The Special Touches of Disney’s Grand Californian

Photos by Charly SHELTON
From the moment that guests step up to the registration desk at the Grand Californian, they know they’ve arrived at a special destination.


For some students, summer school is almost out and summer vacation is about to kick in. For those who haven’t started planning yet, it may be hard to pull off that last minute summer vacation to a tropical locale. But fear not; we live in one of the best cities in the world. The southland has a lot to offer, including one of the top tourist destinations in the world: Disneyland. A quick Disney getaway can be the perfect summer vacation even though it’s only 35 miles from home. Pick a hotel on property, get some park tickets and have a blast.

As far as hotels, there are three on property – the Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier Hotel and the Grand Californian Hotel. CV Weekly was invited to take a private, all-encompassing tour of the Grand Californian and its newly remodeled rooms providing a chance to look closer at this landmark hotel that many have walked through at least once, but never really seen.

The hotel was designed by architect Peter Dominic and was inspired by the designs of the Arts and Crafts movement of the 19th century.

“[The movement] started in the mid-1800s in England and the idea was a reaction to the Victorian era and also to industrialization. [The Industrial Revolution triggered] a move from finely-crafted, one-off items to manufactured, mass-produced things. So the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement centered around ‘How does it make you feel to be surrounded by things that are mass-produced? Do you start to feel like a human that’s mass-produced?’” said our Grand Californian tour guide, Nicole. “So instead of human creativity flourishing with machines, it was reduced to being part of the mechanized process, and there was something of our soul that we lost a little bit there.”

The Grand Hall exemplifies the Arts and Crafts movement highlighted with Disney touches.

The Arts and Crafts architecture and decorative arts style brought back imperfect, hand-made items and art. It brought nature into the home and made a home of nature, with the use of natural materials and colors, local rock work and did not try to hide the shapes of the trees and stones that were used in building. The movement took hold in California in a big way with the Craftsman architecture style and is typified by many Pasadena homes, most notably the Gamble House. The Grand Californian keeps that spirit alive in its big statement rooms, like the Grand Hall, and its little touches, like the Martinware-inspired bird sculptures.

But it’s the attention to detail that really makes this hotel a beautiful work of art. For example, the Martinware birds are more than just random pottery. Original Martinware came from the Martin Brothers who tried to make ugly things in a beautiful way, showing that everything is beautiful if looked at it in that way. Their pottery was very popular with the A&C movement, and Disney recreated its own version of the pottery for every floor. But the attention to detail comes in the variation. On the ground floor, there are sculptures of a pelican and a puffin (the puffin is named Greg). They are sea birds that don’t fly too high. By the time a guest reaches the sixth and top floor of the hotel, they will find an eagle and an owl – two high-flying birds.

Throughout the hotel fixtures including stained glass windows show that no expense was spared.

Each floor displays sculpture of birds that would fly to the height of that level. And each hallway on the different levels gives the impression that guests are climbing higher into the trees. This is noted by wallpaper that on the lower floors feature big, dark tree trunks. As one ascends to the upper floors, the wallpaper features thinner branches, then at the top floor there are just leaves. Even the hotel overall is meant to evoke a redwood – redwood brown outer walls with green roofs, branch-like extended rafters are built to look wider at the ground floor, narrower at the roof.

And, of course, being Disney there are little Disney touches everywhere. Chip and Dale are gathering acorns along the branches of trees in the art on the walls and on the custom Tiffany-style lamps. The iconic three-circle Mickey head can be found in the shape of pinecones and as decorative borders on light fixtures.

In some places, Disney even improves on the A&C style in subtle ways. For example, in the Hearthstone Lounge, the hotel bar that offers cocktails, small plates and a quiet place to relax. Everything in that bar except the furniture is made from a single, naturally fallen redwood tree. From the carving of the bar to the fixtures to the little accent pieces and molding around the room, all are from one big tree. This is compared to the Craftsman homes, which are beautiful but the architects tended to take only the best pieces from several trees and leave the rest. It was wasteful and, in our modern age of conservation, we cannot afford to cut down a slew of redwoods to make a hotel bar. So Disney worked very carefully to work with one naturally fallen tree so as not to do damage to a forest.

The guest rooms are equally impressive, but are not quite so stringent to the A&C theme. Next week, we will take an in-depth look at the guest rooms as well as other aspects of the hotel, the restaurants and more.
For more information and room availability, visit