Hey all! It has been a while since I have discussed Walt Disney’s early life in Kansas City so it is definitely overdue! I thought it would be fun to look at one of Walt’s main influences for Disneyland. It came in the form of a Electric Park, an amusement and leisure park in Kansas City, MO.
Electric Park was the brain child of the Heim brothers, Joseph, Ferdinand, and Michael. In the late 19th century they started Heim Brewery making German lager beer. They quickly became the largest brewery in Kansas City MO.
They were very passionate about their beer and wanted to attract more people to come taste and purchase their brew. The undertook a massive streetcar project that would bring riders directly to the brewery. At first this was a failure and seemed to be a waste of $96,000. However, the brothers weren’t ready to abandon the line. They then came up with the idea of an amusement park. As part of their property there was an unused lot that would be perfect for the space. Here they created Electric Park which got its name from the thousands (100,000 bulbs) of electric lights that lined many of the buildings.
Electric Park boasted a great deal of entertainment including: a roller coaster, fountains, a vaudeville theater with seating for 2,800, a dance pavilion, and gardens, including a giant German-style beer garden. They even constructed a pipeline that carried beer from the nearby Heim brewery directly into the garden.
The park was popular and at that time the city was expanding south and the Heim brothers wanted to follow the trend. They chose a new location and built an even bigger, 27-acre, park.It opened on May 19, 1907 and was visited by 53,000 guests. In addition to the same attractions as the first park, the new park had an alligator farm, a shooting gallery, a small steam train, a lagoon with beach, boat rentals, a natatorium, a ballroom, nickelodeon theater, and novelty and ice cream shops . Ironically, due to city rules the second park couldn’t sell alcohol in the park, but it was extremely successful on its own. So much so that it was marketed as “Kansas City’s Coney Island”.
The bandstand in the park. It attracted popular entertainers of the time such as the likes of John Philip Sousa.
The bandstand was very popular and enjoyed by many park guests and entertainers such as Sousa attested to the quality of the space. Sousa even stated it was one of his favorite venues.
There were many attractions, rides, and activities. One of the most popular was the Living Statuary show that involved costumed dancers on top of the large fountain and included lights and water as a part of the show. The only more popular spectacle was the nightly fireworks (any of this sound familiar). At some of its peak times the park attracted around 1 million guests in a season, nearly 8,000 customers per day!
The park was very popular and understandably attracted the attention of a young Walt Disney. Growing up in Kansas City Walt live only a short streetcar ride away and would often stop by and look at the lights and attractions. Unfortunately, a fire on May 28 1925 damaged much of the park. The fire was witnessed by a young Walter Cronkite who was amazed by the intensity and speed of the “spectacular fire” that destroyed many attractions. It continued to operate until a second fire struck in 1934 which permanently closed the park. By this time the invention the radio, cars, and movies created steep competition for families leisure time. Beyond this the Heim Brewery had already closed due to the national Prohibition of the 1920s.
It is amazing to look back at all Electric Park had to offer and one can definitely understand how it would have an impression on a child such as Walt. While the park may have had a rough and sad ending one can’t deny it’s importance. It is clear with the circling steam train, the nightly fireworks, the manicured gardens, and even some of the building design, Disneyland was built with influences from Walt’s memories of the Kansas City park. So in the end everyone who visits and loves Disney parks can thank the Heim brothers for their hard work in creating a fantastic park.
I really appreciate you taking the time to learn a little about a great park of Kansas City and Disney history.
I hope you found something you enjoyed!
*All images are property of the Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri.