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Magic Lampless Kingdom

July 12, 1998|Ed Leibowitz

Oblivious to the fact that his city-mandated removal is drawing near, the handsome, chiseled genie of Anaheim's Magic Inn and Suites maintains the same broad grin he's flashed for the past three decades, luring in Disneyland tourists upon his high plume of lamp exhaust. His curlicue earrings and jeweled fez have lost little of their luster; his baggy white pantaloons, as always, seem in need of a good pressing.

Due for dismantling by year's end, the genie will be the last area mascot to succumb to the "Anaheim Resort Specific Plan," a blueprint for Disneyland-adjacent beautification and improved traffic flow. Long gone are the genie's onetime compatriots--the neon camel of the Caravan Motel, the chipper bumpkin of the Little Boy Blue, the gas-fueled tiki torch of the Kona Kai, the lad in a bulbous moon suit rocketing above Stovall's Space Age Lodge. Even the studded globe of Satellite Shopland, which blinked fancifully in its fixed orbit years before man set foot on the moon, has recently been toppled.

Disneyland spawned this strip of tourist motels and stores that materialized in the '50s and '60s among the orange groves. When choosing names and neon signs, developers took inspiration from the kitsch futurism of Tomorrowland or the soothing exotica of "It's a Small World." The old Tomorrowland has been bulldozed for the new; "It's a Small World" seems a gentle relic beside the jarring "Indiana Jones" ride.

Under the onimously named Anaheim Resort Nonconforming Signage Program, approved at a 1994 Anaheim City Council meeting at which the fate of the motel signs was put before the public, the city has funded the removal of all the aberrant neon and fluorescent signs and their replacement by concrete "monument markers." Uniform in design, squatting heavily upon the pavement, the markers are of aesthetic value largely as memorials for the festive signs they have supplanted. On the marker for the Rip Van Winkle, for example, is a diminished, worm-like portrait of the curmudgeon who once snoozed brightly above the motel.

The genie can credit the delay in his sentence to a long-anticipated change in ownership. The original proprietor, Robert Shelly, hesitated in tearing down the beacons for his Magic Lamp and Magic Carpet motels as he prepared to sell them to an Anaheim real-estate concern that renamed them the Magic Inn and Suites.

Jackie Hines, day manager of the Rip Van Winkle, does not regret the snoozer's passing. "The old signs--they just looked tacky," she says. "The new ones are much nicer. They're all matching." But Clysta Keller, former administrative assistant at the Magic Carpet, mourns the decline of the motel strip into a jumble of faceless concrete and stucco boxes. "They all look like one another," she says. "We're all lined up like little piggies in a row."

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