Disneyland, the first Disney theme park located in Anaheim, California officially opened for business on July 17th, 1955. Twelve years after Disneyland’s opening, a club opened that required an impressive fee to even enter, admitted some of the most influential people in industry and Hollywood, and yet many visitors to Disneyland don’t even realize it when they walk past. This private lounge is known as Club 33.
Walter Elias Disney (or simply Walt Disney) had been attending the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City and became interested in the VIP lounges for the corporate sponsors. It was at this event that Walt began thinking about a VIP lounge to be located within Disneyland. However, it was not just the World’s Fair that led to the creation of Club 33. Walt had long been thinking about a lounge in which he could entertain dignitaries and corporate sponsors in a more private, serene setting with exceptional decor and cuisine. Watercolor images were provided by artist Dorothea Redmond to give some ideas as to Club 33’s appearance, while Walt, his wife Lillian, and the renowned decorator and Hollywood set director Emil Kuri went to New Orleans in order to select antiques that would be placed on display in Club 33. There is also a French-style elevator located in Club 33 whose design Walt first saw during a vacation to Paris, and although the hotel manager wouldn’t sell the elevator, Walt had a team of engineers travel to Paris in order to built a replica of the elevator for Club 33.
Unfortunately, Walt Disney did not live to see the completion of Club 33, as he died on December 15th, 1966 due to lung cancer and Club 33 did not open until May of 1967. The club is located in the part of Disneyland called New Orleans Square, and does not have a very conspicuous entrance. There is merely a door with a “33” sign on one of the posts. In order to enter (provided you are already a member), there is an intercom hidden by a secret panel in which a receptionist asks for your name, and then opens the door. To gain membership to Club 33, the initial fee was $25,000, as well as a $10,000 annual fee. Since then, some members pay $11,000 annually, and platinum level members pay $12,000, although any member who attends Club 33 has to pay $150 for a meal.
Despite this price tag, membership to Club 33 is rumored to be around 500 individuals, with enough people attempting to gain membership that at one point in the lounge’s history the waiting list for membership was closed. It has since reopened, although the waiting list has around 800 individuals and years often pass without anything changing.
After entering through the door, there is a lobby where members can continue on to the second floor by either the French-style elevator or by a flight of stairs that encircles around the elevator. Once on the second floor, members find themselves in the Gallery, a room with multiple sketches from Disney artists, a telephone booth from The Happiest Millionaire, and a console table from the French Quarter of New Orleans. The Gallery in particular has many sketches from the designing of the New Orleans Square and the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Aside from the Gallery, the second floor also contains the two dining rooms and the Trophy Room. The Main Dining Room is stylized in a French early 19th Century style, including three chandeliers, wall sconces, framed artwork, and antique bronzes. The second dining room is referred to as the Trophy Room, which is more informal than the Main Dining Room. The Trophy Room includes cypress-planked walls and is decorated with sketches from the Jungle Cruise ride and the Tiki Room, and receives sunlight through a row of windows.
As to why Club 33 is called “33,” there are a few theories. The official reason, and the explanation that is given when executives or cast members (as Disney employees are called) are asked is that Club 33 is named so because of its address on Royal Street, New Orleans Square. However, there were also originally 33 corporate sponsors when Disneyland was first conceived, and were the people that Walt Disney had sought to impress with the lounge. Thus, it has been theorized that the club was named after these sponsors. However, there is also the theory that Walt Disney was a 33rd Degree Freemason (degrees in Freemasonry are essentially ranks) and Club 33 is a reference to the Freemasons. While Walt was a member of the Demolay, a youth organization sponsored by the Freemasons, he himself was not a Mason (although a cartoon indicated Mickey Mouse was a member of the Demolay as well).
Since Club 33’s opening, there has been a small and slow increase in membership, although Disney has made some effort to maintain exclusivity to the lounge, such as an update to the platinum membership in 2014 that upset some platinum level members. There has also been the expansion to Club 33 of a new section entitled “the 1901 Lounge,” named after the year of Walt’s birthday, December 5th, 1901 which opened on June 15th, 2012. Unlike the rest of Club 33, the 1901 Lounge is designed like the late 1930’s to mimic the kind of place where Walt Disney and his animators would discuss the next big project following the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Like the rest of Club 33, the lounge includes pieces of artwork from the many artists and animators, as well as some sketches by Walt Disney himself.
Today, aside from Club 33 and the 1901 Lounge in Disneyland California, the only other Disney theme park to possess a Club 33 is Tokyo Disney. Besides corporate dignitaries, visitors to Club 33 have included past presidents as well as Hollywood stars, and famous actors today are sometimes reported in the club (Tom Hanks is one of several rumored to be a member). Despite Walt’s inability to see Club 33 completed himself, the lounge today still maintains a certain level of exclusivity and mystery that still has hundreds seeking entrance.