How Fort Collins Inspired Disneyland’s Main St., USA
It’s a point of pride for Coloradans that our town is part of the framework of the happiest place on earth. But I hope I’m not alone in wondering how that happened at all – Not that the Choice City doesn’t bear its moniker for a reason, but let’s be real here, how did Fort Collins end up catching the eye of a guy like Walt Disney?
In a way, the story begins not on American shores, but on the balmy island of Great Britain in 1951. In the cobbled streets of London, a visiting American by the name of Harper Goff was looking for a miniature train, to bring back home as a souvenir from his travels. A small mechanical engine caught his eye, but upon inquiring after the model, Goff was told that another man was interested in the train and would be coming see it later that day.
According to the Walt Disney Family Museum, the second train enthusiast was none other than Walt Disney. Disney, upon meeting Goff outside the London shop and learning of his profession as an illustrator, told him to come find him once he returned to the states. Being a talented designer, Goff couldn’t pass the opportunity up, and was hired by Disney to help create what would eventually become the live-action movie “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”
After this first effort, Goff went on to work with Disney to create many of the franchise’s greatest projects, including the famous Main Street. Initially, the designs Goff provided were meant to go towards a miniature travelling Americana show, which was eventually scrapped for cost reasons. But the design influences of American nostalgia remained important to both Disney and Goff, quickly becoming an important element of the Disney theme park we know today.
As Goff continued to design and conceptualize Main Street, the idea of the American past often had him harkening back to the town in which he’d been born, which was none other than Fort Collins, Colorado. Born to the owner of the Fort Collins Express Courier, Goff was born in Northern Colorado in 1911, where he lived until his family moved to California when Goff was a teenager. But he never forgot his NoCo roots.
According to the Fort Collins History Connection, Goff had pictures of his old stomping ground taken and showed them to Disney for the Main Street project. Disney reportedly liked the pictures so much, that Disneyland’s City Hall was copied from the one in Fort Collins, as well as the Bank. The movie magnate also took a shine to the street scape of FoCo, particularly the intersection of Laporte and College Avenue. There used to be a small, grassy roundabout at the northern end of present-day Old Town, which became the inspiration for the flowered roundabout found at the start of Main Street, USA.
So, next time you go to Disneyland (when safety measures allow), take a closer look at the buildings and see if you can spot the Fort Collins influences. If you’d like to prepare for the challenge, you can see pictures of the buildings that inspired Goff and Disney, even ones that have since been demolished, here.
Now known as a Disney Legend, Goff passed away in 1993, but his memory will always live on both on College Avenue and Main Street, USA.
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