The mystique of Hollywood has always depended on two things: sex and dinner. Think about it: our collective mental newsreel is filled with scenes from the movies, featuring impossibly glamorous people doing impossibly glamorous things. And when these deities weren't on the set, manufacturing dreams, they were photographed out on the town, making the scene at famous restaurants and nightclubs, where fans could only dream of coming within touching distance. So what if many of them were on arranged studio dates, pretending to have fun, just to keep their names in front of the public? In Hollywood legend, the restaurant is second only to the soundstage.
Thus the names of many Hollywood hotspots have entered into the common language–places such as The Brown Derby, Ciro's, The Macambo, and the Coconut Grove. This is not a fantasy of Hollywood's dim past, either; just last month, the closing of Wolfgang Puck's original Spago rated a feature story in The New York Times. Taking note of this continuing phenomenon, the folks at Walt Disney Imagineering have created Hollywood & Dine for Disney's California Adventure, a food facility that celebrates the romance of Hollywood nightlife.
Yet, this rather grand design was conceived for a food court. "The Foods Division wanted a food court, without the visual connotations of a typical food court," says Ellen Guevara, a senior interior designer at Walt Disney Imagineering. "The design stemmed from WDI show producer Cory Sewelson. The initial concept of the land is for our guests to experience the richness of the onstage/camera view, juxtaposed against backstage. Our guests enter one of the soundstages on the Hollywood Pictures Backlog where they're filming a movie, "Hollywood & Dine." You walk onto a soundstage and see vignettes of different sets [of famous Hollywood restaurants], where the director would be shooting close-ups. The rest of the interior is the backdrop of the behind-the-scenes of the camera, with grip boxes and the fictional Between Takes Catering Company, which is contracted on the backlot to supply meals to the cast and crew."
Thus the building is designed to look like a soundstage; inside, the cavernous space is filled with tables and chairs in the center area. Food is purchased from different venues at one end of the space. The rest of the space is lined with the aforementioned vignettes, each of which recalls the glamour of another golden-age-of-Hollywood eatery.
In choosing vignettes, Guevara says Karen Armitage, concept designer, began with the book Out with the Stars: Hollywood Nightlife in the Golden Era, by Jim Heimann (who also served as a consultant to the project). "It covers the early 30s to the late 70s," says Guevara. "We focused on places where Hollywood stars would have hung out. The book features wonderful photos of stars in these restaurants. The research implied that the studio heads wanted them to be seen, not necessarily with their spouses, but with the latest star or starlet. Some of the restaurateurs were very politically savvy, providing publicity venues for these arranged dates.
The first vignette is The Zebra Room, a jungle-themed restaurant, with zebra-strip banquettes and the original restaurant's famous mural of monkeys at play, one of whom is holding a martini. Next is Ciro's, with a lush red banquette and acid-green drape. The Macambo is a madly extravagant space in purple green and blue, with crazy little globes hanging off a dropped ceiling, like the little ball fringe on a Spanish hat. ("With no color reference," says the designer, who only had black and white photos from research, "we had to use a little artistic license.") Next is the Victor Hugo, a hotel dining room done in the style of Louis XVI, and last, but not least, is Don the Beachcomber, a Hawaiian beach shack with lots of fishnets, seashells, and palms. Guevara adds that the juxtaposition of the vignettes is half the fun: "We wanted to create a dichotomy between the Victor Hugo and something kicky like Don the Beachcomber." Food is purchased from four different venues based on actual Hollywood restaurants including Villa Capri (an old Rat Pack hangout), Wilshire Bowl, Schwab's Drugstore, and, yes, Don the Beachcomber.
The aspect of the attraction that film fans are likely to enjoy the most are wall displays of memorabilia from these restaurants, including menus, matchbooks, swizzle sticks, cocktail napkins, and photos of stars making the scene. They provide a palpable link with Hollywood's past, and a delightful lesson in graphic design ideas from the 1940s. There are even some plates and a shirt from the original Don the Beachcomber.
Above the concession area, is a Panavision-scale mural of Hollywood, painted by the company Themescapes. Guevara says the design team went to Yoshimura's, the Japanese restaurant located in a pagoda high up in the Hollywood Hills, for inspiration. There, she says, "We took photographs of Griffith Park, the Observatory, and the Hollywood downtown area during twilight, to create a collage of fictional Hollywood, and gave that concept to Themescapes."
Outside the Hollywood & Dine soundstage are two exterior sets. "The majority of the restaurant seating is there," says Guevara. On one side is a gleaming 1950s diner that is set up as if they're filming a Coke commercial," says the designer. Juxtaposed on the other side of the exterior dining space is a set depicting a futuristic view of Los Angeles, also painted by Themescapes. Again, says the designer, "The outside set has that same backstage-onstage look to it. You get a sense of where the camera shot is, then you turn a corner and there's the raw backstage construction elements and signs saying 'Hot Set.'
According to Michael Valentino, principal show lighting designer, who oversaw the lighting on the project, "The back story of the project is they're shooting all these different scenes from different restaurants. How do you approach the design of that in a true-to-life, barrel-vaulted, studio-style warehouse? We ended up with two layers. One is the facility lighting, which looks like a set of high bays up in the ceiling; they've been custom-designed for incandescent lamps. Then we dropped in a number of pipes, in the classic studio language, and hung old studio fixtures from them. Hollywood & Dine is all about the language of how you film a movie."
Thus the lighting design comes in two layers, says Valentino. "You have the working studio environment, created by the overhead industrial fixtures, and then you have the working shoot lighting." Although studios will bring in lighting units as low as 6' during a shoot, pipes for the vignettes were hung at different heights for different vignettes, approximately 12-15' in the air. "We have to consider height issues. A father may come through with his son on his shoulders, and you don't want a kid to cock his head on a lighting unit." Much of the vignette lighting is heavily layered with saturated colors and patterns, which adds to their glamour and helps distinguish them from the more neutral look of the rest of the soundstage space. For example, the Zebra Room features gold walls; the lighting relies heavily on amber and purple to create a romantic look. Blacklight is used on the mural above the food venues.
Studio lighting is hung from pipes, with cable run from it, an arrangement that doesn't normally meet building codes, Valentino adds. Therefore, he and his staff had to be in constant contact with Anaheim city officials, in order to obtain the correct variances and bring their lighting scheme into conformity with city regulations.
As for the exterior, Valentino adds, "The building itself is lit as you would expect a studio to be lit, with yard lights and open-hooded fixtures. A lot of that was worked out with Ed Johnson, the art director who did the original drawings. We also put in a bunch of James Thomas outdoor Pars along the barrel vault; they shoot a steel-blue downlight that puts a nice rim along the top of the building. Neon lighting from electric "trees" (featuring 4' lengths of purple neon) on the future side of the exterior is by Architectural Cathode Lighting. (Lighting in the venue is controlled through a node connection to the parkwide lighting system, developed by ETC).
It's interesting that, even at a Disney park, so much design thinking was expended on what is, after all, a food court. But it is the Disney way to theme every experience to the hilt. Thus, along with a meal of rich food, guests can now enjoy a rich serving of Hollywood history.
Photo credit: Gary Krueger.