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Disneyland's Old Hands Ready for '86 : Looking Back and Ahead as Fantasy of 1955 Prepares for Record Season

June 12, 1986|PATRICK MOTT

Cora Lee Clines says the biggest problem she encountered when she applied for a job at Disneyland was geographical. She couldn't find it.

But that was in the almost unrecognizable past--by Orange County standards, anyway--when Disneyland was not a household word, Harbor Boulevard was a two-lane road and Fantasyland had just sprung out of an orange grove.

In 1955, you could miss it.

Still, Clines got the job and became a ticket seller. Nearly 31 years later, at age 63, she's still selling tickets.

Clines is one of a handful of original Disneyland employees--who on opening day, July 18, 1955, numbered only 600--who are still on the job. All have seen the park grow from what they describe as something of a disorganized hodgepodge during the first week of operation to an entertainment institution.

Also, in their 31st year of employment, the veterans are preparing for what may be one of Disneyland's busiest summers. Summer traditionally finds the park visited by more people than any other season, but the fact that many American vacationers are choosing holidays at home this year has fueled speculation that Disneyland will be packed with more visitors than ever.

Cautious on Predictions

Park spokesmen, however, remain cautious, remembering when the expected overflow crowds during the Olympic summer of 1984 failed to materialize, apparently scared away by predictions of traffic snarls and other unpleasant overcrowding.

"It was the big bust of '84," said spokesman Joe Aguirre.

Whether the summer of 1986 shapes up as a boom or bust, however, Disneyland's veterans will have seen it before. Working at the park for 31 years makes one tend to expect the unusual, Clines said. But, she added, it was not always so.

"That first day was very confusing," she said. "Nobody really knew what they were doing. I spit in Ronald Reagan's face that day."

That great faux pas , she said, occurred during a meal for celebrities attending the opening-day ceremonies, one of whom was Reagan. Clines was allowed to attend the meal at the Carnation Gardens, and when a friend mentioned that Reagan was sitting behind her, "I just turned around and said, 'Ronald Reagan! ' I'm sure I spit on him accidentally, but he and Nancy were very gracious about it.

"In those days, none of us had ever seen celebrities. I remember seeing Bob Cummings walk down Main Street dressed in a jump suit. I wasn't worth anything for the rest of the day. Now, though, we see celebrities all the time, so it doesn't have that effect."

Clines, who now lives in Anaheim within walking distance of the park, had only been in California for a few months, having moved from Texas with her husband in 1954, when she saw an advertisement for Disneyland employees on television. She applied for a job as an office worker and was asked if she would like to be a ticket seller. She agreed.

The job's benefits and increasing pay have kept her at the ticket booth for 31 years, she said.

Her Second Home

"After a while, it's your security blanket," she said. "There are people out here with two college degrees who are still selling tickets. It's been my second home for a long time.

"I don't think you're aware of the changes out here when you work here from day to day," she said. "But I am sorry I didn't buy post cards over the years that would show how things have changed."

Ron Dominguez's personal post-card collection would have to go back even further. Although he began his tenure at Disneyland along with several other current employees, Dominguez, Disneyland's vice president of operations, can say that he has worked on the property longer than anyone.

Dominguez and his family lived on 10 acres of land on which they raised oranges and which later become part of Disneyland after his parents and 17 other growers and residents sold their land to Disney in the early 1950s.

In fact, the land was Dominguez's first home. He was brought there by his parents only days after he was born in St. Joseph Hospital in Orange on Aug. 10, 1935.

It wasn't until he began attending college in Arizona that Dominguez began to think about a job at Disneyland. He knew a new Disney theme park was being built on the site of his former home and had heard that employees were needed.

"I'd worked at home in the orange groves for years," he said, "but that year I felt it was time for a change."

He worked as a ticket seller at the main gate for two weeks before being transferred to the park's operations division, which is responsible for running Disneyland's rides. He became a conductor on the steam trains that circle the park.

"I ended up getting caught up in the work," he said. "My boss at the time convinced me that I should go to school here locally part time and work at the park part time. It really got me to thinking about my future here."

Enrolled in College

In the following year, Dominguez enrolled as a business major at Fullerton Junior College and worked on "just about every attraction we had at the time."

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