Tuesday, March 20, 2012
All the Lights of the Kingdom: Part One
(Edit: Part Two may be found here!)
I'm a Magic Kingdom girl. This should be obvious to anyone who's actually read this blog, but besides the now-indoctrinated "home park" nonsense, one of the things I love about Magic Kingdom, despite her faults, is her extreme subtlety. A lot of what is "happening", thematically, at Magic Kingdom, happens on very subtle registers. At Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland, there are extremely violent visual juxtapositions which create the sense of fantasy - Nuclear submarines and Swiss mountains! Victorian Inns and futuristic spires of metal! Steam railroads and modern highways! And many many more.
The rambling stretch of architecture which blends Adventureland, New Orleans Square, and Frontierland, for example, is a fascinating study in how to blend three totally unrelated environments, but there's still that moment where one area abruptly ends, the horticulture and colors change, and we enter the next area. Magic Kingdom saunters through these moments slowly, almost subliminally. The transitions happen smoothly and without calling attention to themselves - blink and you'll miss them; almost.
Magic Kingdom is one of those very few things that becomes richer the more time you spend studying it. In terms of themed design, it's very easy to situate Magic Kingdom snugly between New Orleans Square and World Showcase and then on to Disneyland's 1983 Fantasyland in a fairly direct evolution and sophistication of the form, the creation of the modern immersive themed environment. Magic Kingdom is less naive and more spectacular but a good deal more mass-produced than Disneyland is, it's just at the transition point where that sense of being homemade and sort of simple is starting to give way to richer elaboration and texture and the more stifling preparedness that comes with it.
So it's possible to still find things inside it which surprise us when examined in detail. In my opinion, one of my favorite things about the Magic Kingdom is her - wait for it - lighting fixtures. I had initially planned to simply observe and document some of my favorites, but much like my previous two "Aesthetic Profiles", what I expected to be a simple and direct route to the bottom turned out to be a very winding rabbit hole. I learned a great deal about what makes up the Magic Kingdom, even after two decades of study. So follow me now as we examine a "lighted" tour of the park, through her astonishing variety of lights and lamps.
....It's more interesting than it sounds, I promise.
I spent all day focusing on the Magic Kingdom, just on lamps, and even I, at my most crazed, could not see everything or capture everything, and I threw out just as many perfectly good lamps in my preparation for this piece. My *general* focus has been on lamps which I know or suspect are original to the park. I rarely bothered to go inside shops, rides, or restaurants, which need to be their own thing. Even with all these restrictions in place, I still will only feature those lamps I have something to say about. This is not a definitive account, only a signpost to help open up your own appreciation of this important but little-noticed part of themed design.
I think Magic Kingdom is an exemplary model of superb light fixture choice in themed design; there is very little overlap and redundancy but very few fixtures call attention to themselves. Still, it would be offensive and out of place to offer modern LED freeway light poles in Liberty Square, so the lamps and light fixtures deserve our respect and appreciation as well: another hallmark of the WED tradition of perfection down to the tiniest detail.
MAIN STREET, U.S.A
The front part of the Magic Kingdom, where the turnstiles are located and which is overlooked by the train station, tends to favor round, frosted globe lights of the kind seen here. Most of these sit atop fairly undecorated green posts and do not feature the finer details of this example: the screws holding the globe in place, fancy scroll work, and so on. Although not exactly utilitarian, it's clear that the train station is the visual bridge between the turnstile area's simple city park-like globe lights and the very elaborate vintage fixtures seen on Main Street
This attractive five-globe design can be seen all over the train station, and although it is differentiated from the actual Town Square and Turnstile-area streetlights in both size and color, it features a stronger decorative identity, helping differentiate the station from the rest of Town Square. The globe motif from the Train Station continues to appear inside the park.
I find it interesting that Town Square features these lamps consistently, transitioning only to more old-fashioned streetlights at the Emporium. The frosted globes visually link Town Square and the train station as being relatively "modern" places compared to Main Street itself, newer additions to the town clustered around, no surprise, the central department store, with all of the markers of civility - a huge hotel, Town Hall, Fire Station, and a bank. Main Street is therefore reasonably realistically planned to exemplify how real cities grow. These are definitely newer light posts, not from the 1890s but the 1910s or even the 1920s. They are municipal. The streetlights help convey this nearly subliminal concept of a growing boom town.
Besides the nearly medieval over the top size of these things, this is the park's first use of incandescent "candles" in glass boxes, which will get a through workout elsewhere.
On the left is the Magic Kingdom's Main Street streetlights proper, and on the right is one of a set of lights on the front of City Hall which echo them nearly exactly.
You'll notice that the streetlights are electric lights with little nets fitted over them to replicate filaments; they are not the live gas jets at Disneyland and don't appear to ever have been. I've never been able to figure out why the gas jets were not retained for Magic Kingdom, nor for World Bazaar at Tokyo Disneyland. It's especially puzzling in that Magic Kingdom was quite prolific in its use of live fire; not just burning cabins but also life Indian Village campfires, native torches on the Jungle Cruise, and dozens of burning torches all through Adventureland were fixtures of the earliest years.
Maybe they ran out of money. Or maybe they were afraid of gas leaks in the Utilidor below the street?
The Emporium's super impressive hanging lamps above the main entry way. These globes were once fitted with copper wire "nets"; Tokyo Disneyland duplicates this facade - twice - and they still have theirs. The hanging chains on this make it one of the most memorable fixtures in the park; built to impress.
This fellow is the workhorse of the Magic Kingdom, appearing in every land except Frontierland (and was probably once there, too). Painted green, the edged pattern brings to mind jungle foliage, aged and patinaed, it appears in New Orleans Square at Disneyland.
I must admit, of all the lamps I took pictures of, this one, to me, most represents "The Magic Kingdom".
Two examples from the Crystal Palace, which sits on the Adventureland side of the Hub; notice the tropical palms and fronds already starting to transition us into Adventureland are echoed in the flowery, organic design of the lamps. Like everything else on the Crystal Palace, these are polished brass and quite beautiful.
While WED could have simply re-used the Hospitality House lamps here for the same effect, they didn't. The more open, twisting nature of these lamps brings to mind gardens and vines instead of the stoic, dense details used on Main Street. At the Magic Kingdom, the Hub really is its own land, with its own meanings, quite distinct from Main Street.
One of the best light poles in the entire park, these tall lamps manage to represent Main Street, Adventureland and the Hub all at once. They span the bridge leading from the Crystal Palace to the gateway to Adventureland.
The Hub features much more utilitarian lamps overall, very similar to those seen outside the train station amidst the turnstiles. I think these were selected to create a garden-like atmosphere throughout the Hub, which benefits in Florida greatly from her meandering waterways, sloping lawns, and expansive flowerbeds, recalling the European gardens which inspired Disneyland. Their frosted globes link the entry area, Main Street, and the Hub in a single unified organically flowing movement.
Our tall lamps, above, are unique and occur only at the Crystal Palace bridge. While their tall shape mimics the castle and their frosted globes remind us of Main Street, notice the details of leaves, fronds, and lion heads - hinting at what will be seen nearby in Adventureland.
Jumping across the Hub for a moment, I'd like to point out a few of Tomorrowland's lights because they are aesthetic outliers in the Magic Kingdom and it is best to discuss them before the rest. The bulk of Tomorrowland used simple white neon lights and recessed lamps to create illumination; much of the original lighting scheme was ripped out in 1994 in the Magic Kingdom's big Tomorrowland renovation, which added more neon and some interesting futuristic municipal lights. These lie outside the scope of our conversation. What is worth pointing out is how WED originally used Tomorrowland's rather austere lighting scheme to visually reinforce the structural shape and harmony of their architecture:
In Tomorrowland, every decorative element was subjugated to the demands of form.
The bulk of Tomorrowland was lit with simple streetlights like this, metal poles topped with either one of a cluster of three to five glass discs, like flying saucers. In the background is an original Grand Prix "streetlight" in an even more midcentury vernacular, yet still appealingly sleek.
A better look at one of those Grand Prix Raceway streetlamps. Not all together unattractive, no, but still better at home in the parking lot of a McDonald's than a theme park.
I'd like to draw your attention to this. This row of circular lights is the very last vestige of the main streetlighting component of 1975 Tomorrowland: the underside of the WEDway Peoplemover track. These circular lamps subtly bring to mind wheels and motion as well as drawing a literal dotted line along the underside of the path the WEDway takes, visually reinforcing the way that attraction tied together the whole land. This is the last little bit of them left; in 1994 all of these lamps were torn off the track and their light fixtures now run power to red neon lights, just one of the more thoughtless components of the 1994 Tomorrowland reboot.
Adventureland contains some of the most diverse architecture in the entire park, and so has an impressive array of lamps and lights to support all that rich texture. If you've read my previous aesthetic analysis of Adventureland you will recall that I identified a number of thematic "zones"; it was no surprise to me to see that the choice of light fixtures tended to support these divisions of neighborhoods as well. Up first, transitioning us out of Main Street, the "colonial district":
I took this picture in 2004.
These lamps, in particular, are really just as appropriate for Main Street as they are for Adventureland, and in this same area the "Workhorse" light seen above is used as well.
These lights ring the Aloha Isle structure. Elsewhere at the Veranda, large hanging frosted globe lights appear in their arboretum-like patio, instantly recalling the Crystal Palace.
It's a fairly genteel light, and I think it's interesting to note that it appears in an area which is meant to reflect Main Street but which reminds many of New Orleans Square while drawing on both Caribbean and Asian design schemes. That's a lot of cultural baggage to unload, but Adventureland can do it effortlessly. It's among the best designed "lands" ever built.
This is perched right at the point where Adventureland starts to transition from the colonial-style architecture to a more "native" mud-built effect, which begins the transition point into Frontierland (although there's now a wall and breezeway, this area was once just an open slope), as well as preparing us for the south seas temple/shrine of the Sunshine Pavilion.
It's a pretty little light, and there used to be another one just around the corner, although it went away years ago and has never returned. This may be due to the fact that these lights used to accent a piece of transitional architecture which has been obscured by a covered patio built onto the front of the shop it services, allowing for the overflow sale of items "outside".
They both share, for instance, volcanic rock waterfalls, elaborate plantings, and color palettes and are clearly complimentary. There was once even a spot at the top of the Treehouse that looked out at the Jungle Cruise temple.
If you think I'm reading too much into this, recall that the Jungle Cruise and Main Street take place at about the same cultural "moment".
The Sunshine Pavilion area has its own streetlights, and these light up an attractive citrus orange at night. They are perhaps shockingly modern in appearance, but distinctive none-the-less.
I think it is a remnant of the "Tiki Modern" midcentury moment, which the Enchanted Tiki Rom is absolutely an expression of. After all, the attraction inside mashes up South Seas fantasy with modern pop culture, and by modern I mean "1963 modern". These lamps are not far behind.
Probably my favorite light fixture in the entire park is this hanging lotus lantern, several of these line the pagoda entrance to the Tropical Serenade preshow: a perfect mash up of tropical and modern, really a signifier for the entire attraction as well.
Once past the Tiki Room, these Caribbean Plaza streetlights appear. There's about twelve of these lining the street headed towards Pirates of the Caribbean, and they're a nice transitional feature, preparing us for the Spanish colonial setting even before the whitewashed plaster, iron railings and tile roofs appear.
found here, in my extensive study from two years ago.
This very nice oversize lantern hangs from the Torre del Cielo at the entrance to the Castillo del Morro; it's a fine overture to the veritable orgy of lamps and lights to be found in the rest of Caribbean Plaza. I don't know of any other area in the Magic Kingdom with more hanging lamps than this.
We've covered just half the park and seen an astonishing variety of beautiful lights, but we've hardly featured the bulk of them, only the most characteristic styles. There are, for example, dozens of lights on Main Street alone that I skipped. Each and every one of these carries a characteristic style and atmosphere strong enough to zip one right back to the Magic Kingdom. Even these lamps, easily ignored but so very important, are part of a remarkable and subtle modern art.
(Continue to Part Two!)