Today is the birthday of Disney Legend Harper Goff. A number of beloved Disneyland attractions, including the Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion, and Golden Horseshoe Saloon, first appeared as concept art drawn by Goff. As one of Disney’s very first Imagineers, Goff began working on the Disneyland project even before it was called Disneyland or any land in Anaheim was acquired.
Before coming to Disney, Goff was a set designer for Warner Bros. In 1951, he was in London and visited the famed Bassett-Lowke miniature shop at 112 High Holborn. As the story goes, when Goff inquired about purchasing a certain model train he was told it was on hold because another individual had expressed interest in buying it. When he returned shortly after to check on it Goff discovered the other customer was someone else in town from Hollywood – Walt Disney. The chance encounter led to a discussion. Walt got the train. Goff got a job.
Goff was soon tasked with drawing up plans for a park Walt had envisioned in Burbank for a vacant lot adjacent to the Disney Studio. According to Goff: “Walt decided it would be a good idea for me to help him present his plans for Disneyland to the City Council of Burbank. I made site plans for the presentation to the City Council and went with him to that meeting.” When the city pushed back against the idea, Walt told Goff: “Put away the plans, we’re going to Orange County.” Over time, the team working on Disneyland grew. Goff was responsible for some of the early designs for Main Street, U.S.A. drawing upon inspirations from his hometown of Fort Collins, CO. His plans even included a haunted mansion at the end of Main Street, an idea that would be scrapped initially but, thankfully, revisited years later.
Goff led the concept, design and construction of the Jungle Cruise attraction as well as the Golden Horseshoe, which was largely influenced by the “Golden Garter” saloon set from the movie Calamity Jane.
During the construction of Disneyland Goff worked closely with legendary Disney landscaper Bill Evans as they tried to create a jungle in an old orange grove. On one of their many tree finding expeditions throughout the region, Goff approached a Beverly Hills homeowner about a large banyan tree. As luck would have it, the owner indicated they were thinking about chopping it down and agreed to part ways with it. The tree was planted behind the Jungle Cruise’s hippo pool and still stands there today.
As the park development progressed, Goff would frequently send Walt annotated photographs. He and Walt also would frequently drive down to Anaheim to oversee its construction. Walt often lamented the high costs of the parks’ infrastructure. Goff once shared “One day, several months from opening, we were up there and Walt turned to me and said, ‘You know, I’ve spent 58% of the total budget already, and there isn’t one thing you’d call terrific out there right now.’” Thanks to the work of people like Harper Goff, that would soon change.