Monday, December 4, 2017

How Walt Disney Might Have Tamed Mineral King and Changed the Demographics of the Kaweah Valley

A few months ago Virginia McKee gave me a stack of newspapers that her mother Lenora Graves had organized. This morning I just finished browsing the 53rd year 35th issue of the Woodlake Echo printed Thursday, Sept. 2, 1965.

Interestingly the article, “Excitement Soars on Mineral King Development” took only about ⅓ or a page in length ⅓ of the width. So if my math is correct, the editors determined that a story of this magnitude only needed about 1/9 of the front page coverage. The picture took up a little less than 1/4 of the page.

Did they take the idea seriously? Were they against the idea? How many of the 500 attendees at the Grand Opening were Woodlakers?

Do you know what took more room on the page?

The headline picture shows Disney’s idea of a theme park in Mineral King. Walt Disney presented a multi-million dollar project along with projects from six other bidders.

Approximately 500 persons came to the grand opening to listen to the six bidders, the most famous of whom was Walt Disney. He made his presentation with this large drawing and distributed a folio containing pictures and plans. His project included 14 ski lifts, parking for 2,500 cars, two large hotels, 10 restaurants and cafeterias, an ice rink, shops and a conference center, all while retaining the need to preserve Mineral King’s natural beauty.

The other interesting plan had a total cost of about $55 million. Robert Brandt, the husband of actress Janet Leigh, planned an entire mountain community. This miniature city included a hotel, numerous family apartments, dormitories, a shopping center, theater, several restaurants, a chapel, and a village hospital, a ski lift complex with a capacity of 7,7500 passengers per hour. They also included a ski jump, Olympic sized swimming pond, year-round tram and an ice rink.

Disney did acquire the property, but the park, which some Woodlakers hoped would fulfill Gilbert Steven's dreams of becoming a resort town, never became a reality According to Linda Hengst, an avalanche in 1969 put an end to all the plans. The Sequoia National Park site explained.

“Mineral King is a subalpine glacial valley located in the southern part of Sequoia National Park. The valley, at an elevation of 7,500 to 8,000 feet, lies at the headwaters of the East Fork of the Kaweah River. The granite peaks rising above the valley reach heights of 11,000 feet or more. Mineral King is 25 miles (and 90 minutes) from Three Rivers, California, and State Highway 198 via a winding, narrow road.
In the 1960s, a proposal by the Walt Disney Company to build a ski resort in the valley was halted by preservationists and Mother Nature herself. In the winter of 1969, a massive avalanche wiped out the Mineral King store and post office, all of which were by then on Disney property. In 1978, the valley became forever preserved as part of Sequoia National Park.”

I can’t imagine that this would have been a success considering Disney's idea of preserving the pristine quality of the site coupled with the long windy road that goes up to Mineral King.