February 28  |  Our Communities

Disneyland’s Main Street Modeled After Old Town Fort Collins

Take one look at Old Town Fort Collins and you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported to another era or location. Disneyland at the turn of the century, perhaps? Well, what if we told you that Old Town was not inspired by another place, but that it in turn inspired the look of one of the most well-loved and highly visited “downtowns” in the country: Main Street, U.S.A. in California’s Disneyland?

That’s right — inspiration for the design of this iconic Main Street was taken directly from our historic downtown area, plus another equally charming downtown. Let’s step into our time machine to find out just how this collaboration transpired!


The Inspiration

Disneyland's Main Street Modeled After Old Town Fort Collins

Photo Courtesy of Fort Collins History Connection

Although Anaheim, California is more than 1,000 miles away from Fort Collins, the two share one thing in common: Harper Goff, the designer of Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. Goff grew up in Fort Collins and returned in the 1950s to photograph Old Town and bring it to Walt Disney as inspiration for the iconic collection of colorful, old-fashioned storefronts and businesses at the entrance to the theme park.


About Harper Goff

Harper Goff was an artist, musician and actor who was born in 1911 in Fort Collins. He studied art at Chouinard Art Institute in L.A., then moved to New York City, where he worked as a magazine illustrator before returning to California to work as a set designer for Warner Bros. A fun side note: Goff was assigned to a camouflage research facility in Virginia during World War II, where he developed a set of paint colors used as “standard issue hues” for camouflage.

In 1951, Goff ran into Walt Disney at a model-making shop in London, and the two bonded over a mutual love for trains — and the rest is history! Goff later worked with The Walt Disney Company, where he contributed to a number of major films as an art director, including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. He also worked to help plan Disney’s theme parks, including Disneyland.


Goff’s Connection to Fort Collins

Disneyland's Main Street Modeled After Old Town Fort Collins

Photo Courtesy of Fort Collins History Connection

Goff’s mother, Maude, purchased the Fort Collins Courier Express newspaper, which is now The Coloradoan, and subsequently worked as its advertising manager. After she got married, her husband began managing the operations of the newspaper and took over management. The Goff family lived near CSU at 612 S. Howes Street, which still stands to this day.

Although his career took him to many places all over the country, Goff spoke fondly of his hometown of Fort Collins just before his passing in 1993.

“Yeah, I was born in that little town… Fort Collins, Colorado,” Goff said in an interview with The ‘E’ Ticket, a fanzine that was devoted to Disneyland’s history and attractions. “My dad owned a newspaper there, the Fort Collins Express Courier, and I grew up there. It was a very prosperous town. We had banks that looked like banks, you know, and there was a Victorian city hall. I was born in 1911 and these buildings were around when I was a kid.”


The Reception

Disneyland's Main Street Modeled After Old Town Fort Collins

Photo Courtesy of Alfred A. Si, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Originally, Walt Disney wanted Main Street to be designed after his hometown of Marceline, Missouri. So Goff presented a design modeled after Marceline, and Disney instead wanted two-story buildings in order to create more storage space for the park.

This meant Goff could incorporate ideas from Fort Collins, which had plenty of two-story buildings and a similar look to Marceline. He returned to his beloved hometown of Fort Collins to photograph Old Town. Ultimately, Disney liked the look of Fort Collins and agreed to use it as inspiration for the park’s Main Street.

“I showed them to Walt and he liked them very much,” Goff said. “Disneyland’s City Hall was copied from Fort Collins… so was the Bank building and some of the others.”


Fort Collins Compared to Disneyland’s Main Street

Disneyland's Main Street Modeled After Old Town Fort Collins

Photo Courtesy of Fort Collins History Connection

A number of buildings, some of which are still standing, are believed to have directly inspired Main Street’s design. Possible buildings include the Union Pacific railroad station, the 200 block of Jefferson Street, the First National Bank building, the city hall, the old firehouse building, and the former Linden Hotel. Plus, a number of buildings that are no longer standing were thought to have been used as inspiration, including Old Main, the county’s fourth courthouse, and the Hotell house.

It is also believed that the grassy median that was once at the intersection of Laporte and College Avenues inspired the streetscape at the entrance to Disneyland’s Main Street, which is adorned with beautiful, colorful flowers.


Experiencing Old Town Today

Disneyland's Main Street Modeled After Old Town Fort Collins

Today, Old Town is bustling with activity, as visitors and residents alike pop in and out of shops and dine on outdoor patios. And yet, the area has maintained its historic character, with a number of Victorian-style buildings adorned with ornate details. Plus, it has an old-fashioned clock outside the bank, brick sidewalks, and vintage light poles throughout. Old Town Square is a central hub for shopping, dining and a number of community events all year long.

Those living in and around Old Town are able to easily access this charming area by foot or bike, traveling by historic homes along tree-lined streets. Just check out these homes for sale in Old Town Fort Collins!

In the meantime, consider spending a full day in Old Town to experience all there is to love about this historic, famous downtown that made Walt Disney light up.

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