Disneyland, the Eastern Gateway, and the lessons of the Bonaventure Hotel

January 26, 2017, 2:59 PM · The Disneyland Resort is planning to build a major new parking garage on the east side of Harbor Boulevard, adding 6,800 parking spaces and creating a new "Eastern Gateway" to the Disneyland and Disney California Adventure theme parks. Disney's plans call for visitors parking at the new garage to go through security there, then walk to the parks and Downtown Disney via a pedestrian bridge over Harbor. And that's moved neighboring business owners to protest.

Business owners on Harbor have launched a website to publicize their complaints with Disney's plans. Chief among them: The bridge, as envisioned in Disney's concept art, is an eyesore; it lacks directs pedestrian access to the street (more on that in a moment), and that by cutting pedestrian access to Harbor the bridge will hurt businesses on the street, cost the community jobs and ultimately, might violate laws and regulations designed to protect against urban blight.

Disneyland clearly needs to add parking capacity, as anyone who's sat through Friday evening traffic around the resort during its busiest months can attest. With Star Wars land coming in a few years, and perhaps more Marvel-themed attractions soon after, millions more fans will be visiting the Disneyland Resort each year by the 2020s. If Disneyland does not provide new ways to accommodate those visitors' entry into the resort, Anaheim and the surrounding communities will suffer even worse traffic problems.

Disney has clashed with its neighbors in the past. Walt Disney famously decided to buy tens of thousands of acres in Central Florida so that the Walt Disney World Resort would not have the "across the street" neighbors that Disneyland had in Anaheim. Walt didn't like the visual mis-mash of diners, motels, and souvenir shops that bordered his Magic Kingdom in California.

But in the years that followed, Disneyland and its Harbor Boulevard neighbors have worked together on many occasions, as well. In the 1990s, when Disneyland was considering building its DisneySea theme park in Long Beach, the City of Anaheim worked with Disney and its neighbors to craft zoning rules for the "Anaheim Resort," which established rules for uniform sign sizes and styles, while improving the traffic flow and decoration of area streets.

The irony? Disney's go-it-alone plan in Florida led to a car-dependent 20th-century-style exurban development, while cooperation in Anaheim created something much more like the 21st-century, pedestrian-friendly development that communities across the country are trying to encourage. So it's in Anaheim where you find the real "prototype community of tomorrow."

Conflict over pedestrian bridges and car-focused urban planning is nothing new in Southern California, however. Just look up the highway to downtown Los Angeles to see what happens when demand for public spaces changes.

The Bonaventure Hotel was one of several major projects built on Bunker Hill in downtown LA in the 1970s, as that area was transitioning from a neighborhood of Victorian homes into the urban skyscraper canyon that it is today. Like many commercial developments of that era, access to the Bonaventure was designed for cars, first.

Well, actually, pretty much for cars only. The front entrance to the hotel was a driveway, leading visitors toward a receiving area inside the garage. Want to go across the street to neighboring developments? Take one of its pedestrian bridges. (Hmmm, sounds a bit like the Eastern Gateway, doesn't it?) To the sidewalks of downtown LA, the Bonaventure presented little more than solid walls. This was a hotel designed for people driving in from places afar, and not for whatever bums might be walking around the neighborhood.

But, as the years past, Los Angeles built a subway system, people moved downtown, and pedestrian traffic on downtown's sidewalks grew. Projects such as LA Live and the Walt Disney Concert Hall brought people to either end of Bunker Hill, and many of them spilled out into to the neighborhood. Bars, clubs, and restaurants opened all over downtown, revitalizing nightlife. And other hotels opened, attracting people who wanted to stay in the heart of the action.

The Bonaventure stood apart from all that, however. Ensconced inside its urban fortress, the Bonaventure found its postmodern design a disadvantage against its new competition. So, a few years ago, its management caved. It ordered a multimillion dollar "about face," to reorient the hotel toward its "back door" pedestrian entrance and to open up its design to the surrounding sidewalks.

If you tried to get a 1970s-style, car-focused project like the old Bonaventure approved today, LA would laugh in your face. As would hundreds of other communities across the country. You'd better bring some accommodation for pedestrian traffic and sidewalk life if you want to create a successful urban commercial development today.

With recent projects such as Downtown Disney and Buena Vista Street, Disney has shown its understanding of the value of welcoming public spaces. (And I'll have more on how Disney is promoting that concept in another post, tomorrow.) Disney's new Eastern Gateway should welcome all fans, regardless of whether they choose to drive to the resort from their homes or walk from a nearby Harbor Boulevard hotel.

And it will, even if local businesses feel the need to stir up public pressure on Disney to help ensure that happens more to their liking. (Because... hey, it's business.) Disney's plans already call for continued pedestrian access to the resort directly from Harbor's sidewalks on the west side of the street, even if all the new parking garage guests will flow over the street via that bridge. But let's hope that the final design looks better than the concrete canyon at street level that the current concept art suggest.

No one wants to the Anaheim Resort to become another 1970s downtown LA. At least, no one should.

Replies (24)

January 26, 2017 at 7:02 PM · The problem with the bridge is Disney rigidly designed it at 65 feet width. Happens to be the same width of the purchased hotel property. This means the public cannot access Disney's security apparatus from the Harbor sidewalk using Disney's property. Disney forces the public to enter an undetermined new route, which could be from Katella or Manchester or insisting on an easement from McDonalds or the Harbor hotels back entrance.

The city is also to blame for they refuse to force Disney to change their plans. They want to close the Harbor crosswalk without insisting Disney add entrances from the bridge or having the city design it's own bridge to allow guests to cross the street.

This inconveniences everyone else to Disney's benefit. I can't imagine walking 1 mile round trip just to get to my hotel room. The restaurants and hotels will be hurt from the plans.

Hey, the Bonaventure article was 30 years ago, not a "few" years ago.

January 26, 2017 at 5:12 PM · I like articles about urban planning and density. But maybe because I'm not familiar with the Disneyland property or the Bonaventure Hotel, it's hard for me to wrap my head around this, since there are no photos in this post.

I'd love to see what the downtown hotel looks (and looked) like. Also, I watched the video on the linked page, but couldn't make out what the eyesore is all about. I didn't see any renderings of the proposed pedestrian bridge.

Is it really that bad? I'd think Disney could "Disney-fy" it and make it something people enjoy seeing. Or is it not the way it looks, but rather its location, length, height, etc?

Pictures would be great! Anyone got any to embed?

January 26, 2017 at 8:15 PM · Thanks for a trip down memory lane. I used to stay at the Bonaventure for work back in the 80s. It was nothing but a confusing maze of overpasses 4 stories in the air. Without smartphones it was so easy to get lost since the passageways had no connections to the street names far below. I don't remember if you could even get to real street level without walking through the parking garage.

"Disney's plans already call for continued pedestrian access to the resort directly from Harbor's sidewalks on the west side of the street". Did this change? I thought the concern was the original plans had *NO* access from Harbor Blvd. All guests would have to walk to the parking center on the other side of Harbor to gain entrance to the Disney Esplanade via the overpass.

January 26, 2017 at 10:55 PM · The overpass idea has been simmering for years. I'm not a fan of the design ether but from what I see and understand security is THE huge issue and that makes since. I have no idea how much Security costs Disney but any one involved in security work knows...Narrow the entrance and funnel people though points. What this shows me is they are expecting security issues ahead of time. The porus system that exists today may not work for long. I think considering that this may be it.
January 27, 2017 at 12:31 AM · The "Say No To Disney" website is not particularly persuasive (or easy to read). They claim that the bridge is "out of character" and it will cause "aesthetic dissonance" that will lead to "urban decay". But, they fail to provide any pictures.

I've seen pictures and it looks about as nice as a simple pedestrian bridge over a major roadway is going to look. (I'll attempt to post a picture in a separate comment.)

As for the comparison to the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, I'm not sure that's accurate. That hotel did make it difficult to enter as a pedestrian. But, Disney is including a nicely landscaped pedestrian path off of Harbor Blvd. The problem is that the businesses protesting don't think it's close enough to where they are located.

January 27, 2017 at 12:33 AM · The Bridge:

The Proposed Pedestrian Pathway:

January 27, 2017 at 10:02 AM · From a legal perspective, the merchants/hotels along Harbor Blvd. know they have raised nuisance claims, but their end goal is to delay construction. If they can cause a construction delay they feel all power will revert to them.

Disney must have this project completed before SWLand opens. Failure will be parking apocalypse.

Parking demands will only grow as resort capacity grows. After SWLand opens DCAs Super Hero Land will open, then Disneyland's Fantasyland expansion and finally the massive demo and rebuild of Tommorrowland. This doesn't take into consideration expansion of PIXAR's Paradise Pier land.

What do they want? They want a GUARANTEE from Disney that their value and soon the City of Anaheim 4 Star tax break encouraged and under construction hotels will remain a primary choice for resort visitors. Is that realistic??? Why should Disney not expand on its land to grab a larger share of the hotel room market?

Capitalism is based on a market economy, may the best business plan win.

January 27, 2017 at 11:37 AM · Honestly, this seems to be less about the parking structure and more about pushing the property values of the Harbor Blvd. businesses down. Ultimately, Disneyland needs to expand, and those property owners know that. Disney is creating leverage for a future buyout situation.
January 27, 2017 at 2:43 PM · "If they can cause a construction delay they feel all power will revert to them."

This doesn't make sense. Nothing is gained from delaying construction. Disney can still proceed ahead with the parking structure and build the bridge last. I'm sure Disney wants to wrap up the whole project design and plans instead of doing it piecemeal.

The businesses on Harbor can surely sense the amount of new customers just flowing into the new Disney parking structure especially if they capture them before they walk towards security or on the way back. The issue still remains on how the hotel guests take advantage without the inconvenience of a longer walk. This will discourage casual walk-in traffic.

January 27, 2017 at 3:02 PM · How will Calexit affect these plans?
January 27, 2017 at 4:51 PM · Anon Mouse...
If you review the Harbor Merchants website you'll find all the legal language construction opponents use, Out-of-Date EIR, EIR intentionally left out..., EIR contains flawed data, historical landmarks, traffic mitigation, etc.

It's used time and again, mostly for cash settlements. In the case of the Harbor Merchants they want easy access for their guests where the bridge begins crossing over Harbor. However, that's already past the security screening point.

Disney does not want to open the bride to Harbor traffic. Merchants are trying for a construction delay, not just of the bridge, to force Disney to do so.

Again, their website is very clear on this.

January 27, 2017 at 6:02 PM · The use of legal language means what? Until they file a lawsuit, a delay is impossible. The city can always delay given the political pressure. The website is a PR attempt, but I doubt the public will step up for tourists. Tourism is the city's responsibility. The new city council is more about protecting the residents of the city and less about taking sides in a dispute between Disney and the Harbor businesses.
January 27, 2017 at 6:33 PM · Disney is one of the world's largest corporations, right? So what if they over pay for some hotels and McDonalds and Panera and whatever else is around them? Buy them up. Demolish them. Use that space for improvements.

Probably could never buy up enough for a third gate AND parking AND back of house stuff. At the same time, I guess it could be one of their goals to push down the value of surrounding businesses to buy them at a discount at a later time.

Yeah. Pedestrian bridges are never going to look amazing. I just think it could have Disney characters on it, or at least vines and foliage. But some Mickey head shapes at the very least, would be nice.

January 27, 2017 at 6:42 PM · Anon Mouse...
You do know the Anaheim City Council candidates Disney backed via donations won, right. One would assume they would back Disney, but they have been silent.

If you follow any redevelopment process, you know how the NIBY process works. Even the uber successful Rick Caruso, LA's The Grove, Glendale's Americana) just capitulated to NIMBYs without a lawsuit. And he even had L.A. City Council support. They NIMBYs never launched a website.

January 27, 2017 at 6:55 PM · Gabriel Scholl...
If Disney could acquire the Camelot Inn & Suites which the Carousel Inn & Suites backs up against, I believe the extra land, post demolition, would allow a direct path to the security screening area directly from Harbor.

And "over paying" as you suggest, could be rationalized to acquire a critical piece of land.

January 27, 2017 at 9:25 PM · The Anaheim City Council is comprised of candidates preferred by the Mayor that is less concerned with Disney.

Quote "Anaheim’s new city council signaled its intention to make a sharp break with its Disney-friendly past during its first, full-agenda meeting this week."

I don't really think you know what you're talking about.

January 27, 2017 at 11:01 PM · Anon Mouse...
You cherry picked data. While the Anaheim City Council voted to end the 'Four Star' tax rebate incentive, it was not a pro-Disney incentive.

You conveniently forgot to mention Disney was one of three companies that qualified for the tax rebate.

The incentive, as detailed by city staff and the mayor was a prime example of corporate welfare. The 'Four Star' hotels were going to be built with or without the tax rebate.

Can you offer solid facts to back the reporter's OPINION you quote?

January 28, 2017 at 1:35 PM · This has nothing to do with aesthetics and everything to do with the fear that some of the businesses along Harbor Blvd have about the new bridge and security gate hurting their business. Probably for good reason.

I think it's a bit hyperbolic to suggest the pedestrian bridge is going to create some sort of concrete canyon akin to the Bonadventure. That hotel was/is an entire (large) city block of with 2-3 levels of blank concrete walls at street level. There's no comparison to this proposal.

The "coalition" wants Disneyland to keep the security gates west of Harbor Blvd and presumably replace the bridge with a ground level walkway. That's doable but it wouldn't really be creating a better public space, only a more crowded one.

If the bridge is not to people's liking then why not get rid of the Disneyland Monorail and build an elevated people mover (like the ones at airports) that link the two parking structures with the Entrance Plaza and the western end of DD?

The spokesperson refuses to say who makes up "coalition of Harbor merchants" but if I were to take a guess I'd say it's probably the restaurants as much if not more than the hotels who are backing this effort. I know that McDonalds in particular has made it known they are opposed to this plan. Regardless of who is behind the effort to stop the project, from the outside it seems absurd to think that the profits of a few chain restaurants and motels/hotels should have an equal weight to the world's third more popular theme park. But whatever. If McDees has such a big problem with the bridge then why not find a place for a McDonald's in Downtown Disneyland? If Disneyland Paris can have one we can deal with it.

January 28, 2017 at 3:06 PM · @24: You're in no position to ask for facts since you appear to not be in possession of any. The previous Anaheim City Council gave away many Disney specific incentives including no admission taxes for 30 years with an additional 15 year extension in exchange for $1 Billion plus $500 million of spending. This happened after Disney already announced its Star Wars Land expansion. The hotel giveaway occurred well after Disney already opened the Grand Californian Resort. Why must Disney be further incentivized for projects it already intended to do? Anaheim can't revoke its agreements for the approved projects. If you don't care to consider the current political reality of the city council, you're terribly misinformed.

"One would assume they would back Disney, but they have been silent."
Hmmm, sometimes you miss the forest from the trees.

January 28, 2017 at 4:38 PM · Anon Mouse...
The city council voted to defer a "entertainment ticket tax policy" for 30 years with a possible extension of 15 years. Anti-Disney factions have labeled it an 'exemption', but in doing so they also admit NO SUCH TAX HAS EVER EXISTED in the City of Anaheim. So a case of alternative facts.

As for the classification of a "hotel giveaway" this was a corporate welfare program the City of Anaheim implemented for developers outside of Disney property. However, the city couldn't single out Disney as not eligible. When Disney took advantage, anti-Disney factions only referenced Disney bullying the City of Anaheim for tax breaks. Again, a case of alternative facts.

Take a moment to review/learn facts, present them accurately (i.e. not cherry picking to misrepresent) and your comments will stand strong.

January 28, 2017 at 6:17 PM · You omit facts. You didn't bother to repeat the $1 Billion plus $500 Million investment requirements to ensure no admission taxes are imposed. Disney was already going to spend the money so it seems like the City Council needed to find a reason to preclude the tax. No tax will be on the table for 45 years even after the City Council changes members with a new political mix that's less kowtowing towards Disney.

Disney took advantage. Who would have known? Just the biggest company in Anaheim and has every reason to expand capacity. You injected the bullying. I didn't think the last city council needed much since they just do what comes naturally. It's likely the hotel tax was conveniently made available to everyone and Disney happens to be there. Who would have known?

You might want to stop your own cherry picking and evidence omissions.

“We want to be very business-friendly,” Tait said. “We don’t want to be just about giving to Disney or big businesses in the resort. We want to equally support small businesses and make it easier for them to grow, expand and create jobs.”

January 28, 2017 at 9:28 PM · Anon Mouse...
Again, NO Entertainment Ticket Tax Policy has ever existed in the City of Anaheim. And the odds of it being implemented were slim to none. The City of Anaheim can take credit in not raising taxes and getting Disney to invest.

As everyone already knows, Disneyland desperately needs capacity and DCA desperately needs 'E' ticket level rides and the resort desperately needs parking. The investments were already coming.

Shareholders in The Walt Disney Company are very pleased TDA talk of the tax off the table for up-to 45 years.

The hotel tax rebate was extended to three other multi-million dollar developers before TDA asked for the same corporate welfare. So TDA was last in line.

That's capitalism!

I encourage you to research the amount of investment TDA has done over the decades and the financial gain the City of Anaheim records above their annual resort district costs. Then look at the future ROI projections the current round of TDA investment the City of Anaheim is projecting. And remember, TDA is investing NOT the City of Anaheim.

The Disneyland Anaheim resort is a cash machine for the City of Anaheim. Even the three 'critical of TDA' council members admit to that on the record!


January 29, 2017 at 8:21 AM · It's capitalism for Disney to avail itself to whatever the government is willing to give, but why tie itself up for 45 years? I would say the current city council will maintain the tax break, but even the mayor didn't want to tie up its hand for 45 years. Since the last 15 years of the agreement will not take effect for years, they can always change their minds before the terms comes into play. That's what the government can do.

Disney can submit whatever permits it needs to build what it wants. The city should let them without further corporate welfare. What are they going to do? Send Disneyland to Mexico? Disney's ROI is quite healthy nonetheless. Alternative facts.

"And remember, TDA is investing NOT the City of Anaheim"

The tax rebate of luxury hotels actually pays for the hotels. The city should claim minority ownership with how this is going.

Florida has the 6% admission tax for years. I wonder if California will one day impose the tax and take the money. Then Anaheim will be full of regret.

January 28, 2017 at 11:02 PM · @Gabriel "I just think it could have Disney characters on it, or at least vines and foliage. But some Mickey head shapes at the very least, would be nice."

Maybe you can't see the image I posted in an above comment. Or, maybe it's just too small to see details. But, the proposed pedestrian bridge has both foliage and abstract Mickey heads on it.

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