Book Review: The Disneyland Hotel, The Early Years by Donald Ballard

Disneyland Hotel: The Early Years 1954-1988 by Donald W. Ballard. 2005, 136 pages.

Donald Ballard is a historian and author that fell in love with the Disneyland Hotel in the 1970’s. Donald started collecting material about the hotel in 1998 and amassed newspaper clippings, magazine articles, older photographs and brochures. His intent was to write a travel article. Fortunately for us, we have this great reference guide to the Disneyland Hotel.

This book follows the stories of the Disneyland Hotel and the original owners and proprietors, Jack and Bonita Wrather. As explained in the work, Walt Disney spent time trying to persuade hotel companies to build and run the Disneyland Hotel. Finally, Jack Wrather stepped up and supported Walt’s Dream. In one of the few times in Disney history, Jack Wrather was given a 99-year lease on the Disneyland name in association with hotels. He had the ability to create other Disney-named hotels throughout California. He never chose to take advantage of the opportunity.

The book is filled with pictures, memorabilia and historical information. It is astounding how much Mr. Ballard has been able to collect and compile. The book is presented chronologically and follows the major events of Disneyland, as well. The strength of this book lies in its documentation: every stage of construction is followed; every restaurant is noted; room and menu prices are listed; and brochures throughout the years are re-printed. There are an amazing amount of aerial shots and they help provide a sense of the growth of the hotel.

As I was reading the book, my first thought was that it was a work dedicated to Jack Wrather. After finishing it, I realized that Mr. Wrather was passionate about the Disneyland Hotel. He shepherded the hotel for almost 30 years. His wife, Bonita, ran the Wrather Corporation until her death in 1988. The Bonita Tower and the Granville’s Steakhouse was named in her honor. Granville’s is now the Steakhouse 55 and the Bonita Tower is the Wonder Tower.
The changes that have taken place at the Hotel since 1955 are astounding. There is not another work that takes such a detailed and painstaking look at the Disneyland Hotel. The book is filled with a lot of concept art and sketches, photos of buildings, rooms and pools that no longer exist and some very retro fashion shots of guests! You do get the idea that the Disneyland Hotel was always a ore expensive place to stay, but it still had that Disney service and magic. Some of the ideas brought forth in the 1970’s were pretty revolutionary for hotel entertainment: light shows and dancing fountains set to music; shopping esplanades; and revolving dining options. The Disneyland Hotel did its best to entertain and keep guests on property.
I addition to the book, Mr. Ballard also owns The Magical Hotel website and The Original Disneyland Hotel blog. He posts an amazing amount of vintage and rare Disneyland Hotel pictures on the blog.

Bottom Line: If you had the opportunity to stay at the Disneyland Hotel during its first 35 years, this book is made for you. It is also a one-of-a kind resource for Disneyland historians–you won’t find a better historical source anywhere else. In my opinion, though, it is too narrowly dedicated to offer the casual Disney fan a reason to purchase. If you are a completist, though, I would buy the book now. Mr. Ballard has confirmed that there are not many copies left.

You can purchase the book directly from Mr. Ballard.




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