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The Day Walt Disney Visited the Boardwalk

The Boardwalk
The Boardwalk’s Autorama ride, 1975

When Disneyland opened in 1955, Tomorrowland boasted the Autopia Ride, a self-driven turnpike for kids of all ages. The cars were outfitted with bumpers, but they were plagued by collisions and occasionally jumped the curb that centered them on the roadway. When the Boardwalk’s Autorama ride opened in 1961, in addition to front and rear bumpers, our cars also had a center guide rail to control the cars steering range. Our ride was built by Arrow Development Company of Mountain View, CA. Arrow innovated amazing new ride concepts that helped make Disneyland such a novel amusement park back in the day.

Maintenance Superintendent Bill Fravel (far left in plaid), Tom Cutting (back to camera), Walt Disney (center with cigarette), Admiral Joe Fowler (right of Disney), Ed Morgan (far right). Disney visited the Boardwalk in 1963 for a look at the guidance sys

On the morning of Saturday, March 9, 1963, Walt Disney and several of his staff, along with reps from Arrow Development, came to inspect our auto ride. Ed Morgan of Arrow Development educated Walt on our safety design and Mr. Disney subsequently took a ride. He must have been impressed, because two years later Disneyland’s Autopia had a center guide rail.

Walt Disney was recognized by Boardwalk guests that day, and it was reported that he graciously signed some autographs. Now is where the story gets personal for me. I knew Walt Disney was coming that day and I was working alone in a food concession in the Bright Spot building, very near the Autorama ride. I saw an entourage of people coming down the Boardwalk to the ride. I could make out an individual who appeared to be Walt Disney and I was satisfied I had seen him, if only at a distance.

The Bright Spot building, 2013
The Bright Spot building, 2013

When the ride inspection was complete, Seaside Company management planned to take Mr. Disney and his staff to lunch at a nice restaurant. When that offer was made, Disney suggested that they just get a hamburger, or something quick nearby, and they would be on their way. The nearby place they chose was where I was working…by myself! While I was still preparing for the day, a half dozen or so men suddenly appeared at my counter, and there before me was Walt Disney!

Building Construction
The Bright Spot building and construction of the Autorama and Cave Train complex at the river end of the Boardwalk, 1960

I nervously took orders from each person, calling for help at some point. I prepared the hamburgers, fries, shakes, coffee and whatever else had been requested, and one by one each was served. As I passed Mr. Disney his order, he thanked me and shook my hand. Wow! I say to this day, it was the best hamburger I ever made!

Disney’s visit to the Boardwalk is a little known event in our history, but it rests vividly in my memory. I described my encounter in more detail in an interview for a documentary that was recently made about Arrow Development. Here’s a link to that interview.


There have been other well-known personalities who have visited the Boardwalk over the years. It would be fun to hear about your surprise encounter with a famous character during one of your visits to the ‘walk.

‘til next time!


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