Disney History: Main Street U.S.A. Then & Now

Walt Disney once said that his parks were not intended to be museums, but that they should be constantly changing and evolving, so it should come as no surprise that the Main Street, U.S.A. that we enjoy at Magic Kingdom today is substantially different than the Main Street, U.S.A. that debuted on October 1, 1971. Although the Main Street skyline has remained largely consistent, the composition of the shops inside has varied over time. The overall look and feel of the area has changed as well.

Main Street U.S.A. Then & NowMain Street U.S.A. Then & Now

In 1970's small town America, it was common to find downtown shopping districts with quaint little shops, theaters, and restaurants. In today's world where town squares have become a casualty of mega-malls and strip shopping centers, is it any wonder that the Emporium has now expanded to fill the entire left side of Main Street? In that expansion, we bade farewell to a flower shop, a fine china shop, a magic shop, a tobacco store, a card shop, and probably most notably, the Penny Arcade. The Emporium expansion also ultimately required the relocation of Harmony Barber Shop to the Town Square area. Rounding out the left side of the street, The Refreshment Corner is still sponsored by Coca-Cola, but the theming has changed to a baseball motif celebrating Ernest Thayer's classic poem, "Casey at the Bat." The Crystal Palace remains in name, but has changed from a cafeteria dining style to a character buffet featuring Pooh and friends.

The Emporium Expansion Left Smaller Shops BehindThe Emporium Expansion Left Smaller Shops Behind

On the right side of the street, the Town Square Cafe (previously sponsored by Oscar Mayer) received a makeover as Tony's Town Square Restaurant, a Lady & the Tramp themed Italian bistro. Hospitality and lost & found were combined at City Hall to make room for Mickey's new meet & greet location and Magic Band sales center. The camera shop was lost when the Confectionary expanded to fill the front corner of Town Square. The cinema does retain one screen that runs classic clips, but the theater itself is now an Art of Disney. The closing of the Wonderland of Wax shop and Disney & Co. Toys have left the alley beside Uptown Jewelers vacant. The former Main Street Bakery (sponsored by Sara Lee) has recently reopened as a Starbucks location and the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor has acquired an Edy's sponsorship (formerly sponsored by Borden's).

Magic Kingdom Opening DayMagic Kingdom Opening Day
1973 Guidebook Map of Main Street U.S.A.1973 Guidebook Map of Main Street U.S.A.

The hub has not been immune to the changing times. In addition to the "Partners" statue, which was placed in 1995, the overall look at feel of the hub has changed quite a bit. Many of the trees and green spaces had already been removed to create better traffic flow and sight lines for evening entertainment, but the current hub redesign project has also demolished the former Swan Boat loading platform and the rose garden. Along with all of the changes to the shops and landscapes, the parades have evolved considerably over the past 43 years. The opening day parade had scarcely a float in sight and featured characters walking down Main Street in droves and waving to the guests with no obvious choreography or production quality. Fast forward to the current Festival of Fantasy and Main Street Electrical parades, the modern expectation of a Disney parade is that the floats will be elaborate and that the music and choreography will rival a Broadway show.

Early Parades Had Few FloatsEarly Parades Had Few Floats
Parades Now Feature Amazing FloatsParades Now Feature Amazing Floats

For me, the greatest loss on Main Street is the Rose Garden and my favorite new addition is the Festival of Fantasy Parade. What do you miss about the Main Street of Yesteryear? What new additions have you welcomed the most enthusiastically to Main Street? Let us know!

A big thanks goes out to Guest Author Holly L. for sharing a little bit of her time in Walt Disney World with us. If you'd like to read more about Holly's trip, you can find her sharing her adventures on our member forum.


Kristen K. wrote on Wed, 01/07/2015 - 13:04:

Kristen K.'s picture

Fantastic article Holly! I had forgotten how much change Main Street has really gone through.

MrHub wrote on Thu, 01/08/2015 - 06:42:

MrHub's picture

Excellent article.

JayA wrote on Sat, 01/10/2015 - 15:25:

JayA's picture

My diet doesn't miss the bakery but my nose sure will.

TCARL wrote on Sat, 02/23/2019 - 19:55:

TCARL's picture

I work a WDW and I just want to give the author a shot out. This post is so good and to the point that I used it to help teach my fellow cast members about the history of Main Street at the Magic Kingdom, WDW. Thank You.

Kristen K. wrote on Tue, 02/26/2019 - 00:38:

Kristen K.'s picture

Thanks so much for stopping by TCarl! I'm so glad we are able to help!

alicemouse wrote on Tue, 02/26/2019 - 00:50:

alicemouse's picture

Hi TCARL! author of the article here. You absolutely made my day. I aspire to be a Disney Tour Guide "when I grow up" (also known as "retire and move to Central Florida"), so your compliment is so huge for me! I hope you have the most magical day and hopefully I'll see you on Main Street sometime soon.

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