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Into Land of No Tomorrows : Disneyland to Close Its Skyway Attraction After a 38-Year Run

November 07, 1994|KEN ELLINGWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Disneyland's Skyway, whose dangling pods have shuttled millions of camera-toting visitors since 1956, closes for good on Wednesday--a victim of declining popularity and the demand for workers on other rides, park officials said.

During its history, the 40-foot-high cable ride has carried an estimated 150 million riders the quarter-mile span between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, straight through the Matterhorn. For two generations, lovers have embraced on it and children of all ages have longed to drop something from it. Like much else about Disney, in other words, the Skyway has become a tradition far larger than its function.

"It's like the Matterhorn. You come here and you expect to see certain things," said Spokane real estate agent Mike Chambers, who paused Sunday before boarding the Skyway to scold a Disney employee over the decision. "It's like traditions in this country seem to be going away."

Chambers, who holds annual passes to the park, said his family has ridden the Skyway more than 50 times since 1983. The skyway acts as both a park bench--a place to watch humanity parade past--and a solitary, slow-moving vantage point for scanning the entire amusement park.

"This is not meant to be exciting. This is meant to be laid back, relaxed," Chambers said.

Reacting to news of the planned closure, some residents are rushing to the park for a last ride. Fred Klinzmann of San Clemente said he was 2 or 3 years old the first time he rode the Skyway in the late 1950s. On Sunday, he clambered aboard with his 3-year-old daughter Alissa to videotape her on an attraction she is unlikely to remember. But she was far more impressed with the Lion King parade.

A former Disney employee visiting the park Sunday to take pictures from the Skyway speculated that the park was closing the ride to prevent accidents such as one in April, when a man was injured after falling from a Skyway gondola onto a tree 20 feet below.

But Disney officials said the Skyway's safety has never been a problem, and its closure was simply a matter of popularity and work force needs.

Demand for the ride has fallen off and the 10 workers who staff it will be needed to tend an "Indiana Jones" ride scheduled to open in February. The closing of the Skyway mirrors the closing of "Mission to Mars" and the "Motorboat Cruise" last year following the opening of "Mickey's Toontown," said Scott Swan, a park spokesman.

"It's an evolving change. You look at one attraction and say, 'Its time has come,' " Swan said. "As people have grown up and have memories of the Skyway, there will be a new generation that will grow up and have memories of Indiana Jones."

And at a time when computers and graphics technology are being used to make eye-popping, high-tech rides, there may be little more than quaintness to recommend a chain of oversized buckets that move about as fast as you can push a stroller.

"Probably it's time for a change--I wouldn't mind. I've been on it two times and that's enough," said Aziz Mohd, a tourist from Malaysia on his second visit to Disneyland. "It's not very exciting."

Disney designers plan to turn the Fantasyland terminus into a dining area attached to the nearby Village Haus restaurant. No plans have been announced yet for the station at Tomorrowland, Swan said.

Even among fans of the Skyway, word of the planned changes met with some approval.

"I think they need to improve rides here and get some that appeal to a younger crowd," said Karen Ross, a 23-year-old secretary from Tustin who dragged family members and a friend to the park Sunday for a nostalgic last ride. If they're changing this to upgrade the park, it's a great idea . . . it's kind of sad, though."

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