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Charles Phoenix DL Tour of Downtown LA (no pictures)


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  • Trip Report Charles Phoenix DL Tour of Downtown LA (no pictures)

    I don't normally do trip reports, but in my continuing quest to find an "old style DL" experience, I found Charles Phoenix's DL Tour of Downtown LA. Mr. Phoenix has been discussed here many times. He only gives this tour a couple times a year and it usually sells out. Apparently, he's tried to retire it several times, but the public won't let him! There were several people on the tour who had taken it before.

    The group gathers at Union Station, where you check in w/ Charles' lovely assistant, who gives you a monorail (Gold Line) ticket, a tour program, and a nametag. Charles writes your name on the nametag w/ a flourishing calligraphic script and you're all set!

    At the beginning, Charles explained that his original plan was to do a straight historical tour of downtown, but as he started planning it, he realized that most of the stops he chose had direct parallels to the lands of DL! That was the biggest takeaway message I got from this tour: that DL was an extension of popular ideas and cultural tropes of its time. It really put the park in context for me.

    After touring Union Station, we took the Gold Line into Adventureland (Chinatown), a themed environment dating back to the 1930s. That was a surprise. You mean there was theming before DL? We noshed on egg rolls and threw pennies into the wishing well while Charles told us about the restoration of Chinatown's neon.

    After that, it was off to Frontierland (Olvera Street), where we saw three of LA's oldest buildings: a firehouse, a church, and a residential adobe built for the Avila family in 1818. We strolled through the mercado and noshed on taquitos w/ avocado sauce. (There was a lot of noshing on this tour.)

    Then lunch in the 1940's. Yes, I know it wasn't really the 40's, but you could have fooled me. The uniforms, the decor, and the fare at Phillipe's haven't changed since then.

    Lunch done, it was off to Main Street (Historic Core/Bunker Hill) for a look at the Bradbury Building, Million Dollar Theater, and the Broadway Arcade, which was LA's first indoor mall. After that we hopped a ride on Angel's Flight.

    Tomorrowland was represented by a trio of buildings. First was the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which Charles called "a building in a blender." This was followed by a pair of exquisite midcentury modern buildings: the Department of Water and Power and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. It was especially interesting to compare the Chandler and the Disney. Two buildings, built for the same purpose, 40 years apart, both considered the height of modern architecture at the time.

    Then we went to Carroll Avenue to see all the old Victorians. This doesn't really correspond to anything in DL, although Charles did try to call it "the residential part of Main Street." There were a couple of unrestored houses which could easily have stood in for the Haunted Mansion.

    Last stop of the day was Fantasyland (Bob Baker Marionette Theater). Unfortunately, we only got to see an abbreviated show, but the highlight for me was getting a few minutes to speak to Mr. Baker, who as it turns out, did special effects for one of my favorite Disney movies, "Bedknobs and Broomsticks." In the scene where Angela Lansbury's character casts a spell on her clothes to bring them to life, those clothes were all strung up like marionettes and being operated from a catwalk above the set! Fascinating! And we all noshed on cake and ice cream.

    Then our tour bus took us back to Union Station for the end of the day.

    I would unreservedly recommend this tour to anyone who wishes they could have been there for the early years of DL. Not only do you get to see all the wonderful sights and taste the great foods I mentioned above, but you also ride in an old LACUSD bus. There were moments where I really felt like I was in 4th grade again, taking that "let's learn about our city's history" field trip.

    It costs about the same as a 1 day pass to DL and the tour is an all day affair. If you ever get tired of going to DL and pretending to be somewhere else, you can go to LA and pretend you're in DL!
    Disneyland Historic Preservation Society
    Charter Member

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