The Disney parks have been marketed and designed to be family-friendly since the very beginning—but in the early days of the first of these parks—Anaheim’s Disneyland Park in California—ideas as to what constituted a family-friendly environment differed in many ways. Tobacco? A-OK. But alcohol? Heck no. Fancy underthings, though? Perfectly fine! Accordingly, the shops that peppered the Main Street, U.S.A. section of the park reflected these ideas—which is how there ended up being an intimate apparel shop in Disneyland. Sure, it was only there briefly; but despite its short tenure, this store has become one of the most fabled parts of early Disneyland history. After all, it’s difficult to forget a shop whose robotic mascot was actually called the “Wonderful Wizard of Bras.”
Presented by the Hollywood-Maxwell Brassier Company, Disneyland’s Intimate Apparel shop opened along with the park itself on July 17, 1955. Part retail store and part exhibition, it was sandwiched between Ruggles Glass & China Shop—now called the China Closet—and what was then called Grandma’s Baby Shop—now the Silhouette Studio. (If you look closely at the sixth photo in this collection of images from Disneyland’s opening day, you can see the shop and its neighbors positioned along the left-hand side of Main Street.) But although it lasted longer than the baby shop, which closed before the end of the summer during its first year of operation, the Intimate Apparel shop had also been shuttered by January of 1956.
What caused the closure remains unclear; even so, the history of Disneyland’s Intimate Apparel shop and the Wonderful Wizard of Bras remains both unexpected and delightful. Here’s how the whole thing unfolded.
Setting the Scene
According to the online lingerie history archive the Underpinnings Museum, the Hollywood-Maxwell Brassier Company originally launched in 1929. In addition to being one of the first California-based intimate apparel manufacturers to capitalize on the idea of Hollywood glamour as an advertising tool, Hollywood-Maxwell was also responsible for introducing a cup stabilization technique called “whirlpool stitching” to the market in 1935; invented and patented by Hollywood-Maxwell founder Joseph R. Bowen, this technique produced the conical cup shape in style at the time and would go on to be heavily imitated for years after.
Herndon J. Norris purchased the company in 1946—which, incidentally, was right around the time that Walt Disney started to get serious about building a theme park. The idea for such a park had been swirling around in Walt’s head for some time; as the historically minded Disney parks website Walt’s Disneyland notes, the earliest sketches for what would eventually become Disneyland are dated back to 1932. But it was during the post-war period of the 1940s that he started to think more concretely about the whole thing. He started visiting parks ranging from Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens to the nearby Beverly Park (which was actually run by a former Disney Studios story research department employee, Bernice Bradley, and her husband, David) for ideas. According to Walt’s own mythology, the trips he took to the carousel at Griffith Park with his children would also provide inspiration for Disneyland.
Walt’s ideas had begun to crystallize by 1948, although it would take another six years for construction to begin. The ground-breaking occurred in July of 1954—and just a year later, Disneyland began welcoming its first visitors.
The Wonderful Wizard of Bras
When you first step inside Disneyland Park’s gates, you find yourself on Main Street, U.S.A.—a cheerful boulevard full of shops and other diversions designed to recreate the small-town appeal of Walt Disney’s hometown of Marceline, Missouri, circa 1890 – 1910. And, if you were to visit Disneyland during its first six months of operation, along the east side of Main Street, you’d see one shop that stood out in appearance from the rest—or, perhaps more accurately, it stood back: Unlike the rest of the buildings on Main Street, which were all constructed right up against the “build-to line,” this one appeared to be set back slightly due to the inclusion of a front porch.
And, if you were to venture inside the distinctive building with the front porch, you’d meet the Wonderful Wizard—not of Oz, but of Bras.
According to an article published on July 15, 1955 in a handful of southern California newspapers (including the Santa Ana Register and the Long Beach Independent), Hollywood-Maxwell had been chosen by Disneyland officials as “one of 50 ‘famous names in American business’… to populate Main Street, U.S.A.” Accordingly, the company was put in charge of the Intimate Apparel shop—and what they assembled to fill the space was truly something else. Yes, you could purchase modern undergarments in the store; however, you could also learn about the history of underpinnings in the most entertaining way possible.
That syndicated July 15 article describes the exhibit as “[featuring] the Wonderful Wizard of Bras on a revolving stage, on one side of which is a complete re-creation of the fashions and intimate wear of the 1890s and on the other side a showing of the fashions of today—inner and outer wear.” The aforementioned Wonderful Wizard acted as the master of ceremonies, delivering a brief, pre-recorded presentation. Also featured in the shop was a vintage Singer sewing machine from 1860 as well as “3-D illusion boxes… depicting both outer and intimate apparel of the by-gone era.”
As Walt’s Disneyland points out, some consider the mechanical Wizard to be “the earliest Disneyland robot,” although it didn’t represent the same achievements in technology as Audio-Animatronics—such as the recreation of Abraham Lincoln seen in the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln attraction. Overall, the experience sounds something like a smaller version of the Carousel of Progress—just a bit more primitive and focused on underpinnings instead of home technology.
All Good Things Must Come to an End
Alas, the Intimate Apparel shop and the Wonderful Wizard of Bras didn’t last long. Although the September 1955 edition of The Disneyland News—a monthly publication mimicking a small-town newspaper available at Disneyland between 1955 and 1956—did feature an article on customer reactions to the store (the article’s conclusion: “Hollywood-Maxwell’s experience seems to lend credence to the belief that Americans are becoming more ‘liberal’ through the years in their thoughts on such formerly ‘taboo’ subjects”), it closed just a few months later, in January of 1956. The glass and china shop next door expanded to fill the space, although the door was covered over, preventing entry from the shop’s former front door on the porch.
As Thrill Space notes, it’s not known precisely why the store shuttered. The Disney-focused resource Duchess Of Disneyland remarks on its page about Grandma’s Baby Shop that “it didn’t take Disney long to figure out that visitors didn’t want to do normal shopping at the park; they wanted to do Disney shopping,” which in turn led to the closing of many of the non-Disney-branded stores fairly quickly; knowing this, it’s possible that the Intimate Apparel shop was also one of these early casualties. Or, Disneyland officials may have determined that a store selling intimate apparel was out of place within the park as a whole, or perhaps the partnership between Hollywood-Maxwell and Disney ended, or any number of other possibilities.
Whatever the reason might have been, the store closed, and the space it once occupied has been filled by the extension of the china shop—which has been called the China Closet since 1964—ever since. You can still sit on the porch if you’re in need of a rest; it’s apparently an excellent spot for people-watching. Additionally, if you look up, the (fake) top floor of the building is now kitted out to look as if it’s home to a palm reader: The sign in the window reads, “Fargo’s Palm Parlor—Predictions That Will Haunt You—Bazaar, Whimsical & Weird—Designs to Die For—Roland F. Crump—Assistant to the Palm Reader.”
This, too, is a tribute to a bit of Disney history; it’s a reference to Imagineer Roland Fargo Crump, better known as Rolly Crump, who both worked as an animator on Disney cinematic hits such as Sleeping Beauty and Peter Pan and had a hand in developing and designing some of Disneyland’s most memorable attractions, including the Haunted Mansion, the Enchanted Tiki Room, and the clock outside It’s a Small World.
Meanwhile, Hollywood-Maxwell is long gone. According to Yesterland, the company was folded into the Vassar Company of Chicago in 1958—but although Vassar is still around under the name Vassarette, few other than lingerie and intimate apparel historians are familiar with the Hollywood-Maxwell Brassier Company.
Ah, well. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz had to return home at some point; so, too, did the Wonderful Wizard of Bras, apparently. At least we’ll always have the memories of Disneyland’s most surprising shop to look back on.