Disneyland’s Prime Contractor

On this day in 1954, the Anaheim Gazette reported that the McNeil Construction Company was awarded the contract from the Walt Disney Company to build the “Disneyland Amusement Center.”

Disney Imagineer Bill Martin told Disney archivist Dave Smith in a 1977 interview that McNeil Construction was building a soundstage at the Disney Studios at some point early in the Disneyland planning stage. While their estimators were onsite, they stopped by the offices where those working on Disneyland had sketches and drawings all over the walls. McNeil’s estimators guessed the park would cost somewhere around $6-$9 million. 

McNeil Construction promotional photo of clearing land to build Disneyland

The McNeil Construction Company was a Los Angeles based general construction firm. The family business was founded in 1886 and became one of the biggest builders in the West. At the time of Disneyland’s construction, McNeil was run as a co-partnership of Lawrence G. McNeil and his son, Bruce. The company was responsible for the construction of many large office buildings in downtown Los Angeles, as well as factories, hospitals, churches, and schools. Some of the other noteworthy McNeil projects include the Orpheum Theater, Loyola University, Pepperdine College, The Dunes hotel and casino in Las Vegas, the original Lockheed aircraft plant, and the Firestone tire factory, just to name a few. During World War II, McNeil constructed a number of government buildings. The company survived until it was officially dissolved in 1994. 

In the actual construction contract bid, McNeil was the low bidder among the eight construction firms competing for the job. The contract called for the excavation of a lake, rivers, and laying a railroad track circling the park. The Gazette article from August 26, 1954 provided an early description of Disneyland’s entrance, which would feature a railroad underpass. It also noted that after the land was cleared, actual building construction would begin on October 1st. 

One of the first buildings to be completed was the structure that later became the Main Street Opera House. That building housed the mill which was the workhorse for McNeil’s efforts since all millwork and wrought iron work would be done onsite. McNeil ultimately hired more than 60 subcontractors to work on the massive project. Supplies were sourced from hundreds of Southern California and other businesses.

After construction was completed, F. M. Franz, manager of operations for McNeil said, “From the standpoint of construction this project certainly has been unique. Many of the items were constructed from artists’ sketches.” 

McNeil Construction ad promoting its work on Disneyland

In the end, McNeil’s work included 2 million board feet of lumber, 5,000 cubic yards of concrete, 350,000 cubic yards of earth moved, 4,000 lineal feet of sewer lines, 2,000 lineal feet of storm drains, 4,000 feet of gas lines, 7,000 feet of water lines, and over 1 million square feet of asphalt was laid, including the parking lot.

When Disneyland opened in July of 1955, McNeil Construction took out a number of ads promoting its involvement with the project. One of the ads features a note from Lawrence and Bruce that reads “Thanks, Walt Disney, for creating Disneyland, the new wonder of the world. And thanks for having selected us as the prime contractor for its construction.”

On This Day

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