Marvin Davis

On this day in 1910, Disney Legend Marvin Davis was born in Clovis, New Mexico. Marvin played a key role in the early stages of Disneyland designing the layout and architecture of the park. 

After attending college at both UCLA and USC Marvin graduated in 1935. As a top student, he was awarded the prestigious American Institute of Architects medal. After working for many years at 20th Century Fox as an art director, Marvin was asked by his friend and former Fox colleague, Dick Irvine, to join WED Enterprises in 1953 and help Walt Disney build his theme park.

At WED, Marvin spent much of his time drafting plans, blueprints and elevations for the park at-large as well as individual attractions. Once the location of the park was determined, Marvin was tasked with designing the layout and organizing Walt’s many ideas into a singular site plan. Walt’s was ever-present in this process, offering new ideas, suggestions, and tweaks to Marvin’s plans on a daily basis. Marvin later said he worked up “133 different drawings and designs, because we had no idea where the Park was going to be or anything to begin with.” According to Disney Legend Joe Potter: “Marvin had a great knack for putting Walt’s ideas into form.”

Davis explained to Walt Disney biographer Neal Gabler what it was like trying to translate Walt’s ideas into plans on paper:

“The first scheme you had, Walt would completely tear apart. Eventually you would come up with something better. He wanted to see every idea that you could possibly have before he settled on something.”

Two of the concepts Walt asked Marvin to incorporate in the park’s design were new and innovative at the time. First, Walt wanted a single park entrance to ensure guests had a good orientation or starting point for their visit. Second, he wanted the various themed lands in his park to be arranged like a wheel with a central hub. Walt believed this would allow guests to naturally rotate through each land. He also thought it would allow parents and grandparents to reduce the amount of walking required by allowing them to rest in the central hub area while younger kids explored the different “spokes” or lands in the park. 

Shortly after the park opened, Marvin concluded: “I think we were pleased with the overall Park plan, the way the single entrance street worked, and the hub. The general flow of traffic was as we expected, and it worked. People saw everything we wanted them to see.”

While Marvin returned to working on movies, he rejoined WED in 1965 to help design Walt Disney World. After 22 years with Disney, he retired in 1975. In 1994, Marvin was named a Disney Legend and there is a window tribute to him above the Main Street Bank.

After Davis’ death in 1998, former Imagineering President Marty Sklar recounted:

“Marvin was a bulldog. He pushed things and kept pushing them until everyone, especially him, was completely satisfied with them. He was just extremely thorough and professional. Determined was the right word for Marvin. It took him 69 versions or more of the Disneyland master plan before Walt said, ‘OK.’ It was a difficult situation. No one had ever done anything like Disneyland before, but he just kept pushing.”

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