Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Swiss Family Treehouse, July 1963

I still remember reading "The Swiss Family Robinson" years ago and being surprised at how little the remarkable treehouse figured into the family's living situation (arboreal living had its problems - like raiding hordes of monkeys). They had several other abodes, including a wondrous cave that was more suitable for the long rainy seasons. Still, thanks to the Disney movie, the treehouse is the thing that we all know best!

There it is, less than a year old (having opened the previous November). I still love the unusual choice to make the leaves a reddish hue - somehow it works. Apparently they faded and had to be replaced at times, but wouldn't that happen with green leaves as well? Anyway, this man-made structure is completely convincing as a tree, and full of so many clever, homey touches.

A rushing stream provided the power to drive a variety of pulleys and wheels, lifting clean fresh water to the upper levels of the treehouse. Does anybody know who is responsible for this amazing and complex design? Those Robinsons REALLY didn't want to have to go downstairs for a drink of water.

Waterfalls, pools, fountains, streams, I love the way water was used throughout the park to add movement, sound, and beauty.

This one is pretty dark, but it appears to be the kitchen or dining area. Pots and pans salvaged from the shipwreck are in use, and bamboo has been used as both a building material and for cups and storage vessels.


Serge Gorodish said...

Something I recall from the Anaheim treehouse (although it was really long ago) is that the purpose of the water mechanism is only gradually revealed as you walk through. The Orlando treehouse doesn't seem to be set up the same way.

Melissa said...

The first time I entered the Treehouse as a kid was truly one of those "through the looking glass" moments I don't think I'll ever forget.

Every time I hear that the Florida Treehouse is closed for maintenance, I have a moment of panic that it's about to be Tarzanned or Tinkerbelled or Jack Sparrowed or touch screened in some way.

Chuck said...

One of the things that helps set Disneyland (and her younger sisters) apart from other theme parks is the landscaping. While some parks will (often lightly) theme a building and call it "good enough," the Imagineers go far beyond that to create an immersive environment that really evokes another time and place. Land contours, plants, and especially water go a long way towards pulling you into a scene and holding your attention.

I don't know what it is about waterfalls and fast-moving streams that draws us in and inspires us with their beauty, but that innate attraction is there - and the Disney folks get this. As Pocahontas sang, "what I love most about rivers is you can't step in the same river twice - the water's always changing, always flowing."

There's moving water all over the Park - flowing from the bases of the Treehouses on TSI and in Adventureland, the Snow White Grotto, the Submarine Lagoon, various locations on the Jungle Cruise, down the side of the Matterhorn, in the back corner of Critter Country, and in our memories (and in this blog), down the slopes of Cascade Peak.

As the Good Major has noted, it adds movement, sound, and beauty that enhances the guest experience. Less obviously, it also provides "white noise" that drowns out or mutes the sounds of tens of thousands of other guests milling about you as well as the sounds of automotive traffic whizzing by on nearby streets and the Santa Ana Freeway, further strengthening the illusion that you are someplace other than a landlocked oasis of entertainment in a sea of urban sprawl.

Well done, Imagineers - well done.

stu29573 said...

I read somewhere that Walt came up with the basic idea for the water system.

Pegleg Pete said...

Great pics today – thanks! This remains one of my favourite Disney Park attractions of all time. I still can't believe they changed it in Anaheim. The Tarzan figures just seem so wrong. I was at the Paris park a couple of weeks ago and made my way through the Treehouse a number of times both in daylight and darkness. There the Treehouse is set much higher and gives great views over the park. And every time I began the climb with the Swisskapolka playing in the background, it took me back to the very first time I visited the treehouse at Walt Disney World in the early 1970s. Hopefully the Tarzan overlay which has afflicted Anaheim and Hong Kong won't make it to Orlando and Paris!

Tom said...

July 1963 was an excellent time for pictures. Just around the corner would have been the new Tiki Room! Great pics - always nice to see something new and different like the details around the treehouse.

Raimundo said...

Thank you Major and Chuck -- your descriptions are lyrical and refreshing !
It may be that we find water the most magical of elements, and Disneyland has ( or classic Disneyland had) more rides on boats, ships, rafts, canoes etc. than any other park, which compensated for the lack of the nearby oceans or lakes most amusement parks were built by.

Rain figures into a lot of attractions also (Grand Canyon diorama, Tiki Room, Small World, Pirates, Haunted Mansion); islands are environments made intimate by water (Tom Sawyer and Neverland); there are trips down ice (Matterhorn) and through a snowflake (Adventure Thru Inner Space); and then there was the most magical sight of all, Rainbow Caverns...

Melissa said...

Disneyland has ( or classic Disneyland had) more rides on boats, ships, rafts, canoes etc. than any other park

I took a friend to WDW once, having forgotten that his father had died in a boating accident years before. I was sick with nerves all the way there, to the Boatiest Place on Earth. Luckily, he didn't have any lingering boat trauma and was OK.

Major Pepperidge said...

Serge Gorodish, that's interesting… I think that, as a kid, I was aware that some of the water was being lifted up high into the tree. But maybe my brain is just rewriting history. Is the WDW treehouse more obvious about it, or less?

Melissa, even though I am not crazy about the Tarzan overlay, I am (for now) happy that Florida's treehouse is the traditional version.

Chuck, the sound of splashing water is one of the most pleasing things to me… I love it when office buildings have fountains indoors for just that reason.

stu29573, I wonder if that's true! Or if so, how involved was he. Did he just say, "Make a Rube Goldberg system), or did he actually figure out how it would work?

Pegleg Pete, I'd like to believe that Tarzan's lease will expire and the Swiss Family will move back in. Maybe Disney will do a remake of the film, that would be a good incentive.

Tom, I certainly wish I had more good pictures of the Swiss Family Treehouse. For some reason there just aren't that many out there, relatively.

Raimundo, you make a good point about the water; even in Knott's Berry Farm's Calico Mine Train there is an "underground" waterfall that I always though was so neat. It must be hard-wired into my brain.

Melissa, it's good to know that your friend wound up having a good time. I used to work with somebody who hated England because a friend of theirs died there in a terrible accident. It's the whole country's fault!?

Anonymous said...

In memory of my fellow cast member, Earl Archer, who, for many years WAS 'Mr. Treehouse' standing at the turnstile entrance. Earl made Disneyland a career (when one could do so).

K. Martinez said...

I miss the original tenants of Anaheim's treehouse and I agree with Pegleg Pete about the Tarzan figures seeming so wrong. I used to go on this attraction every visit until the change over to Tarzan. Since then, I've only climbed it twice.

Melissa - I remember my first time going on the Swiss Family Treehouse in Florida back in the 1970s. I loved the open views of the Magic Kingdom it gave. With the Spanish moss and being built on an "island" it really was different enough than it's Anaheim counterpart to appreciate it on it's own merits.

Beautiful images today. Thanks, Major.

Anonymous said...

Of all the butchered attractions of classic Disneyland, this one might hurt the most.

I loved the treehouse and the ingenuity of the waterworks. Fascinating to a youngster, and to an old guy obsessed with how things work.

All ruined for a one-shot promotion of a half-a$$ed cartoon of a half-a$$ed novel.

Sorry Major. Touched a nerve. I'll be more polite in future.

The treehouse is also very reminiscent of the Norse legend of the World Ash Yggdrasil, the tree that held all of creation, with a vast spring of water gushing from it's roots. A classic mythological image undoubtedly familiar to the Imagineers, and subliminally appreciated by everyone else.


TokyoMagic! said...

Tokyo still has their Swiss Family Treehouse as well! I thought I had read somewhere that Disney was going to remake the movie. If it was a HUGE success and maybe if it was starring Johnny Depp, then maybe we would get our original treehouse back?

I don't understand why the water system had to be removed just to re-theme it to Tarzan's Treehouse. I also don't understand why we had to have ugly static figures of the characters from the movie placed into the scenes. I loved the fact that the original was set up as if you were visiting while the family was "away." With the bedroom furniture and everything else, it really looked like someone lived there. Oh, and that last photo shows something that I have a very strong memory of from's the large bunch of bananas hanging in the air above the kitchen area. They are kind of in the shadows, but you can see them above that table on the right. Again, just another small touch that made the place look inhabitable.

Major Pepperidge said...

Anon, thanks for your interesting comment!

K. Martinez, I have some great pictures of the Florida treehouse from only a few weeks after the park opened; you'll have to wait for those!

JG, I thought "Tarzan" was an OK movie (never read the novel); but the Tarzan overlay just doesn't feel like an improvement to me. The fact that kids didn't know the original Disney SFR movie is a copout, since I barely thought of it when I would walk through. I mostly imagined myself living there and how cool it would be!

TokyoMagic!, I also think I had heard rumors of a remake. The removal of the water system made sense (though I didn't like it), since the treehouse seen in Tarzan had nothing like it. And Tarzan himself wouldn't have been able to build it. Oh well.