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Disney's California Adventure park opened in 2001 and was the culmination of Disney's determined desire to create a second gate on what was then the main parking lot. After the first proposed location, DisneySea in Long Beach was scrubbed in 1992, Disney executives settled on WestCOT, a west coast version of Disney World's Epcot with its centerpiece being a Spaceship Earth type structure like in Disney World. However, as the recession of the early nineties dragged on, and Disneyland Paris continued to struggle to find its footing with the European market, the $3 billion price tag forced Disney executives to ultimately abandon the WestCOT theme sending Disney's brain-trust back to the drawing boards.
Determined to develop a second gate, then CEO, Michael Eisner ordered a 3-day brain-storming getaway in Aspen, Colorado. Consisting of key Disney Imagineers and executives, the group was tasked with coming up with a theme for a second Disney park. Mr. Eisner locked the group in a cabin, a really nice cabin no doubt, and let everyone know that until a new theme for Disney's second park was agreed upon, no one was leaving. As the creative juices began to flow, a California theme began to bubble up to the surface. After all, California had many appealing theming possibilities, not the least of which California is where Walt built his media and theme park empire.
After 3 days of spirited exchanges, the team ultimately agreed that the golden state of California would be the theme of the new Disney park. With a projected price tag of $650 million, Disney's California Adventure was born.
After five years, park attendance was not where Disney wanted it. Disney executives began to have second thoughts about the long-term viability of California as the primary theme. It was determined the park lacked a connection to Walt's legacy and the amazing characters he created. Moreover, California Adventure's entrance was a bit gaudy feeling more like a carnival entrance than a charming main street. It is, after all, the charm of Main Street U.S.A. that has warmly welcomed tens of millions of guests entering the Magic Kingdom.
It was determined California Adventure needed an overhaul that focused on Walt's early days in Hollywood, along with more emphasis on Disney characters that have endured at Disneyland park for a generation. While retaining its original name, the reimagined California Adventure would also include creating its very own main street aptly named Buena Vista Street. Situated at the top of Buena Vista Street would fittingly be an exact replica of the Carthay Circle Theatre where, on December 21, 1937, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” premiered in Hollywood forever altering the future of the Disney Studios.
A repurposed California Adventure would also need a new land, a big land, one that will attract people from all four corners of the globe on its own. Enter the Cars movie. A perfect movie for a themed land chalked full of enduring characters with enough star-power on their own. Disney executives made the decision to create an exact replica of Route 66 and Ornament Valley.
Cars Land wasn't just another land. In the movie, Ornament Valley was a huge, cavernous desert location with mountainous rocky cliffs that touch the sky. No easy task to recreate to be sure. To build such a structure would take a massive collective effort from an army Disney Imagineers, planners, and builders. On October 17, 2007, Disney announced a five year, $1.1 billion expansion plan for California Adventure that included a new home for Lightning McQueen, Mater and the rest of the Cars gang in a new Land appropriately named "Cars Land." Cars Land would be the largest single structure ever constructed at a Disney park.
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