Two Disney Fountains, a Golden Dream, and Mulholland Madness
In this episode we’ll celebrate a personal milestone for myself. Then we’ll visit two fountains at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and at Disney California Adventure. These fountains anonymously acknowledge William Mulholland and his contribution to bringing water to the state of California. He was a key figure in Golden Dreams, an early Disney California Adventure presentation that celebrated the heritage of the Golden State. He was even the namesake of an early Disney roller coaster attraction. We’ll look at this fascinating figure and the leadership lessons that can be found from his life and legacy.
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Prelude of 40 Years
This last month I started an eight month leadership training program with senior leaders associated with the Army Corps of Engineers. I have had the privilege in the public, private and non-profit sector, and this group has quickly become a great team to work with. As I stood on the first day to introduce myself, I realized in the very moment of that introduction that as of this month, I had been in the business of delivering organizational training and development for forty years. I honestly have felt this enormous sense of gratitude. My life has been an amazing journey, and it has been blessed with people who have supported me, cheered me on, and helped me to succeed. It originally began with a man who seeing some 30 resumes in front of him commented, “I have interviewed all of these individuals and found that they are all more qualified than you. But for whatever reason, I’ve made it a matter of prayer, and you are the one who is supposed to have this job.”
That job has led to decades of opportunity in this profession. From a tailored Master’s degree in this field, to an internship at Southern California Edison and a thesis on educational media at Disney I came to work in amazing places across the country. Thanks in such great part to Diann Rowland my path ultimately led me to working for Walt Disney World and the Disney Institute. From there it led me to working with the Public Strategies Group learning the art of consulting from people like Chuck and Mary Lofy, and Lorraine Chang. I started my own business twenty years ago with Performance Journeys, and then started another firm, World Class Benchmarking with my great business partner, Mark David Jones. In the process I’ve had a chance to work from the UK to Dubai; from South Africa to Singapore; and across the entirety of the United States. Moreover, I have had the privilege of working for people like Stephen Blair, Anne Teresa, Megan Clough, Swapna Dayanandan, Kathy Wever, and so many more. They have become more friends than clients, as have other associates like David Zanolla, John Scali, Jeff Mitchell, Jim Bowe, Justin Rucker, the incomparable Judi Daley and so many more. At this kind of summit, it is clear how blessed I am for associates, friends, and most importantly, my wife Kathy and my children, Mikell, Cameron, Braedon, Jennica, Madison and Preston.
So where do you go from here? Well, I think Walt Disney summarized it well with some 40 years in the business when he said,
“I just want to leave you with this thought, that it’s just been sort of a dress rehearsal, and we’re just getting started. So if any of you start resting on your laurels, I mean just forget it, because…we are just getting started.”
That quote works for me. I’m just getting started. We have so much more to do. And I couldn’t be more excited about it! So, in short, thanks for being a part. And thanks for continuing in this journey with me.
Why Talk Mulholland?
This group associated with the Army Corps of Engineers has a responsibility for a number of dams and reservoirs in the North West part of the United States. Our first retreat was on top of Dworshak Dam outside of Orofino, Idaho, up on the panhandle. With a height of 717 feet, Dworshak is the third tallest dam in the U.S. and the tallest straight-axis concrete dam in the Western Hemisphere.
For our retreat the classroom was literally on top of this dam with stunning and dizzying views on both sides. It is there we met for several days. Having just finished my recent book on the first 50 years of The Walt Disney Company, it would have been easy for me to do a review of Walt and so much of his leadership style. But I chose instead as part of our study to focus on William Mulholland. Most don’t know who this man is, but he is symbolized in two of the Disney Parks and was even re-enacted in a former Disney attraction, Golden Dream. The symbolization lies in two fountains that are based on a fountain that pays tribute to William Mulholland.
Close to the entrance of Griffith Park, just walking distance from the famed carousel that Walt often brought his daughters to is the Mulholland Fountain. There are many similarities between this and the two fountains found in Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney California Adventure.
Here are the similarities:
- All fountains are circular
- Both fountains utilize tiered layers where water cascades.
- Their tiles are done in turquoise.
- Some portion utilizes a vertical buttress symbolizing a sort of dam or gate. In the original fountain water flows through it like an aqueduct gate
- The center hosts a vertical or set of vertical fountains reaching into the air
- All are located in key intersections of their environment
The latter point is very much the case with the original Mulholland fountain and memorial in Los Angeles. The fountain is not only at a key intersection to the community, but was at a key intersection to the worlds of Walt Disney. The fountain is close to the entrance of Griffith Park, just walking distance from the famed carousel that Walt often brought his daughters to is the Mulholland Fountain. In a slightly different direction you get the Tam O’Shanter Restaurant where Walt and his staff often dined. Steps away is Hyperion Boulevard which if you follow takes you to the location where Disney’s original Hyperion Studios were. Move in an opposite direction from the fountain and you will end up at the current Burbank Studios, where the company is headquartered. Still a third direction takes you a short distance to Walt Disney Imagineering’s Glendale headquarters. No wonder that these two fountains serve at the intersection of both parks, especially at Disney California Adventure, where it graces the hub area in front of the Carthay Circle Theater, which is the “castle” icon to that park. While Disney’s Hollywood Studios celebrates landmarks like Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard and Echo Lake, Disney California Adventure’s Buena Vista Street is more about Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Elysian Heights, which are closer into this area where the fountain is.
So Who is William Mulholland?
William Mulholland is a prominent figure in the Disney theatrical attraction, Golden Dreams, which opened with Disney California Adventure back in 2001. Golden Dreams is to California what The American Adventure is to The United States–only without animatronics. The film was narrated by Woopi Goldberg, who served as the spirit “Calafia, the Queen of California.” She narrates the film which showcases events ranging from Chinese immigrants working on the first railroads to Steve Jobs and the advent of Apple. The film only ran for about 7 years, and was ultimately replaced by The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure. The only thing that remains of the original structure is Palace of the Fine Arts replica, that stands out in front of the attraction. During this film, the moment William Mulholland brought water to Los Angeles is depicted. When water doesn’t come out of the aqueduct forthrightly, you see Woopi crossing her fingers, but it was Mulholland that was actually crossing his fingers in real life.
Another tribute to William Mullholland was naming two major roadways after him, Mulholland Drive and Mulholland Highway. Mulholland Madness was a “Wild Mouse” style roller coaster that played along to the craziness of Mulholland Drive, which zigzags and curves along its drive. A map that was in front of the coaster gave an appreciation toward the unexpected turns of Mulholland Drive.
Unexpected turns could also be used to describe the life of William Mulholland. He was born an Irish lad in 1855, and lost his mother at the age of 7. Beaten and abused by his dad, he made his way to the United States after joining the British Merchant Navy. In time he made it to where he found an opportunity as a zanier or ditch tenderer for the Los Angeles City Water Company. That organization was led by Frederick Eaton, who took Mulholland under his wing and became something of a father figure. Eaton eventually became mayor in Los Angeles and brought the water company under the direction of the city. With it, Mulholland became it chief engineer. The city was growing eleven times faster than New York City and in time would become larger than New York in area size. But it did not have enough water supply. Eaton took Mulholland up some 233 miles north of Los Angeles to the Owen Valley. It was known for having an abundance of water that ran off of the Sierra Nevadas. The thought was to create a great aqueduct system that would run the water to Los Angles.
What Makes Mulholland Remarkable?
What made Mulholland so impressive in my mind was three things:
- He was trustworthy to the city and loyal to a vision for making it grow
- He was an amazing project planner
- He walked in the shoes of his employees
We discuss these and more in the podcast.
Souvenirs for Your Organization
Consider the following applications back to your business or life experience:
- What do you do to demonstrate that you are loyal to a vision or operation?
- What are the details you have to commit to in order to make a project succeed?
- How well have you committed those details to memory?
- How does walking in the shoes of others increase your integrity before others?
- What does that look like in your work?
Celebrate 100 Years of Disney!
You can order my newest book, “A Century of Powerful Disney Insights” on Amazon. It’s a great way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of The Walt Disney Company. In over 100 years, The Walt Disney Company has emerged as one of the most successful entertainment entities across the globe. In this, the first of two volumes, we study the first 50 years of Disney, beginning with Walt and Roy. We look at major milestones and not only see the evolution of an organization begun in a garage, but how it truly became so beloved to millions around the world. From Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Mickey Mouse through Snow White and Cinderella, from the Mouseketeers to Mary Poppins, and from Disneyland to Walt Disney World, we share stories and insights from 1923 to 1973. We hope you’ll be inspired with ideas and how you can apply these stories to your own life and work.
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