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YESTERDAYLAND : Nostalgia: Every change at Disneyland brings a reaction from visitors. Often they are upset by replacement of something they remember fondly from past visits--even if it wasn't very popular. What dooms an attraction? If it isn't moving, it might be moved out.

November 23, 1994|STEVE EMMONS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Peggy Winder, visiting Disneyland from Racine, Wis., for perhaps the 20th time in her 48 years, said something seemed different. But she couldn't put her finger on it.

She searched Tomorrowland's panorama for a clue. Finally she glanced up and saw it. The Skyway, whose four-passenger gondolas rode an aerial cable between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland since 1956, were gone. She was standing on a new patch of asphalt where a support tower had been uprooted only four days earlier.

Winder was angry--no, hurt. "How would they do that?" she said. But what she meant was, how could they do that to me?

"The baby boomers miss these old rides the most," said David Koenig, a baby boomer who grew up going to Disneyland and recently published an unofficial history of the park.

"I was at a Disneyana convention over the summer. The Disney people announced a minor change in Storybook Land--a scene from 'Aladdin' was going to replace a scene from 'Mr. Toad'--and these people started booing. These people just don't want Disneyland to change."

But it has, does and will, say Disneyland planners. Of the 38 attractions operating during 1955, the park's first year, only 17 remain, some in altered form. In all, about two dozen Disneyland attractions have been closed or replaced, but only one has ever been saved by public outcry. Two attempts to replace "Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln," in which a realistic Lincoln robot delivers a speech, were thwarted by what a Disney executive called a "deluge" of letters and telephone calls.

The irony, says Disney management, is that "Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln" was one of the park's lowest-volume attractions and remains so today. People love it, but they don't go to see it.

"It's kind of like music," said Craig Smith, Disneyland's director of attractions. "It's associated with certain things in your life and reminds you of them. I remember when they tore down the Sunshine Broiler on Harbor Boulevard. I met my first girlfriend there. How can they pull out the Sunshine Broiler?!" Smith can answer the question when it comes to Disneyland. What dooms an attraction there is one or a combination of three factors: "being too passive, low attendance or we could put something better there."

But it's not even that simple, he conceded. "America Sings" was closed because it was too passive and therefore poorly attended; visitors merely sat and watched robot animals perform. But still open is "Country Bear Jamboree," in which visitors merely sit to watch robot animals perform.

The difference, according to Smith, is that the bear show is "a critical element of that particular area, Critter Country. We put 'America Sings' in Tomorrowland, and it was a borderline fit."

It is the reason that while Disneyland disposed of all its pony and mule rides because the creatures were troublesome to control, it maintained the horse-drawn streetcars on Main Street. They were just too important to the image, Smith said.

"We like to have things moving. It gives a kinetic focal point. It gives movement to the area. The streetcars were such a key element, they were probably the featured thing on Main Street." Some departed attractions are still mourned. "People always ask about the House of the Future, and they remember Skull Rock and Pirate's Cove and the Mickey Mouse Club Theatre and the Flying Saucers," said publicist John McClintock.

On the other hand, some fall into the good-riddance category as far as Disneyland management is concerned.

* The Flying Saucers, opened in 1961. Great fun. Huge fans blew air through holes in the floor, lifting the one-person saucers like Hovercraft. Riders could steer by leaning, making the saucers act like bumper cars.

"It was my favorite ride," said visitor Elden Buckler, 50, of Wichita, Kan., "but it took forever to get on because it was always breaking down."

The official history of Disneyland declared the saucers a "maintenance nightmare."

"We have to have attractions with good reliability," said Smith. "We have to have operating reliability in the high, high 90 percents. If an attraction goes down, we upset guests. With the Flying Saucers, it was just awful."

According to Koenig, the ride also frightened safety managers. A boom that would sweep the saucers to one side at ride's end was powerful enough to maim anyone who fell onto the floor.

* The Phantom Boats, 1955. You have to be a real old-timer to remember these. They were ugly little motorboats with grotesque tail fins that were even more unreliable than the Flying Saucers. Randy Bright, author of the park's official history, wrote that "each boat that left the dock seemed to have only a 50-50 chance of making it back without having to be towed."

The boats were redesigned after two years, then removed in 1993.

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