Windows on Main Street – Harrison “Buzz” Price

| April 23, 2013 | 1 Reply

Walt Disney and those who originally built Disneyland had their roots in film making. Walt enlisted employees from studio art and set design departments throughout Hollywood to ensure his vision for his family theme park was realized. Entering Disneyland is similar to entering a theatre. The attraction posters provide a sneak preview as to what is inside. The entrance walkway was once colored red, similar to a red carpet of a theatre. The names on the Windows of Main Street are the credits for some of the many people who contributed to Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Typically the inscriptions on the windows appear as fictional businesses and often refer to a hobby of or the contribution made by the person honored. Disneyland also has dedicated windows in Frontierland, Adventureland and Mickey’s Toontown.

Window on Main Street: Harrison” Buzz” Price. Image courtesy of Tom Bell.

According to Imagineer and Disney Legend Marty Sklar, “to add a name on a window today, there are three requirements: (1) Only on retirement. (2) Only the highest level of service/respect/achievement. (3) Agreement between top individual park management and Walt Disney Imagineering, which creates the design and copy concepts.”

In my series “Windows on Main Street” we will remember the people honored on these windows who worked to make Disneyland “the happiest place on earth” for all of us. The first honoree in my series is the most recent to receive a window, yet is one of the earliest developers of Disneyland, Harrison “Buzz” Price.

Buzz was born in Oregon City, Oregon on May 17, 1921 and received his degree in mechanical engineering at CalTech and an MBA from Stanford. He was hired by Walt Disney in 1953 to conduct a site location plan and an economic plan for what would become Disneyland.

Buzz Price was the first recipient of the Themed Entertainment Association’s (TEA) Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994; inducted as a Living Legend into the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions (IAAPA) Hall of Fame in 1995; became the first non-Disney employee to be named a Disney Legend in 2005; and received an Honorary Doctorate from the California Institute of the Arts in 2005. Buzz always served as a consultant to the Disney company and was never a Disney employee.

Buzz pioneered the use of numbers to predict the success of a park. He used numbers and feasibility studies to justify his choice of location to build Disneyland in Anaheim, CA in 1955. One of Buzz’ greatest talents was that he could present quantitative studies to creative and artistic people in an understandable way. Walt knew he could use Buzz’ numbers to obtain capital for his projects.

Video: Buzz Price speaks at the 2005 NFFC Convention (Disneyana Fan Club).

Buzz’ feasibility studies showed a theme park in Anaheim would be successful. But since this was the first study of its kind, Buzz wanted to test it out. He went to the 1953 IAAPA convention in Chicago and invited the owners of Chicago’s Riverview Park, Pontchartrain Beach in New Orleans, Cincinnati’s Coney Island and San Francisco’s Playland at the Beach.  Buzz presented Walt’s concept for Disneyland. These amusement park leaders said Walt Disney should keep his money and leave this to the people who knew the business and criticized all of Walt’s ideas. When Buzz returned with his report, Walt said, “To hell with them.”

Left to right, Walt Disney, C.V. Wood, Jr., and Harrison “Buzz” Price share plans for what would become Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

Walt became involved in the 1964 World’s Fair. Buzz was called in to conduct seven studies on the fair. Ford, General  Motors, General Electric and UNICEF/Pepsi-Cola hired WED Enterprises (now better known as Walt Disney Imagineering), which was a separate company owned wholly by Walt Disney, to produce shows for them. The UNICEF/Pepsi pavilion was to be a shared exhibit with joint financing by WED. The deal between UNICEF and Pepsi was falling apart and Buzz was called in to save it and created a new deal package. Both sides accepted the deal and the first “It’s a Small World” attraction was built and became the most successful attraction at the fair. As a result, millions of children have Buzz to thank for “the happiest cruise that ever sailed” and millions of adults have Buzz to thank for the Sherman Brothers’ song.

Walt Disney came to rely heavily on Buzz and would contact him whenever he had an idea. Buzz worked on approximately 160 projects for the Disney Company during his career. One of Walt’s ideas was an art school. He had worked with the Chouinard Art School to provide art lessons to the studio artists and animators. Out of this came the California Institute of the Arts or CalArts.   Diane Disney-Miller said there were two projects left undone by her father’s unexpected death that were dear to his heart, the Disney World Project in Florida and CalArts. Before he entered the hospital, Diane said “Dad had placed a stack of notebooks in Buzz’s hands saying, ‘Here, take care of my school for me!’ Dad knew the hands to place his dream in, that Buzz would see it through … and he did.” Buzz remained committed to CalArts throughout his life.’ He was CalArt’s second chairman and served as a trustee for almost 50 years.

Video: A Tribute to Buzz Price. Buzz talks about working for Walt Disney.

Buzz passed away on August 15, 2010, at the age of 89.

Please listen to my conversation with Sam Gennawey as we talk about Buzz Price and his relationship with Walt Disney on The DIS Unplugged: Disneyland Edition. Sam is the author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City and Disneyland: The Evolution of a Dream, a contributor to Planning Los Angeles and other books and is a columnist for the popular MiceChat website.

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Category: California Events, Disneyland, Events, Merchandise, Photos, Photos / Video

  • Don Nielson

    There are a few items that I believe should be mentioned in relating Buzz’s amazing accomplishments. They relate to the organization he belonged to when all this started, Stanford Research Institute (SRI). It had been recommended to Walt Disney as he was looking for help in bringing his park into existence. It was Buzz who answered Walt’s telephone inquiry in 1953 and by the end of the conversation, SRI had two exploratory projects. It was in this capacity that Buzz, and, importantly, a group of other SRI employees brought Disneyland into existence. The project leader of the effort was CV Wood, who, after the location and business models for the park had been formulated, left SRI to become the first director of Disneyland….a job that included its construction, with all its unforeseen difficulties and pressure schedule. Roy had hired Wood and in light of the difficulties of opening day and a personality conflict with Walt, he was fired soon after. On the other hand, Walt liked Buzz and wanted him to leave SRI and work for him. But Buzz demurred, saying that he thought he’d be more effective working on the outside. Walt then helped him start his business, Economic Research Associates, with 3 years of guaranteed work. That became the launching point for some much following success.

    There is more to the story of the creation of Disneyland but I just wanted everyone to know of SRI’s role in the genesis of this wonderful place and in Harrison’s brilliant career.