Disneyland. Walt Disney’s original theme park. Where age relives fond memories of the past and youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Home to nostalgia, fantasy, adventure . . . and a teenage dance club!?
That’s right, Disneyland was once home to a teen-focused dance club called Videopolis, which lasted from 1985 to 1989.
What was the impetus behind establishing such a locale, which might feel contrary to the larger vibe of Disneyland? And what led to its ultimate demise?
Join us for a totally radical journey to the heart of the 80s as we explore the history of Videopolis!
Why A Dance Club?
Disney fans who are more accustomed to Walt Disney World might think that all the Disney Parks are international destinations, with a Guest mix made up mostly of travelers and tourists who’ve come to stay for a week or more and to immerse themselves in the Disney magic.
Disneyland, though, functions differently from Walt Disney World. It relies heavily on local California visitors who return to the Park several times a year. That’s why, for example, Disneyland attractions get seasonal overlays (like the Nightmare Before Christmas at the Haunted Mansion) while those in Walt Disney World generally remain unchanged, as the proportion of visitors who may only get to the Parks once and want to see the classic attractions is much higher than it is at Disneyland.
Disneyland, then, doesn’t have to deal with Universal Studios as its only major competitor. It also competes with other large regional theme parks, especially Knott’s Berry Farm. In the early 1980s, Knott’s opened two dance clubs – Cloud 9 and Studio K – which became trendy weekend nightspots, attracting up to 2,000 local teenagers a night.
Under the new leadership of chairman/CEO Michael Eisner and president Frank Wells, the Walt Disney Company in 1984 was looking for opportunities to revitalize its business both creatively and financially. Looking at the success Knott’s was having with these teen clubs, Disney saw the opportunity to recreate that appeal with their own version of the attraction (a tactic that Eisner would most famously employ when he rushed to open Disney MGM Studios ahead of Universal Studios Orlando, starting a bitter feud between the two that lasts to this day).
Disney historian Jim Korkis, in his book Secret Stories of Extinct Disneyland: Memories of the Original Park, provides an in-depth description of what Videopolis was like:
It was located in an unused meadow off to the west side of the It’s A Small World attraction. Disneyland publicity boasted: “The newest, flashiest, most sophisticated electronic dance spot under the stars at Disneyland.”
It was a 5,000 square foot open-air dance floor with seventy television monitors layered in a video “wallpaper” effect that showed music videos and images of the guests dancing from three live camera crews.
Those images were often enhanced with special electronics effects to produce a “real time rock video” projected not just on the monitors but on a huge overhead screen.
It had a stage and also featured state-of-the-art sound and video systems. Overhead a giant grid structure lowered from the ceiling. It was adorned with pulsing searchlights. The park purchased some of the staging elements used at a 1984 Los Angeles Olympics facility. There was a snack bar called “Yumz.”
Official Disneyland publicity at the time billed it as, “Disneyland’s all new teenage video dance club phenomenon of neon, flashing lights, special effects, live bands and hot new videos combine in a musical kaleidoscope of sight and sound.”
What’s more, the club was supported by a show on the Disney Channel that ran in 1987 called, naturally, Videopolis, which recorded and broadcast concerts from the venue, including such big-name acts as Debbie Gibson, New Kids on the Block, Tiffany, and Janet Jackson. It was set up to be a performance space as much as a dance club since during the day it was a theater used for Disneyland shows.
Although Videopolis proved popular with the teenagers of Anaheim and the surrounding areas, parents – and Disneyland’s security team! – were less enamored. According to Jim Korkis, “The site attracted a boisterous young teenaged crowd that concerned Disneyland Security at times. Parents and older Disney guests were critical of the nighttime venue.”
Combined with this wariness, two high-profile sets of incidents brought Videopolis under further fire:
1) Dancing between same-sex couples was prohibited at the club (and at Disneyland in general), leading to two separate successful lawsuits against the Walt Disney Company when LGTBQ Guests were kicked out of the club and the Park. By the end of 1985, the policy was dropped.
2) Tensions that escalated at Videopolis amongst several local gangs led to violent incidents in the Disneyland parking lot, including the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old in 1987.
The Death And Legacy of Videopolis
Following these criticisms and controversies, Disneyland opted to end the dance club aspect of Videopolis in 1989. The structure remained in place, though, still used as a theater for daytime shows. In 1995, it was renamed the Fantasyland Theater, changed the Fantasyland Theatre in 2013, which is what it’s called today. However, for the January 2020 Disneyland After Dark: 80s Nite event, the Park revived Videopolis for one night only, possibly for the final time.
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Nevertheless, the legacy of Videopolis lives on far outside of Anaheim. In Disneyland Paris’ Discoveryland a new Videopolis stands, a large complex that’s home to the Videopolis Theatre, the Hyperion Café counter service restaurant, and the Hyperion airship, one of the largest props in the entire Paris resort.