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The Creation of Main Street USA

The Creation of Main Street USA
Main Street USA is the “opening act” at all Disney parks, being the part of the park guests walk through before going through the castle to the primary part of the parks that includes the rides and shows. It originally appeared at Disneyland in California, and all the other Main Street USA sections or their equivalents are similar to the first one at Disneyland. This is the story of Main Street USA.

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Main Street USA is the 1st “themed land” that visitors to Disneyland encounter when they enter the park. It is located just inside the main entrance of the park. All of the Disney parks around the world have a Main Street USA or a variation on it (as an example, its equivalent at Tokyo Disneyland is called World Bazaar, and is called Mickey Avenue at Shanghai Disneyland). Each Main Street USA includes a train station at the park’s Disney railroad, located above the entrance to the park. The part of Main Street USA closest to the entrance is called Town Square.

Your Guide to Disneyland from INA
Your Guide to Disneyland from INA (from my personal Disney Archive)

The various castles at the various Disney parks around the world that lead into the primary part of the parks that include the rides are all located in the Main Street sections and lead visitors into the magical ride-oriented areas of the parks.

The various Main Street locations have stores, some real, some just decorative storefronts. There are gift shops and snack shops and the like, with names painted in the windows. These names belong to the actual people who contributed in one or more ways to the creation of Disneyland. Most of the names are located on fictional businesses, but some of them are located in actual stores. The names are usually put on stores, real or not, that has something to do with the personal interest of the person whose name appears there. As an example, Ub Iwerks’s name is on a camera store, because Ub was skilled with a camera and enjoyed working with them.

Main Street Parade (Postcard)
Main Street Parade (Postcard)

The original Main Street USA, which is located at Disneyland in California, was inspired by Walt Disney’s hometown of Marceline, Missouri. It was designed to look like the town center of an idealized version of an early 20th century American town. Walt Disney once said of Main Street USA:

ELIAS DISNEY, CONTRACTOR, EST. 1895
Walt, paid tribute to his father with a small sign on his Main Street USA attraction at Disneyland which is still in place today. It reads, “ELIAS DISNEY, CONTRACTOR, EST. 1895.”

“Walt Disney said, “For those of us who remember the carefree time it recreates, Main Street will bring back happy memories. For younger visitors, it is an adventure in turning back the calendar to the days of their grandfather’s youth.”

Above the firehouse in Town Square at Disneyland is Walt Disney’s personal apartment, fully furnished but off-limits to the public. A lamp is kept burning in the front window as a tribute to his memory, except at Christmas when a small tannenbaum replaces the lamp. It is largely decorated for both Halloween and Christmas.

Disney Inspirations

It was really important to Walt for Main Street USA to be evocative of an idealized version of America’s past. At the time Main Street USA was built, that time period was considered America’s “golden age.” To Walt, the warm and happy feelings that this type of place evoked in his guests was central to them being in the right frame of mind to truly enjoy the rest of the park to its fullest when they entered it. Main Street USA was a thing of beauty to Walt.

The Opera House on Main Street in Town Square is the oldest building in Disneyland. It was originally the park’s lumbermill between 1955 and 1961. The cannons that are located in the center of the square are antiques that were originally used by the French army in the 1800s (though never fired in a battle of any kind). The gas lamps that line Main Street USA at Disneyland originally came from St. Louis, Missouri, and are also antiques from an earlier, simpler time in American history. Walt tried to make as much of Main Street USA authentic to the image and time he was trying to evoke as he could.

Walt Disney: Later Years
Walt Disney: Later Years

At Walt Disney World in Florida, there are a lot of similarities, with a few important differences to the Main Street USA. It includes stylistic influences from other places in America besides the turn of the century Missouri and Colorado. There are New England influences, as an example. The “four corners” area in the center of this particular Main Street is another unique difference, as it is a building with a different architectural style on each of its four corners. There isn’t an opera house on the Main Street USA at Walt Disney World. Instead, it includes an Exposition Hall. Like the Main Street USA at Disneyland, the one at Walt Disney World includes both fictitious shops that are merely storefronts and real shops that sell gifts and snacks.

Christmas Parade (Postcard)
Christmas Parde (Postcard)… Disneyland’s guests welcome the march of the toy soldiers, one of many attractions spreading joy and happiness during the Magic Kingdom’s annual Christian parade.

The Main Street USA at Walt Disney World also includes a City Hall with a Guest Relations lobby, where cast members can be found who will give information and assistance with navigating the parks to park guests. There is an actual barbershop there, too, and you can get genuine haircuts at it. A place called The Emporium sells a wide array of Disney souvenirs, including the iconic mouse ear hats. This Main Street USA also includes two sit-down restaurants (not just stand-up snack shops as at the one at Disneyland). These restaurants are called Tony’s Town Square and The Plaza Restaurant. A unique dining experience can be had at the “fast food”-style Casey’s Corner, which is located at the end of Main Street, where one can buy traditional American ballpark food, such as burgers, hot dogs, popcorn, and French fries. Like at Disneyland Main Street USA, the Main Street USA at Walt Disney World has the names of people who were involved in the creation of the park on the storefront windows for both fictitious and genuine stores. There are also statues at this Main Street USA, like the “Partners Statue,” made of bronze, which depicts Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse together that is located in front of Cinderella’s Castle. There is also a statue of Roy O. Disney sitting with Minnie Mouse located near the park’s entrance at Main Street USA at Walt Disney World.  Smaller statues of iconic Disney characters like Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and Chip and Dale, are located there, too. Main Street USA is charming.

About the author

Will Moneymaker

I enjoy collecting postcards as a way to inspire my own adventures. Over the years, I’ve found them incredibly valuable in sharing memories — places I've been and places my loved ones have sent cards from.