Elevation of the first Tower at Disneyland Hotel


 
YesterlandLooking Glass Elevator
to the Top of the Park

Sure, there are a lot of rides at Yesterland Park, but there’s also a ride at the Yesterland Hotel.

It’s called the Looking Glass elevator. It’s a short ride up the side of the tallest building in the county—11 stories. The ride is non-stop. The Looking Glass elevator only has doors at the ground level and the top floor.

On your way up, you’ll have a great view of the hotel’s spacious grounds, its Olympic-size swimming pool, and its original two-story lodgings. Beyond the hotel, you’ll see the parking lot and taller landmarks of Yesterland Park.

Disneyland Hotel
Fun Starts at the Top of the Park

This ride doesn’t open until 4:00 p.m., but when you get to the top, you can stay for hours. Eventually, you’ll need to take the ride again.

You’re a guest at the Yesterland Hotel. In your room, there’s a copy of Check-In, the Hotel’s own magazine. Its cover shows a sweeping vista. Colorful fireworks light up the sky.

Disneyland Hotel
The magazine gives you a preview of the view.

But why just stare at the cover, when you can enjoy the real thing?

San Francisco has The Top of the Mark, the well-known rooftop lounge the top of the Mark Hopkins Hotel.

In a play on words, here we have The Top of the Park.

Disneyland Hotel
Hostess Mary Lewis greets guests as they arrive via the Looking Glass elevator.

You’ll want to dress up a bit. This is an elegant spot. Relax in high-backed booths, sipping cocktails while enjoying a performance by a vocalist, pianist, or small combo. The mood is romantic. But don’t get so caught up in the cocktails, entertainment and conversation that you forget to take in the fantastic view.

Disneyland Hotel
The theme is blue.

You don’t have to be guest at the hotel to enjoy The Top of the Park. Yesterland Park guests seeking an adult beverage come here too—if they don’t stop at one of the hotel’s many other bars first. The Top of the Park also attracts local residents seeking a bit of nightlife.

The Looking Glass elevator makes it all possible. As a prominent architectural feature, it calls attention to The Top of the Park. It keeps the rooftop lounge patrons separate from guests going to their rooms. And it provides a fast, fun way to get to the Top.


Today, with high-rise office towers and hotels throughout Orange County, it’s hard to believe that the 11-story tower at the Disneyland Hotel was ever the county’s tallest building. When the Tower Building opened in 1962, that’s what it was. The hotel had opened seven years earlier with just 104 rooms and no building taller than two stories. Now, with its opening of the Tower Building, the Disneyland Hotel grew to 450 rooms.

Disneyland Hotel
The Tower Building as it originally looked in 1962

The glass elevator on the outside of the tower was a key feature of its architecture—perhaps the defining feature. As originally designed and built, the top of the tower was simple and modern.

Disneyland Hotel
Hotel Disneyland?

A hotel is a business, and it was soon decided that it would be good business to use the top of the tower to call attention to the Disneyland Hotel. After all, the tower faced the Disneyland parking lot. Tired Disneyland guests exiting the park couldn’t help but see the giant, red letters spelling out “Hotel Disneyland.”

The hotel was always called the Disneyland Hotel, but the elevator sliced the front of the building into a narrower left side and a wider right side. The words were placed where they fit.

Disneyland Hotel
The Sierra Tower after expansion and two additional towers

The amount of space for a sign changed in 1966 with an addition to the Tower Building that doubled its width and added 150 rooms. The words of the “Hotel Disneyland” sign could finally be flipped to the correct order.

A second tower—without an outside glass elevator—would be opening in January 1970. The Tower Building needed a name that would differentiate the two towers. The Disneyland Hotel held a contest among its Cast Members. The winning submission was “Sierra Tower.”

The Looking Glass elevator and The Top of the Park lounge lasted through the 1970s and most of the 1980s.

In 1988, The Walt Disney Company finally acquired the Disneyland Hotel by purchasing Wrather Corporation, the company that had always owned it.

As part of a major renovation of the entire property, Disney closed The Top of the Park in 1989. Disney’s plans included converting the top three floors of the Sierra Tower into concierge rooms and providing a concierge lounge on the 11th floor for those guests.

In 1991, the exterior elevator and 11th floor lounge reopened. But now it required a concierge key card to use the elevator or access the lounge. The glass elevator wasn’t such a good thing anymore. For concierge guests, it made more sense to use an interior elevator to access the 11th floor from the 8th, 9th or 10th floor—instead of going all the way down to the ground level first. For other guests, the prominent glass elevator was a bit of an insult—despite the high prices for all Disneyland Hotel rooms, they couldn’t use it.

In 2007, Disney changed the name of the Sierra Tower to the Dreams Tower. The 45-year-old glass elevator still served concierge guests who wanted a quick trip from the ground level to their lounge.

Disneyland Hotel
The former Sierra Tower—renamed the Dreams Tower—in 2007

On June 16, 2009, the Disneyland Resort announced another major update to the Disneyland Hotel:

“Beginning in August 2009, Southern California’s landmark Disneyland Hotel will start a significant renovation project that will include major improvements to its guest rooms and considerable changes to the exterior of the hotel. The hotel will remain open during the renovation, which will be conducted in phases, and is scheduled to be completed in 2012.”

The press release included a photo of how the refurbished rooms would look. There were no pictures of the planned exterior, only these words:

Disneyland Resort’s original hotel, built in 1955, also will experience a noteworthy change to its exterior. All of the three towers will feature an updated look, with large windows that will give the outside a sleek, radiant blue tint. The windows will replace the current sliding doors and faux balcony railings and are specially designed to be energy efficient and to extensively filter outside noise.
“The new design for the hotel’s exterior will enhance the existing towers and complement the resort as a whole. The windows will feature a sky blue reflective glass that channels the feel of our bright California sky,” said Mike Montague, director of resort development for Walt Disney Imagineering.

There was nothing about the elevator.

Disneyland Hotel
The Dreams Tower on January 30, 2010

At the Sierra Tower, construction walls went up. New blue glass and blue trim began to replace the previous exterior. And, most strikingly, the former Looking Glass elevator and its track were entombed in blue material.

Disneyland Hotel
More than just a simple refurbishment

Good bye, Looking Glass elevator.

The wrapped scaffolding was consistent with proper demolition when asbestos is involved. Although there had been no official word, the consensus was that the elevator would not be replaced. It stopped serving its original purpose long ago.

Disneyland Hotel
The Dreams Tower on April 19, 2010

The Looking Glass elevator is now gone.

Disneyland Hotel
The other side of the Dreams Tower on January 30, 2010

Even as the elevator was being removed, admirers of the old Disneyland Hotel on web forums suggested that perhaps a new outside elevator would replace the original one.

The only reason to reinstall an exterior elevator would have been to restore the architectural integrity of the building. However, based on the rest of the work, it was clear that the goal was to change the architecture completely.

In 2011, the tower received its fourth name. It would now be the Adventure Tower.

But one adventure that guests would no longer be able to enjoy would be a ride up the outside of the building in a glass elevator.


book cover
Disneyland Hotel 1954-1959: The Little Motel in the Middle of the Orange Grove
 

For more about the new book above, including
ordering information, visit www.MagicalHotel.com.

Thank you to Donald Ballard for providing the historical images for this article. He’s the author of Disneyland Hotel: The Early Years 1954-1988, one of my favorite books on my Disney bookshelf.
 
Mr. Ballard now has a new book, Disneyland Hotel 1954-1959: The Little Motel in the Middle of the Orange Grove, with more rare photos and new research about the early years of the Disneyland Hotel.

 Book Cover

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© 2010 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Last updated November 18, 2011.

Historical photos and other images from the Disneyland Hotel courtesy of the Wrather family and/or the Wrather Archives at Loyola Marymount University, courtesy of Chris Wrather and the family of Jack Wrather, with thanks to Don Ballard; some images originally copyright Wrather Corporation, which was acquired by The Walt Disney Company.
 
Photo of Dreams Tower in 2007: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of Dreams Tower in 2010: 2010 by Chris Bales.
Photo of “Pardon Our Dust” sign: 2010 by Chris Bales.
Photo of Dreams Tower in April 2010: 2010 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of Dreams Tower with old and new look: 2010 by Chris Bales.
 
Disclosure per FTC guidelines: This article provides favorable comments about two books by Don Ballard. Werner Weiss received free review copies of both books. Mr. Weiss does not receive any financial consideration from Mr. Ballard.