Sleeping Beauty Castle Blueprint (1955)

This original blueprint was used in the construction and installation of Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, prior to the park’s Summer 1955 opening.

From the early stages of planning and development of Disneyland, Walt knew he wanted a castle-centerpiece, fantasy and fairy-tale elements playing an integral role in many of the studio’s animated films—both shorts and feature-length. In 1953, he hired successful Hollywood art director Marvin Davis to work closely with him on the conceptualization, layout, and architecture of his most ambitious and multi-faceted project to date. Davis’ team (which included his eventual wife, Marjorie Cottrell) researched the castles of Western Europe until finding a look and style that fit Walt’s vision in the German-built Neuschwanstein Castle.

It was not the first time, however, that Disney had laid eyes on this architectural marvel, which had graced the Bavarian countryside since the late nineteenth-century. During his stint as a Red Cross ambulance driver in France during World War I, Disney had befriended Roland E. Hill, a fellow driver and artist with a sketch-book full of French and German castles he’d drawn during his time in Europe, most notably Neuschwanstein. After the war, the two would stay in contact, Disney using Hill as an architectural-design consultant on several of his films, and later tasking him with the design of Sleeping Beauty Castle itself.

The Disneyland version, though based on the real-life Neuschwanstein, is scaled down considerably, thanks in part to artist Herb Ryman’s interpretations in his early concept work. Ryman favored a more charming, guest-friendly version, as opposed to the lofty, towering presence of the original. Though, Hill’s incorporation of forced perspective into the castle’s design renders a structure that looks and feels much larger than its 77-foot stature.

Richard Irvine and Bill Martin were two more key designers, who like Davis had migrated from 20th Century Fox, and ended up contributing substantially to not only the castle project, but the park as a whole. It was Irvine and Davis who happened to be present for a pivotal moment in the castle’s evolution from concept to reality. The two of them, plus Herb Ryman, had brought the most recent 3D-model of the castle—based on Ryman’s concept artwork and designed by Fred Joerger—to Walt’s office for review. While waiting on the boss, Ryman famously flipped the model around, insisting that the back looked better as the front, and vice versa. Irvine and Davis told him to set the castle right before Walt arrived, to no avail however as the studio head came strolling in, only to side with Ryman that the castle indeed looked better backwards. He also ended up selecting Ryman’s pastel color-scheme as the castle headed into the final stages of design.

One final detail that Walt insisted on was adding a touch of royalty by covering the castle spires in 22k gold leaf. Knowing that his brother Roy, who handled the company’s finances, would never agree, he waited until the elder Disney went out of town, then OK’d the expense.

Though the park would have its hiccups on that mid-July day in 1955 when it first opened its gates to the public, Walt and the number of talented individuals involved in helping make his dream a reality saw to it that the iconic symbol of Disneyland—Sleeping Beauty Castle—stood proud and tall as the drawbridge was lowered and hundreds of excited children flooded through its archways for the first time.

This particular blueprint, drawn by H. Edmondson, is entitled “Full-Size Detail #10B.” Numbered “A26A,” this 42” x 30” sheet depicts the measurements and layout of one of the castle’s column bases. There is an ink date-stamp denoting the blueprint was received on-site at Disneyland on February 14, 1955—just over five months before opening day. The informational box in the right-hand corner shows that two days earlier designers Bill Martin and Richard Irvine had approved the blueprint, as indicated by their signatures. Design credit is given to WED Enterprises, the independent company started by Walt, which housed much of the design and engineering work for Disneyland, and which would later become Walt Disney Imagineering.

This extremely rare artifact from the 1955 Disneyland construction site, used in the production of what has since become the most recognizable castle in the world, represents the physical manifestation of Walt’s wildest dreams. The opening of his park, and the castle which would forever symbolize “The Happiest Place on Earth,” signified an unparalleled achievement that would set the standard for themed entertainment from that day forward.


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