Yester California Adventure at Yesterland

DCA Then & Now, Part 2:

Around Condor Flats

at Golden State land

Today, in the second of a series of Disney California Adventure “then and now” comparisons, Yesterland looks at Condor Flats. It’s the least changed part of Disney California Adventure—even though it fails to deliver its theme.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, September 20, 2013.


Located within the Golden State land, Condor Flats is themed as a high-desert airfield dedicated to the wonder and ingenuity that helped spawn California’s legendary aviation industry—from [the] age of the first hand-made flying contraptions to the space age.

— Disneyland Resort website, early 2001

A high-desert airfield, such as Edwards Air Force Base, is a wide-open expanse of flat ground with isolated structures. Condor Flats, despite having aircraft hangars and rocket engines, feels more like a narrow mountain valley than a desert airfield.

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 2

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

Entrance to Condor Flats from Sunshine Plaza (2001)

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 2

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Entrance to Condor Flats from Buena Vista Street (2013)

Comparing the first two photos, the immediate difference is that the entrance to Condor Flats lost its main sign but gained a churro stand. A closer look reveals that the lettering on the debris barrier was originally “Condor Flats Flight Test Center,” but is now just “Condor Flats.” Also, there’s a planter in front of the debris barrier and the trees have grown.

On the sign in the first photo, notice that a Bell X-1 rocket plane casts a shadow of a California condor. We’ll see another Bell X-1 later.

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 2

Photo by Ian Parkinson, 2001

“Airfield runway” through Condor Flats (2001)

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 2

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

“Airfield runway” through Condor Flats (2013)

No. The stripes on the ground are not a pedestrian crosswalk. Stripes mark the beginning and end of the airfield’s runway.

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 2

Photo by Ian Parkinson, 2001

Taste Pilots’ Grill (2001)

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 2

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Taste Pilots’ Grill (2013)

Since the park opened, Taste Pilots’ Grill has been serving burgers, fries, and other popular American fast food—presumably just like what test pilots eat. The eatery’s name is part of the dwindling list of puns that were once pervasive in the park.

In 1946, Air Force Captain Charles “Chuck“ Yeager broke the sound barrier with a Bell X-1. The exterior originally had a Bell X-1 breaking through a cartoon-like explosion (apparently representing the sound barrier) in the front of the hangar. This decoration contributed nothing to making the airfield feel real to guests. The Taste Pilots’ Grill hangar looks more authentic without it.

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 2

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2002

“Airfield runway” toward Sunshine Plaza (2002)

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 2

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

“Airfield runway” toward Carthay Circle Theatre and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (2013)

When the The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was built, the Condor Flats runway pointed directly at the damaged hotel tower. To some Disney fans, it suggested airplanes flying into the tower—a terrible thought in the aftermath of 9-11.

Now, the Carthay Circle Theatre is between the runway and the Tower of Terror.

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 2

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2002

Soarin’ over California “hangar” (2002)

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 2

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Soarin’ over California “hangar” (2013)

On opening day in 2001, California’s California Adventure officially had four lands:

  • Sunshine Plaza
  • Golden State
  • Paradise Pier
  • Hollywood Pictures Backlot

But one of these lands, Golden State, officially had six districts:

  • Grizzly Peak Recreation Area
  • Bountiful Valley Farm
  • Pacific Wharf
  • Condor Flats
  • The Bay Area
  • Golden Vine Winery

Golden State never made much sense as a land. Considering that Golden State means California, and the whole park was supposed to be about California, it meant there was a land featuring multiple parts of California in a park featuring multiple parts of California—one super-land and three other lands that somehow did not qualify to be part of the Golden State, despite also representing California.

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 2

Photo by Ian Parkinson, 2001

Fly’n’Buy (2001)

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 2

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Fly’n’Buy (2013)

Now Disney California Adventure has eight lands—and no districts:

  • Buena Vista Street
  • Hollywood Land
  • “a bug’s land”
  • Pacific Wharf
  • Cars Land
  • Paradise Pier
  • Grizzly Peak
  • Condor Flats

The former Bountiful Valley Farm has been split up between “a bug’s land” and Cars Land. The former Bay Area has been split up between Paradise Pier and Grizzly Peak. Golden Vine Winery is now part of Pacific Wharf.

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 2

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2002

Rocket engine test structure (2002)

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 2

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Rocket engine test structure (2013)

Condor Flats has changed little since the park opened. It lacks charm and authenticity. There’s a lot of concrete pavement. The structures look industrial.

Condor Flats had the good fortune of being home to the biggest “hit” attraction of the new park—Soarin’ Over California. Even then, it has been the attraction experience that has been wowing guests, not the hangar that houses the theaters.

The Imagineers who gave us Buena Vista Street, Cars Land, and enhancements to Paradise Pier did a spectacular job. Let’s hope there will an appropriate budget for another phase soon.

Absorbing Condor Flats into Grizzly Peak seems like the obvious answer. The peak already forms one side of Condor Flats. A hang glider attraction (Soarin’ Over California) has a greater connection to a mountain resort than to the desert airfield.

Please dump the airfield theme. It doesn’t work. And that means no theming the area to Disney’s Planes.


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DCA Then & Now, Part 3
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Updated October 18, 2013.