Just one month after installing the Stair Tower display in Walt’s Barn, Gerald Parker, retired 13 year veteran of the backstage Staff Shop who was taking his first trip to the barn stumbled upon the new display. It was something he thought he’d never see again. In 1981, Jerry was responsible recreating all of the Storybook Land miniatures which had nearly been destroyed by the elements and years of cosmetic fixes. So when you visit Storybook Land now, every building you see from Toad Hall to Cinderella’s Castle and even the French Village, are all new models crafted by the Jerry and fellow carpenters Will Graham and Frank Babish. Jerry had no idea that we were mounting an effort to preserve the original French Village, and was very surprised that they even still existed! However, what blew us all away about this series of fortunate events was that Jerry owned volumes of photographs that he took to document the removal, recreation, and replacement of Storybook Land that took place from 1981-1983!
At last month’s barn day, Jerry and his wife sat with me inside the Disneyland Railroad Combine car where I had set up my scanner. Together we poured through his photo albums that recounted his time at Disneyland. You couldn’t ask for a more patient and generous couple as the two of them sat with me as I documented Jerry’s personal story and the story behind each photo. They were surprised that I was so interested in his work and at the same time so happy to have been able to help me out with the restoration. Page after page of photos of the French Village floored me so many times that I think my jaw is still rolling around under the naugahyde seats of the Combine. Before now, all I had were a few images of the original village taken from the vantage points allowed from both Casey Jr. and the Canal Boats. But now, sitting in front of me were close-ups of the original village from every angle, heart-stopping images of the tear-out process, Polaroids noted with measurements, and snapshots of the old village sitting next to the new one. The missing link in Storybook Land’s history had been found.
The amount of detailed woodwork throughout the Disneyland requires a full time staff responsible for repairing and replacing those details so that the average park guest will never know that they’ve been replaced. These replacement parts are carefully handcrafted in the Mill Annex, a backstage woodshop behind Critter Country that could provide on-the-spot replacement parts for whatever arrives in the shop in pieces. In 1979, Jerry landed a job in Disneyland’s Staff Shop because of his previous work for the Hollywood Wax Museum, and his experience with fiberglass and mold making. After proving himself to Staff Shop Supervisor, Don Crosby, Jerry was asked to take on a daunting task – rebuild all of Storybook Land. He told his superior, “This is beyond my abilities, but I will do my best. However, I’ll only do it on one condition: if this doesn’t work out, I get to go back to my work in the Staff Shop and I won’t hear another word of it.” His supervisor agreed and Jerry was presented with a crumbling Geppetto’s workshop. Jerry began creating a new miniature building from redwood and wrapping it in fiberglass board, improving on the original’s construction materials of marine plywood that had disintegrated over the years. Although unsure he could achieve the level of craftsmanship of Wathel Rogers, Fred Jeorger, and Harriet Burns, Jerry pressed on. His finished Geppetto’s workshop was a success and it fit perfectly back into Pinocchio’s village. One building down, many more to go.
This is the first installment of many that will be exploring this rare behind the scenes look at the history of Storybook Land. During these last few weeks of the Indiegogo Fundraiser to preserve a piece of the original Storybook Land, new installments of Jerry’s photos will be posted leading up to the Dec. 10th close of the fundraiser. Check back soon; and if you can, please help us preserve a piece of Storybook Land history through our Indiegogo fundraiser.