It would be hard to tell the story of the Disney Parks without first starting with a map. Through the years, maps have served an integral role in Disney history as not only guides around the parks, but also souvenirs, set pieces, and blueprints to the future.
In honor of the 63rd anniversary of Disneyland, we had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Imagineering Archive and take a look at some of the maps that have helped to guide, shape, and tell the stories of the Disney Parks.
But before we jump too far ahead of ourselves, let’s meet Imagineering archivist and Maps of the Disney Parks curator Vanessa Hunt, who navigated us through this journey.
Hunt’s love of Disney began at an early age. “Watching Dumbo, Bambi, Lady and the Tramp – that’s what hooked me on Disney.” As Hunt grew older, working at Imagineering was something she was always working towards, but didn’t think she could do. However, when the opportunity to interview with Imagineering for an internship arose, Hunt took a leap of faith, even though she didn’t know exactly what she was interviewing for. “They told me we were walking to the art library and I kind of blacked out a little,” laughed Hunt. “That was 11 years ago and I’m still here.”
Together, Hunt and the archivist team oversee a collection of over 150,000 art pieces created for all sorts of Imagineer projects, from Parks, hotels, restaurants, and more, as well as a photo collection of over 5 million assets featuring all the Parks from around the world. For Maps of the Disney Parks, Hunt selected most of the pieces to go along with the author commentary from Kevin and Susan Neary. The book offers a retrospective of sorts, taking readers on a visual adventure of the history of the Disney Parks across six decades, and how maps have played an important role every step of the way.
Curating this book opened Hunt’s eyes to the variety and beauty of maps in the Park. “When creating this book, I didn’t realize how many maps there were! When you’re in the Parks, you see maps, but you don’t always notice them cause you’re on your way to your attraction. To really stop and study the maps was something I hadn’t actually done before curating this book.”
One piece that Hunt knew she had to include was this aerial view of Disneyland, created in 1953 by Disney legend Herb Ryman. This rendering was made two years before Disneyland’s opening in 1955. As the story goes, Walt and Roy had to be in New York on a Monday for a meeting with potential investors and gave Herb, an artist known for his extensive research and planning before each piece, just two or three days to pull this piece together! While a lot has changed since this image was first drafted, much of the Park’s DNA, such as an entrance under a train station followed by a hub that directs you to the different lands, is grounded in this early drawing.
Fans can also learn a lot about early Disney by looking at this fun map from artist Sam McKim. One of Hunt’s favorites, this map was a souvenir map that guests could buy in the Park. If you take a close look, it paints a picture of the Disney of the past as well as the future projects being dreamed up. For instance, did you know that there was originally a helicopter pad in the Park? Or that Walt and the Imagineers were originally planning to have areas called Edison Square and Liberty Street? Or that the Wax Museum (featured just off to the left side of the Jungle Cruise) eventually evolved into the beloved attraction, Pirates of the Caribbean? The history lessons are endless!
Even in-progress maps offer a lot of insight into Disney history. Hunt showed us the above Tokyo Disneyland fun map in color study form, produced by Nina Rae Vaughn. As you can see, the map is more impressionistic in style, giving insight into the artist’s work to determine the color and overall design of the map. “For our current artists, art like this is a great learning tool because it’s fascinating to see the process and how these go from rough sketch on tissue paper to a tighter sketch, to color study to final line art for final color, to printed map,” added Hunt. You can see the finished version of the map on the bottom.
The next time you’re at a Disney Park, take a look at a map. Whether you’re a seasoned Park veteran or a newbie rocking their “1st Visit” button, you’re guaranteed to learn something new!
Thank you to Vanessa Hunt and Walt Disney Imagineering for all of this amazing Disney Parks map knowledge—we can’t wait to pick up a copy of Maps of Disney Parks to learn more!