurant, a sort of Napa Rose inside the park. And you know what you need with a high end restaurant? That's right, a cocktail lounge avoiding the use of the word 'bar' for now.

Finally, the DCA revenue stream that is the Carthay Circle Theater (Restaurant and Bar) came to complete fruition. Not one bar but two with one being reserved for Club 33 members at the premium level. There you have it - a high-end, high dollar restaurant, two high price lounges with one tied to Club 33 membership, the money was going to roll in huge on a daily basis.  Ooops, Disney always looking to squeeze every last dollar bill out of your bank account, took a look at the Carthay Theater structure and said to themselves "We've got a second floor, we've room for an outside patio or two. we got a parade that is going to run right out front - let's go for the moon with dining and parade packages. Ca-Ching!!!!"

Sarcastic as I may sound, I don't have a problem with any of this. Most of Disneyland and DCA is for kids. Giving adults a chance to pamper themselves with a wonderful (albeit expensive) meal with wine and perhaps a before dinner and after dinner drink inside a Disney park sounds absolutely wonderful. I'll just have to make sure I get that loan approved before I make the reservation.

The real Carthay Circle Theater in Hollywood.

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