The 1950s: From Frontierland to Tomorrowland

     A Magical Little Theme Park

In 1955, Walt Disney’s dream of a land where families could enjoy his creations finally became a reality. It is safe to say that Orange County would never have been what it is today without that little mouse and his kingdom. The magnitude of Disneyland’s reach across the world and the interest in Mickey, himself, put Orange County on every map.

  Orange County’s population exploded in the 1950s. The County began a new role as part of the metropolitan empire that is Southern California. Trademark Orange trees were felled as subdivisions spread south following the ever-extending freeway tentacles. Suburban residential developments and multi-million dollar industrial plants became commonplace. Houses were being built in areas that were months ahead of the installation of streets, sidewalks, sewers, gas, and water lines.

  Much of the growth of Orange County came from Los Angeles, where established industries were looking to expand. Orange County provided them with inexpensive land, good transportation systems and conveniently located schools and recreation areas in exchange for a prospering community. Freeways made rapid automobile transportation possible, beginning with the Santa Ana Freeway, which eventually led right to Disneyland’s front door.

  The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 gave additional fuel to the industrial growth, as war plants that had been somewhat dormant since World War II were being re-opened. By the time the Korean conflict ended in 1953, the momentum created by military activity could not be stopped. The land boom was in full swing and the citizens of Orange County were left breathless in an attempt to keep up with the pace at which the County was moving.

  Hard to believe, but “Fantasyland” and “Frontierland” were not the only cultural headlines during the time. Good Ol’ Charlie Brown entered the American culture as Charles Schulz created the legendary comic strip “Peanuts” in 1950. Earl Warren was elected California governor for an unprecedented third term in that same year. The Californian redwood was designated the state tree and the grizzly bear named the state animal. Fullerton resident Leo Fender introduced the Broadcaster, the first mass-produced solid-body electric guitar, which was the forerunner for the instruments that defined the sound of rock-n-roll.

  The Orange County Courthouse, now half a century old, continued to make history. Just 50 years before, ten lawyers had met in the then newly dedicated courthouse to form the Orange County Bar Association. At that time, Santa Ana could not even boast of a paved street or working electricity. But, in 1951, the Court was the site of P.V. McCracken, the first murder trial of which portions were televised. To add to the growing resume of this Courthouse, Richard Nixon, Dwight Eisenhower’s vice-presidential running mate, made a campaign visit and held a rally there in October of 1952. Needless to say, Eisenhower went on to be the President for the remainder of the decade.

  The Orange County Bar Association (OCBA) continued to thrive. With the growth of the County came unparalleled opportunity for those in the legal community. Demographic and economic changes fostered expansion into the developing areas of law. Firms increased their size and their client base as corporate business moved into town along with high-tech firms specializing in manufacturing and research.

  As we struggled to do what we thought was right in this post-war boom, there were times that our efforts proved to be misguided. Unfortunately, a fear existed within the country at that time that led the bar’s Executive Committee to make a chilling recommendation in May of 1953. For purposes of screening new applicants to the Bar, the perspective member would be asked to answer a questionnaire that would include these questions: “Are you now, or have you ever been a member of any subversive organization;” “Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party;” “Have you ever held any position in any Communist Front Organization;” “Have you subscribed to the Daily People’s World; and “Are you willing to take a loyalty oath?”

“The Mouse That Roared… into Orange County”

  Just about the time that The Tonight Show premiered on television with Steve Allen in 1954, our Bar members were beginning to understand just what was happening in the town of Anaheim. Suddenly the snow capped Matterhorn could be seen from miles away raising up into the sky, and a parking lot the size of Vermont was being paved.

  Disneyland opened its doors July 17, 1955. Thousands of invited guests attended the opening ceremonies, complete with throngs of news media and countless celebrities. In his dedication speech, Walt Disney said: “To all who come to this happy place, welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts which have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”

  With those words, an amusement park, in the once sleepy town of Anaheim, stepped onto the world stage. Orange County, and millions of children, would never be the same.

  Originally, Walt Disney envisioned that his “magical little theme park” would be located on eight acres near his Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. But, his dream no longer fit the site — so in early 1954 he purchased a 180-acre tract of orange groves in Anaheim. Many did not believe that Disney’s idea would ever come to life. Amusement park owners and operators thought the idea of a park with a theme would never be successful; bankers did not think the plan was feasible; and some folks in show business just did not understand Disney’s vision.

  Even Orange County had its doubts about the opening of Disneyland. Many people questioned the park’s possible effects on Anaheim… How crowded would the city become? Could the city streets accommodate much more traffic? Did the city have the resources to accommodate visitors?

  An editorial in the Anaheim Bulletin, printed nine days before the opening, seemed to have foresight beyond one’s imagination. “There is a great opportunity for the presently established businesses to do a land-office business.” What could benefit the city of Anaheim more than to cater to the thousands of employees of the Park, as well as the hundreds of residents who “will be employed by associated businesses at gasoline stations, motels, hotels, restaurants, gift shops and various roadside stands?”

  Disney designed the Park to have five areas, each with a distinct theme. Those “lands” would be the heart of the Magic Kingdom. Main Street U.S.A. was modeled after an average small town in America at the turn of the century. “Adventureland” was based on the Disney True-Life Adventure films, and “Frontierland” recreated America’s pioneer days dedicated to “the pioneering spirit of our forefathers, men of vision, faith and courage.” “Fantasyland” brought to life Disney’s cartoon characters… and brought Mickey Mouse into the lives of children everywhere. “Tomorrowland” was designed to give people the opportunity to “participate in adventures that are a living blueprint of our future.” The 1955 map of the Park welcomed visitors to a “world of Tomorrow, and Yesterday.”

  After only seven weeks of operation, Disneyland welcomed its one-millionth guest. By the decade’s end, 15 million people had visited the park. Among the dignitaries were then Vice-President Nixon, then Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, former president Harry Truman, as well as prime ministers, and kings and queens from all over the world. Walt Disney’s dream of a “magical little theme park” became a wildly successful reality and has gone on to become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

“Another 1955… Legal Aid Comes to Orange County”

  Even though the County’s lawyers and judges witnessed the professional and economic boom of the early 1950s, not everyone was able to share in the good times. There were residents who could not even afford legal services. The OCBA had continually fought, during the first 50 years of its existence, for access to justice for all people. Members had regularly volunteered in clinics, taken pro bono cases and assisted the community in many other ways. The OCBA had been instrumental in convincing the Board of Supervisors to appoint a Public Defender in 1943 to represent indigent people in criminal cases. But, poor people, who were engaged in civil lawsuits, had very little opportunity to hire an attorney, and thus, even less opportunity for success.

  A committee of bar members: Mark Soden, Fred Dudley, Robert Fraser, Robert Corfman, C. Arthur Nisson and Albert Launer, sent a letter to all of Orange County lawyers in early 1955. It read: “Having recognized the necessity for a Legal Aid and Lawyers Reference Service… clients requesting such aid will be interviewed thoroughly by the referral office to determine whether such a client is entitled, because of his financial circumstances, to the services free of charge or at fees lower than those established in the minimum fee schedule.”

  A referral office would be maintained at 421 North Main Street, Santa Ana, and applicants for either Legal Aid or Lawyers Reference would be referred in rotation to attorneys participating in the program in the judicial district in which the applicant resides. “Proper publicity will be given to this program so that Orange County residents will become acquainted with the service. Since this is a service by the entire Bar to the entire population, membership in the OCBA is not a requisite for the membership in the service.”

  A year later, the program was taken over by the Orange County Bar Association Auxiliary (which would later be known as Lawyers’ Wives and finally as the Orange County Law Advocates.) The lawyers’ wives, who were the primary members of the auxiliary, staffed the reference office. Lawyers, involved in the program, generated income by charging a five-dollar initial conference fee, and giving 25% of their referral fee to the program.

  Though the reference program did help, the OCBA felt it could do more to aid low-income clients. In April 1958, every member of the OCBA was pledging financial support for the legal aid. On May 9, the Legal Aid Society was incorporated. Art Nisson, later to become president of the OCBA, wrote the articles of incorporation.

  An office was opened with one part-time attorney and one secretary on payroll, and the rest of the staff volunteered their time. Patricia Herzog was hired as the first part-time staff attorney. Her salary was $200 a month and the Legal Aid Society agreed to sub-lease empty office space in her building located at 108 East 8th Street in Santa Ana. Again, lawyers’ wives staffed the office, interviewing clients to determine which services were most appropriate for them. The numbers seeking legal help from this organization continued to climb as the County’s population grew.

  During the fledgling years of the Legal Aid Society, Elvis released his first hit, Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog in 1956. The “Hoola Hoop” took America by storm in 1957 selling over 45 million in one year. The Dodgers moved “West” in 1957. “Barbie” was introduced to the toy world by Mattel in 1959. And while a modern renaissance was taking place in Southern California with the building of streamlined houses of glass and concrete that often scandalized the neighbors, more then 100,000 cattle still roamed Orange County.

  At the end of the decade, OCBA membership was at 276.

The More We Change, the More We Stay the Same…

  Pictured on the cover of this issue are a few of the officers and members of the Orange County Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division (YLD).

  They represent the energetic and enthusiastic attorneys who are already beginning to show the rest of us what it will be like to practice law in this Twenty First Century. As they must follow us to learn, so we must learn to follow them. They are not and cannot be expected to practice law the way we do. The legal community that they will mold will not be that of our predecessors or even of our own making. We can hope they will find and take the best of what history teaches them about what the lawyers before them have done — because, clearly, our civic and community minded attorneys have taught us much about what it is to be a lawyer and about being the leaders in social and political change.

  But, our world will not be our young lawyers’ world. They are the future. They will invent the future. Walt Disney told us July 17,1955, that “Tomorrowland” was designed to give people the opportunity to “participate in adventures that are a living blueprint of our future.”

  Our young lawyers never knew a time without Mickey, and Minnie, Goofy, and Donald. They don’t know a world without full length animated movies, and Cinderella, Snow White, Peter Pan, and Bambi. And if they grew up anywhere close to Orange County, they can’t recall life without the Monorail and the Matterhorn Bob-sleds, Autopia and of course, the Tea Cups.

  On the other hand, we currently have senior bar members who were the “young lawyers” in the 1940s and 1950s. Those dedicated new lawyers were the “future,” then — we are so proud and grateful for their vision and leadership. Walt Disney appreciated those who go before us as he spoke to the crowd dedicating “Frontierland” “to the pioneering spirit of our forefathers, men of vision, faith and courage.”

  Because of the vision, faith and courage of our forefathers, the Legal Aid Society of Orange County still exists today, assisting low-income clients in a large range of legal issues including housing, family law and domestic violence.

  Because of decades of tireless support and efforts of the Orange County Law Advocates, Orange County citizens are the beneficiaries of dozens of law-related programs and philanthropic activities. The non-profit, all volunteer organization specializes in youth services, legal education and assistance designed to increase public awareness of the legal system.

  Clarence E. Sprague, our oldest living past president, tells us that as president in 1954, he worked very hard to maintain good relations with the community and to encourage all the new attorneys.

  Walt Disney appreciated the past, but better than anyone, he understood the impatience and inevitability of the future. He rushed to invent it… and meet it. The 1955 Map of Disneyland welcomed visitors to a “world of Tomorrow and Yesterday.” OCBA welcomes all lawyers to an Association and a legal community blessed by yesterday and dedicated to tomorrow.

  As we celebrate our Centennial, and take this great trip back to the future, Disney’s words on July 17, 1955 ring true. “Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.”

  And, that’s an E-Ticket Ride!    

Danni Murphy is a senior attorney with the Orange County Public Defender.