On this episode of WEDWay Radio we revisit the early days of Disneyland and take a look at the first incarnation of Frontierland, in what we are calling 'Frontierland 1.0' which takes its cue from episode 111, Tomorrowland 1.0.
You can easily look at map of Disneyland today and see how important Frontierland is to the theme park. The shops and show-buildings near the fort entrance are well-themed, and the Rancho del Zocalo area is festive and cool. Big Thunder Ranch is a welcome retreat in the back of the land, and Big Thunder Mountain and the Rivers of America dominate the landscape.
Amazingly enough, in 1955 Frontierland was as or more important to Disneyland than any land may be to any respective themepark. Many of us think of Fantasyland as the most important area and focal point of of Disneyland in the early years, but if there is one area that may have stolen its thunder (no pun intended), its Frontierland.
A few things to note anout early Frontierland. Firstly, it was enormous. It was approxamately 1/3 of the entire land of the park. Second, the Disneyland TV show prominently showed Frontierland through shows like Davy Crockett, Texas John Slaughter and Elfago Baco.
In order to really get a sense of the early days of Frontierland, lets take a look at some fo the early attractions and shops of Frontierland:
Davy Crockett Frontier Museum
This opening day attraction capitaled on the success of the Disneyland TV show episodes that preceded the parks. It sat on the left of the stockade gates as you entered Frontierland. If you watch the Dateline Disneyland show, it would be on the opposite side of the camera from where Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen stood. The museum showed a stoic Crockett and Russel (Ebsen) shaking hands with Andrew Jackson. The best part is that the figures were actually MADE OF WAX!! Also included in the area were fake rifles, American flags, and historic art from the wild west/south. The interior was made to look like an old rustic building.
There was also a transition within the building into a coin-operated pistol game area and a shop selling Davey Crockett type merchandise: coonskin caps, buckskins, and other frontier hats and stuff. After three months, Disneyland rebranded the area as the Davy Crockett arcade. The wax figures were moved to Tom Sawyer island sometime in early to mid 1956.
American Rifle Exhibit and Frontier Gun Shop
Opened in 1956, this attraction was located right next to the Golden Horseshoe Saloon. You could easily connect this little exhibit to the Crockett museum, but 56 and 57 guidebooks had it listed separately and then as two attractions respectively.
The exhibit was a display of antique American rifles and pistols, including: Kentucky rifles, muskets, and Colt pistols. Along with the displays the gun shop sold replicas of these weapons to Davy Crockett kids. Today you might still see a sign that references the gun shop, but not the exhibit.
Also opening in 1956, located right near today’s Rancho del Zocalo area of Frontierland, a two-story white building could be found with an exotic display of rocks and minerals. As you walk into Frontierland, it would have been found on your right next to Casa de Fritos, or Casa de Mexicana.
Mineral Hall lived there for about six years and housed the display of fragmented earth pieces highlighted with a blacklight to draw out color for guests. The coolest part about the Min. Hall exhibit was that you could actually buy replica rocks AND blacklights to recreate the magic in your bedroom at home!
Most of this area today is filled with kitchen areas and guest seating for Rancho del Zocalo counter service dining. Parts of the old Mineral Hall were used for offices and other storage areas through the years. If you look hard, you might find an old sign for Mineral Hall in the back of Rancho del Zocalo today.
Bone Carving Shop
The Bone Carving Shop has kind of faded into the history of Disneyland. Essentially, it was a greeting shop located on your left as you passed through the fort entrance of Frontierland from the hub.
Some of the early souvenir books and Disneyland maps described it as a bone carving shop/bone jewelry shop/bone craft area. The shop could be found in the Davy Crockett Shooting Arcade, which was the rebrand of that original Davy Crockett Frontier Museum we described earlier.
The Bone Carving shop was eventually refurbished and lost its place to the Crocket arcade as the attraction eventually morphed into Davy Crockett’s Pioneer Mercantile and then Pioneer Mercantile which today connects to Bonanza Outfitters.
Don DeFore’s Silver Banjo BBQ
The “finest barbeque this side of the Mississippi” - a self-proclaimed title for this restaurant. It opened in 1957 and lasted about four years. It was located next it to Aunt Jemima’s sponsored Pancake House in Frontierland (The Riverbelle Terrace today) during the early years of the park. Originally the space for the BBQ restaurant was occupied by Casa de Fritos which later moved to a prominent location and expanded into Rancho del Zocalo.
Don Defore was a prominent actor on The Adventur of Ozzie and Harriet and played a neighbor to the Nelson’s known as Thorny. The “silver banjo” in the title referred to DeFore’s prized possession. The most amazing part about this little dinette was the fact that DeFore was actually the chef and his brother Verne was the manager.
The silver banjo was eventually shut down and the space was later occupied by the expanding Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen. The front area became the Malt and Cone Shop. In my opinion this is one of the real gems of early Frontierland. This particlar BBQ operation is a symbol of the old days of Disney parks.
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