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The Inn At The Park
“FAMILY VACATIONS ARE INN AT THE PARK”
The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

Inn at the Park brochure, circa 1978, from the collection of Don Ballard

It’s the late 1970s. You and your family used up your ticket books at the park (except for the “A” coupons). It’s been a long day. You’re tired, so you decide to spend the night nearby. You use a convenient pay phone at the park exit to call the Disneyland Hotel. But—sorry—there are no vacancies for tonight. The friendly reservationist suggests a room at The Inn At The Park instead.


You tell her how disappointed you are. You’re aware of the many motels surrounding the park, you explain to her, but you were hoping to stay in a modern tower. You want a room with a glass sliding door opening up to a balcony railing, perhaps with a view across the giant parking lot toward the Matterhorn. You want to travel up to your room in a glass elevator, with a view down to the large swimming pool in a spacious garden setting. And you want the famous Wrather Corporation hospitality for which the Disneyland Hotel is known.

“You’ll have all that at The Inn At The Park too,” the reservationist assures you.

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

The Inn At The Park brochure, circa 1978, from the collection of Don Ballard

500-room tower

After checking in at the spacious lobby, you go outside for a short distance on your way to the tower building. There, you press the up button for an elevator. The doors open, revealing a glorious glass elevator. On the ride up, you look down onto the large L-shaped resort pool.

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

The Inn At The Park brochure, circa 1978, from the collection of Don Ballard

Double-double room

You get to your room. It’s everything you wanted, complete with a glass sliding door and a balcony railing.

In the desk drawer, there’s a magazine—Kaleidoscope, “The In-Room Magazine for the Disneyland Hotel and The Inn At The Park.”

Yep. This really is the sister hotel of the Disneyland Hotel. Both are owned and operated by Wrather Corporation. When Walt Disney did not have the resources to build the Disneyland Hotel in 1955, he turned to Jack Wrather—oilman, entrepreneur, television producer, and risk-taker. And now Wrather has a second hotel serving park guests.

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

The Inn At The Park brochure, circa 1978, from the collection of Don Ballard

Overland Stage Southwestern Grill & BBQ Company

For dinner, you take your family to the restaurant facing Harbor Boulevard. Wrather transformed it into the Overland Stage Southwestern Grill & BBQ Company. The decor captures the style of fine hotels of the Old West. The food is great!

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

The Inn At The Park brochure, circa 1978, from the collection of Don Ballard

Tiffany Terrace

The next morning, you explore the grounds. Jack Wrather recently added a delightful indoor-outdoor banquet facility, Tiffany Terrace, with an amazing stained glass ceiling.

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

The Inn At The Park brochure, circa 1978, from the collection of Don Ballard

“A subsidiary of Wrather Corporation”

Everything around you confirms that Jack Wrather is more than just an innkeeper. He’s a real showman.


The Inn At The Park was only owned by Wrather Corporation from 1976 to 1982. Despite the hotel’s physical similarities to the Disneyland Hotel, Jack Wrather did not build The Inn At The Park. In fact, he tried to stop it.

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

1974 photo courtesy of the Anaheim Public Library, Photograph Collection on Anaheim Local History

Anaheim Convention Center with hotel at lower left, 1974

The City of Anaheim had leased a corner of its 55-acre convention center site to Royal Inns of America. Wrather and other established Anaheim hoteliers filed a Superior Court suit challenging the legality of the arrangement. They lost. In January 1971, construction began on what was supposed to be Phase 1 of a $15 million, 1,000-room hotel with two towers.

The $8.5 million Royal Inn of Anaheim, with a single 500-room tower, officially opened October 16, 1971, after a soft opening the prior month. The hotel had two restaurants—Earl’s Seafood Grotto and Cocktail Lounge and Jolly King Family Restaurant.

Founded in 1965 by hotelier Earl Gagosian, Royal Inns of America grew quickly. By the end of 1971, there were 56 Royal Inns in operation, with more to come. In October 1972, a 400-room, 16-story Royal Inn with a glass elevator opened at Walt Disney World’s “Motor Inn Plaza” (it later became the Hotel Royal Plaza and is now the B Resort & Spa Lake Buena Vista).

Royal Inns of America grew too quickly. By March 1973, the company was in a financial crisis, with a stock price that had plummeted. Gagosian was ousted from the top spot. In April 1975, the company filed for reorganization in bankruptcy court. After more than $50 million in sales, the once high-flying hotel company collapsed.

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

1971 photo courtesy of the Anaheim Public Library, Photograph Collection on Anaheim Local History

Royal Inn of Anaheim, October 1971

The bankruptcy court sold off hotels. In August 1976, Jack Wrather became the new owner of the Royal Inn of Anaheim—the hotel he had tried to stop—with a winning bid of $8 million. Wrather announced plans to invest an additional $2 million to refurbish it. The Royal Inn became The Inn At The Park.

After a few years, Jack Wrather began to make plans for a new hotel on the parking lot between The Inn At The Park and the Anaheim Convention Center. It would be a joint venture with Hilton Hotels Corporation. And it would be connected to the Disneyland Monorail. Other hotel companies also eyed the same location.

A 1979 article in the Los Angeles Times (“Hearing Slated on Anaheim Hotel Plans” by Jack Boettner, Sept. 8, 1979) mentioned the monorail:

[Anaheim Community Center] Authority president Ben Shroeder said the cost of the high-rise hotel will range from $79 million to $100 million. The new hotel could be tied into an extension of the Disneyland monorail system, he added.

The article described the other hotel initiatives—a Hyatt Regency and a partnership involving architect John Portman and England’s Trust House Forte—before describing where the new monorail beam might go:

A Marriott Hotel already is going up on the south side of Convention Way. The 750-room hotel is scheduled for opening in the spring of 1981.

Monorail expansion discussion has centered on a loop from the Disneyland Hotel to the proposed hotel, the new Marriott, and the existing Quality Inn and The Inn At The Park. Public and private rights of way would be necessary.

Anaheim selected the Wrather-Hilton partnership in January 1981. Plans called for the proposed $110 million Anaheim Hilton to be physically connected to The Inn At The Park. But the partnership between Wrather and Hilton soured and dissolved. When Hilton tried to proceed on its own, Wrather sued. The project stalled. In June 1982, the two parties came to an agreement. Wrather would sell The Inn At The Park to Hilton for $19 million.

And that was the end of The Inn At The Park. When the ink was dry, it became the Hilton at the Park. Over the years, it would continue to change hands and change names, becoming the WestCoast Anaheim Hotel and then simply the Coast Anaheim Hotel.

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort, 2015

After yet another new owner in 2005, the aging hotel was given a $32 million makeover, emerging in 2006 as a Sheraton-branded property.

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

Sheraton Park Hotel sign

Today, the Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort looks much like other Sheratons. Somebody at the corporate level must like brown. There’s Sheraton brown wallpaper, brown carpets, brown tiles, brown paint, and brown furniture.

But there are still plenty of reminders of The Inn At The Park and Disneyland history.

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

Lobby

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

Exterior walkway from lobby to tower

The redecorated lobby hides the fact that the hotel is from 1971, but walking from the lobby to the tower requires going outside—a throwback to the 1970s. It’s not something you’re likely to find in newer hotels. The walkway is covered, so guests remain dry even if there’s a rare Anaheim rain shower.

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

Glass elevator

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

View from the glass elevator

The Disneyland Hotel no longer has a glass elevator, but the Sheraton Park does! The hotel still has its L-shaped pool in a garden setting. And Tiffany Terrace still serves as a location for banquets, weddings, and meetings.

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

Large king room

The rooms have been refurbished to contemporary Sheraton standards, with Sheraton Sweet Sleeper Beds and the usual features guests expect at a full-service Sheraton. Disneyland guests enjoy and appreciate themed environments, but the only theme here is generic Sheraton brown. It’s Anywhere, USA. Maybe when it’s time for the next refurbishment, there can be an effort to evoke the happiness of the nearby parks and the era when the hotel was built.

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

Hallways with historical Disneyland photos

There’s some effort outside the rooms. The brown hallways are decorated with historical photographs of Disneyland. In a way, these are Yesterland Hotel hallways.

In the Club Lounge on the top floor, there’s a black-and-white 1971 photo of the Royal Inn—the same photo that’s in this article. It’s a nice nod to the hotel’s own history.

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

Sheraton Park restaurant sign

In August 2015, an out-of-date advertising sign on the ground floor of the tower still advertised restaurants that were no longer open. The Overland Stage Southwestern Grill & BBQ Company dinner restaurant had lasted from Jack Wrather’s time through all the hotel’s subsequent name changes and ownership changes—until 2015, when it closed permanently. Molly’s Kitchen—named after Jack Wrather’s daughter Molly Wrather Dolle, who worked at The Inn At The Park—no longer had that name; it had a new name and a new mission serving dinner in addition to breakfast and lunch.

Absent from the sign was Morton’s The Steakhouse, part of the renowned Chicago-based chain known for it USDA prime-aged steak. It opened on the grounds of the Sheraton Park in 2006.

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

Park 55 Café banner covering Overland Stage sign

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

Park 55 Café

Apparently, the folks who run this Sheraton felt the hotel had one restaurant too many. Molly’s was rechristened Park 55 Café and added dinner service. A temporary banner covering the sign of the defunct Overland Stage restaurant promised a “Historic Diner.”

If Park 55 Café is meant to provide the experience of eating at a diner in the year when Disneyland opened, it fails to do so. There are only some black-and-white photos like those in the hallways. The counter and booths look like something from the 1970s, probably because that’s what they are. So far, the seating, flooring, colors, shapes, materials, lighting, and decor that would evoke the mid-1950s are nowhere to be seen.

Perhaps that’s all still coming—despite several employees explaining that no changes beyond the name and operating hours are planned.

Meanwhile, there are big changes just beyond the hotel, affecting guestroom views.

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

Residence Inn under construction

The land along Katella Avenue west of Harbor Boulevard is being developed more intensely, changing the view from the north-facing rooms of the Sheraton Park Hotel. In 2014, part of the site of the vintage-1961 Jolly Roger Inn became Springhill Suites by Marriott, with a CVS store on the ground floor. In summer 2015, the rest of the Jolly Roger site was in the process of becoming a Residence Inn by Marriott, to open in 2016.

The Inn At The Park and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

Anaheim Convention Center expansion

Immediately to the west of the Residence Inn site, the former Katella Avenue parking structure of the Anaheim Convention Center was demolished in 2015 to make way for a 200,000-square-foot, $180 million expansion of the center.

There’s now very little surface parking left anywhere near the Anaheim Convention Center. The Sheraton Park Hotel still has a large asphalt parking lot and no parking structure. There’s still just a single tower.

The Royal Inn opened with one tower. Phase 2, the second 500-room tower, never happened.

Give it time.

 

Thank you to Don Ballard for the historical images of The Inn At The Park and his assistance with this article.

Two books by Don Ballard

Don Ballard is the author of two books about the history of the Disneyland Hotel:

  • Disneyland Hotel: The Early Years 1954-1988 (hardcover)
  • Disneyland Hotel 1954-1959: The Little Motel in the Middle of the Orange Grove (paperback)

To see rare historical photos of the Disenyland Hotel and to learn more about these books (including how to buy), visit www.MagicalHotel.com.

 

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Updated September 17, 2015.