Real Buildings that Inspired Disney-MGM Studios, Part 1 IMAGINEERING
The buildings at Disney-MGM Studios (soon to become Disney’s Hollywood Studios) look authentic because they’re based on real buildings in and near the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. For this article, I picked five buildings at the Studios park in Florida and photographed their Los Angeles counterparts in November 2007. Look at the pictures closely. The Disney buildings aren’t exact replicas of the originals.
Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, November 16, 2007    
Main Street Hotel at Disneyland
Disney: Crossroads of the World, entrance to Hollywood Boulevard

As guests pass through the turnstiles of Disney-MGM Studios, one of the first landmarks they see is Crossroads of the World, an eye-catching tower topped by Mickey Mouse. At its base, cast members sell souvenirs and pins, while they dispense information and guide maps. Most guests probably don’t realize that Crossroads of the World is also a real place in Hollywood, California—although without Mickey Mouse on top.

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The inspiration: Crossroads of the World, 6671 Sunset Boulevard

The real Crossroads of the World, designed by Robert V. Derrah, was built in 1936. It’s not just a tower with a pin shop at the base. It’s an open air mall, sometimes credited as “L.A.’s first modern shopping mall.” And it’s a collection of themed architecture, including Spanish colonial, Italian, Mexican, Turkish, New England, French, and Tudor—a precursor of Disney theme park architecture. The tower is part of a structure that looks like a ship, with portholes and ship’s railings, suggesting an ocean liner passing through the cultures of the world. You can visit Crossroads of the World, but don’t come here expecting to shop. It’s now a business office complex—just one that’s far more interesting to look at than a typical professional building.

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Disney: Mickey’s of Hollywood on Disney’s Hollywood Boulevard

Guests enter the Mickey’s of Hollywood shop through a distinctive corner portal. Mickey’s of Hollywood serves a function similar to the Emporium on Main Street at Disneyland. It’s the place to shop for souvenirs, Disney clothing, plush, and toys—especially before exiting from the park. The position on the street is also similar to the Emporium. The store looks small from the outside, but it actually continues behind several different façades.

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The inspiration: Baine Building, 6601 Hollywood Boulevard

In Hollywood, Col. Harry M. Baine, the businessman who originated the Hollywood Christmas Parade, build the Baine Building in 1926. The architecture firm of Gogerty and Weyl designed it in a Spanish Colonial Revival style. Today, its distinctive corner portal at Hollywood Boulevard and Whitley Avenue serves as the entrance to the Station Food Market. Rizza Pizza faces Hollywood Boulevard. The upper floors are offices. It’s still a good-looking building, but it’s not as fancy as the Disney version in Florida.

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Disney: Another façade of Mickey’s of Hollywood

Mickey’s of Hollywood continues behind a black-and-gold façade with zigzag ornamentation. It’s a smaller version of a landmark bank building in California.

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The inspiration: Former bank, 5209 Wilshire Boulevard

Security-First National Bank of Los Angeles built this stunning black-and-gold terra cotta bank branch in 1929 on Los Angeles’s Miracle Mile. The bank hired the architecture firm of Morgan, Walls and Clements, the same firm that designed the even-more-stunning black-and-gold terra cotta Richfield Tower in downtown Los Angeles around the same time. Sadly, the Richfield Tower was demolished in 1969 to become the site of ARCO Plaza. Fortunately, the former Security-First National Bank didn’t suffer a similar fate. It now houses Southland Publishing, which publishes the newspaper Los Angeles CityBeat. The Security-First National Bank building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

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Disney: Disney & Co. on Disney’s Hollywood Boulevard

Disney & Co. is the fourth continuation of Mickey’s of Hollywood along Disney’s Hollywood Boulevard. (Pluto’s Palace Gifts, not included in this article, is the third.) When Disney-MGM Studios opened in 1989, Disney & Co. was a brand name for Disney tee shirts and ready-to-wear. The corner location called for another corner landmark. This time, the Walt Disney Imagineers were inspired by a little-known building.

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The inspiration: 6424 Santa Monica Boulevard (at Cole Avenue)

In Hollywood, this streamline moderne building still sits at the southeast corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Cole Avenue. It’s in a neighborhood of businesses supporting the movie industry, such as post-production houses. There’s not even a sign on the building. While the other buildings in this article are well-known and well-documented, this building isn’t.

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Disney: Celebrity 5 & 10 on Disney’s Hollywood Boulevard

Celebrity 5 & 10 is across Hollywood Boulevard from Disney & Co. It’s another place for guests to buy Disney merchandise. The term “5 & 10” harkens back to the era when dime stores and variety stores such as S.H. Kress, J.J. Newberry, and F.W. Woolworth were the everyday retail mainstays of cities and towns throughout America. These days, guests will need a lot of nickels and dimes to pay for purchases at Celebrity 5 & 10. For design inspiration, the Imagineers looked to an actual variety store in the actual Hollywood.

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The inspiration: Former J.J. Newberry, 6600 Hollywood Boulevard

The J.J. Newberry Company’s own architects designed the turquoise-and-gold 1928 building. The store is located across the street from the Baine Building. It seems the Walt Disney Imagineers liked the design of the old J.J. Newberry store—now Hollywood Toy & Costume—but found the color palette to be inappropriate for their Hollywood Boulevard. So they changed it.

This article is about the care that the Walt Disney Imagineers put into their Hollywood Boulevard, which ultimately means that guests are immersed in a believable streetscape of another place and time. There’s even a magnificent full-size replica of the front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre at the end of their Hollywood Boulevard. Too bad the view is blocked by an immense, utterly-out-of-place Sorcerer Mickey hat. But that’s another story.

Buildings that Inspired MGM, #2
Goodbye, Old Jungle Cruise

© 2007-2008 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated October 30, 2009.

Photo of Crossroads of the World at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of Crossroads of the World in Los Angeles: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of Mickey’s of Hollywood Spanish Colonial façade at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of 6601 Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of Mickey’s of Hollywood black façade at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of 5209 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of Disney & Co. at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of 6424 Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of Celebrity 5 & 10 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of 6600 Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles: 2007 by Werner Weiss.