DHS’s Studio Backlot Tour and Catastrophe Canyon is now an ex-attraction. (Photos and video by Seth Kubersky)
The operating day has just ended at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and with it the sun has set on the final day for the park’s Studio Backlot Tour and Catastrophe Canyon. The behind-the-scenes tram tour, which saw its closing day of operations today (Saturday, September 27, 2014), ended its career a pale shadow of its former self. But the tour originally served as the thesis attraction of the Disney/MGM Studios park, much as Spaceship Earth is for Epcot and Killimajaro Safaris for Animal Kingdom.
What was once a multi-part, multi-hour tour that delved into nearly every aspect of old-school movie making had long ago been whittled down to a brief special effects water tank demonstration, followed by a tram ride through the park’s mostly dormant backlot. Even so, there were still glimmers of the epic original attraction to be found along the Studio Backlot Tour, especially in its explosive Catastrophe Canyon centerpiece, which continued to wow guests right up until closing day.
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Not long ago, I was privileged to be a guest on the world famous WDW Today Podcast. I get my WDW news fix three times a week from Matt, Mike, Mike, and Len. The show topic was the design behind the arrival experience at each of the 4 parks. Making a great first impression is one of the hallmarks of the Disney parks. So let’s try and get into the head of the Imagineers and figure out why each entrance is unique but distinctly Disney. If you go to Samland you can see the fully illustrated version of this article.
Welcome to the Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS, formerly the Disney-MGM Studios), the “Hollywood that never was – and always will be” as the opening proclamation stated. Welcome to the Disney theme park version 2.0. You have entered one of the most influential parks in the entire Disney Empire.
If Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris are directly related, then the Studios set the mold for such parks as Disney’s California Adventure, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Walt Disney Studio’s in Paris. Instead of fully realized, immersive environments, with monstrous budgets, the Studios pointed toward a sort of MBA solution – a just in time theme park. Build it small and quickly add capacity as necessary. This solution has influenced the DHS arrival experience.
DHS was the first park built with a bus system in mind. At both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, the buses are tucked away at the side. At DHS, the buses are prominent at the entry plaza and the auto-parking shuttle further complicates pedestrians’ access. Toss in a boat dock and you have an orientation that is not true to north south like the other parks. The entry is at an angle which influences the way light and shadows would fall on the park’s “Main Street” wienie – currently the giant hat but formerly Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
Walking through the main gates is a combination of a Hollywood postcard comes to life and a bit of time travel through iconic Los Angeles pieces of architecture. The Imagineers would tap into the collective consciousness of moviegoers and recreate a glamorous dreamlike vision of the Hollywood. They use real Los Angeles buildings the same way the early film companies filmed throughout the southland.
It all starts with the Pan-Pacific Auditorium. This iconic building was Los Angeles primary convention center from 1935 to 1972. In 1989, just 3 weeks after DHS opened, it burnt down in a spectacular fire. This is where all of the big shows, conventions, the circus, and other exhibitions were presented. The Pan-Pacific Auditorium was a wonderful example of Streamline Moderne and originally designed by Walt’s buddy, architect Welton Beckett.
This is the only park in Florida where you can see through the gates. The train, Spaceship Earth, and the Oasis block your vision in the other parks. The one major obstruction is the tribute to the 1936 Crossroads of America building. Throughout Hollywood Boulevard (and continuing Sunset Boulevard) the Imagineers use a tool called shrink and edit to tell a story. In most cases, they take a real life building and change the scale and some of the detail. In the case of the Crossroads building, it is topped by a 5’3” Mickey with one copper ear that works as a lightning rod. The Crossroads of America complex was one of Los Angeles’s first mini-malls.
Tomorrow you will need to go to Samland and we will push through those entry gates and take a look around the entry plaza.