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Preface: A special thank you to Neamathla for the suggestion on the POD.

After the Second World War, the Walt Disney Studios was in dire straits, sinking in almost $4 million USD in debt. But things would not be bleak on Dopey Drive for too long. When 1949 gave way to 1950, the studio’s fortunes began to turn the corner with the box office success of Cinderella and his first fully live action film, Treasure Island.

But now, it was time for Disney to roll the dice on the then-innovative medium of television. Walt hit the jackpot on his first television production, One Hour in Wonderland, aired on NBC on Christmas day, which partially served as a teaser for his version of Alice in Wonderland, which would be released in the second quarter of the next year.

Besides television, Walt was brainstorming on an even bigger dream. As early as 1948, he toyed with the idea of a Mickey Mouse Park on a vacant lot across Riverside Drive from his Burbank studios. After visiting several amusement parks across Europe, like Efteling in the Netherlands, and the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Walt set his conceptual artists to work on ideas that prompted a search for a larger parcel of land to hold such grand ideas. To make this possible, Walt brought in the Stanford Research Institute, who pointed him to 165 acres of orange and walnut orchards in Anaheim.

Around the same time, he formed Disneyland, Inc. to research a location and eventually finance the building and operation of his theme park concept. After CBS politely expressed interest in a television series while passing on the park concept, Walt found favor with Pat Weaver and his partners in crime at NBC. [A] Walt agreed to give NBC a 34 percent stake in Disneyland, Inc. in exchange for Walt producing a weekly television series for the network.

During construction, the park’s working title was Disneylandia, but was simplified to Disneyland around a year and a half before the park opened.

As 1954 gave way to 1955, viewers across the country tuned into NBC to catch the weekly program, also titled Disneyland, to keep abreast of the progress of the park’s construction as well as catching exclusive looks on upcoming films.

When the dawn broke for July 17, 1955, television cameras rolled on what was supposed to just be a soft open, but many visitors barged their way through the park with counterfeit tickets and jumping through fences. The toilets worked, but the water fountains were turned off, and the asphalt had yet to harden. Even though Walt would be haunted by the hiccups of that preview day, these setbacks did virtually nothing to deter families from all across America, and eventually from all over the world, from flocking to the biggest thing to hit the United States in a long time.

[A] This is the POD. NBC and CBS passed on the Disneyland project and Walt found favor with ABC in OTL.

In OTL, it was ABC who suggested Disneylandia be changed to Disneyland. I figured, even with a different network partnering with Walt, it would still be changed before the park opened.
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Very interesting. I wonder if the "Man in Space" episode is still made (that's the only episode of "Disneyland" I know of)
Just as construction of Disneyland was winding down, Walt released 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, based on Jules Verne’s science fiction classic. While critics and audiences praised Kirk Douglas’s performance, the musical score and the special effects, they were less than enthusiastic about the title card that opens the film reading “Distributed by Buena Vista Film Distribution Co, Inc.”

After 20,000 Leagues became a box office sensation, Walt received letters from critics and audiences nationwide who felt a film producer of his stature should have a more distinct trademark to open his pictures, something akin to Columbia’s torch lady, the lion of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the globe of Universal-International, or the snow-capped peak of Paramount. [A]

Shortly thereafter, Walt would have a lengthy back and forth meeting with his most loyal members of his animation staff. After kicking around ideas like using Mickey in his sorcerer outfit from Fantasia, the suggestion was made to use a castle, since the anticipated theme park would feature one as its centerpiece. Once the idea was hatched, almost every artist on the animation staff, from Marc Davis to Joshua Meador to Dick Kelsey, submitted castle designs. Each artist had very high hopes of seeing his or her design on the silver screen. After about a week or so of consideration, Walt selected a castle painted by background artist Eyvind Earle, modified from early concepts for Sleeping Beauty. The first picture to feature the new castle logo would be Lady and the Tramp, released in June of 1955.

From CLG Wiki:
Logo: We see a silver and purplish blue castle towering over a forest with a star studded evening sky. Hand-drawn fireworks in magenta, cyan, orange and lavender go off in the background. Below the castle’s drawbridge is the gold text “A WALT DISNEY PICTURE” with Walt’s name in the familiar signature font. Beneath this, written in smaller gold letters is “Released through Buena Vista Distribution Co, Inc.”

The following year, 1956, the studio would hire 21 year old inbetweener Floyd Norman, a man who would open the door for future African American animators like Ron Husband, Maurice “Pixote” Hunt and Bruce W. Smith.

[A] In OTL, Disney would not use a proper logo during Walt’s lifetime. In fact, it wasn’t until 1985 when the studio would do so, within a year after Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Frank Wells took over the reins.
So, this is the earlier rise of Disney? Where it becomes a media empire 40 years early?

Once I find the right twists and turns, that could be possible. We might see some different animated titles instead of what came out in the OTL post Walt/pre Eisner days.
As was the case in OTL, Sleeping Beauty loses money in its initial release in 1959, forcing the studio to switch from hand inking cels to the Xerox process, starting with their next feature, 101 Dalmatians, released two years later.
Riverfront Square
Riverfront Square

For his next theme park project, Walt Disney would return to his home state of Missouri.

By the early to mid 1960’s, things were looking up for the denizens of St. Louis. Construction of the iconic Gateway Arch had already begun as part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The arch, which would feature a special elevator for visitors to get a bird’s eye view of the city and the Mississippi River, was slated for completion in 1966. In sports, the MLB Cardinals bid farewell to antiquated Sportsman’s Park on their way to Busch Memorial Stadium, also set to open in ‘66.

While plans for Riverfront Square were being finalized, Walt was already purchasing land adjacent to the sleepy town of Orlando, Florida for a secret project, something he wanted to be bigger and grander than the already successful Anaheim resort. On top of all that, he participated heavily in the 1964 New York World’s Fair, where he introduced WED’s then-innovative audio animatronics.

After the success of the Disneyland TV series on NBC in the mid to late 1950’s, ABC and CBS waged war with the Peacock for the privilege to do business with Uncle Walt. The anthology series, renamed Walt Disney Presents by ’59, was a consistent ratings draw for NBC on Sunday Nights. After a bitter, three way tug of war between the major networks, Walt decided to double dip on NBC, citing the rivals’ transitioning to color too slowly.

While beer tycoon Gussie Busch mocked Walt for wanting to build in St Louis without selling alcohol, the entertainment mogul forged ahead with what would become an indoor five story park capable of year round operation. It would feature a Lewis and Clark Adventure attraction, along a pirate themed dark ride, and even a Haunted Mansion. The complex would be located just two blocks from Busch Memorial Stadium.

The park would open with a preview night on June 24, 1966 and a full opening day the following Saturday. Walt would be on hand for the ribbon cutting ceremony, along with Missouri Senator Stuart Symington, Governor Warren Hearnes, and St. Louis Mayor Alfonso Cervantes.
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