(Pictured above on the right, Jack Wrather)
Walt Disney was out of cash. Construction of Disneyland—set to open in four months time—proceeded at a frantic pace, but there was no money for an upscale hotel where guests could stay. Enter Jack Wrather.
John Devereaux “Jack” Wrather, Jr. was born on May 24, 1918, in Amarillo, Texas. After receiving a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Texas in 1939, Jack took a series of jobs in the oil industry: pipeline walker, wildcatter, and construction supervisor. In 1940, he took control of his father’s oil interests, expanding the Wrather Petroleum Company into a highly successful business.
Jack served in the United States Marine Corps in World War II and was released from duty in December 1945 with the rank of Captain. Convinced that the Hollywood entertainment industry was poised for huge post-war growth, Jack moved to California, where he met and married 24-year-old actress Bonita Granville. Together they built a home in the Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles, not far from where Walt Disney lived.
During the decade from 1946-1955, Jack produced feature films for various Hollywood studios, some of which starred his wife. Never one to rest on his laurels, he diversified his company into numerous other entertainment ventures, including Capitol Records, the TelePrompter Corporation, and Muzak, Inc., where he was chairman. Jack also founded KCET-TV Channel 28, a Los Angeles public television station. He also jumped into producing programs for television, achieving astounding success with three of the most popular shows of that time: Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, eight seasons of The Lone Ranger, and an incredible 20 years of Lassie.
Jack further diversified into the hotel business in 1954, striking a deal with Walt Disney to build a luxury family hotel on property adjacent to Walt’s theme park. Ground was broken on March 18, 1955, officiated by Jack, Bonita, and Anaheim Mayor Charles Pearson. The Disneyland Hotel opened six and a half months later—104 rooms in five two-story buildings at a starting room rate of $15. The Hotel, originally conceived as simple lodging, presaged future developments in how Americans entertained themselves.
It pioneered, as Jack’s son Chris wrote, “new forms of dining as entertainment, shopping as entertainment, and the use of a waterfront setting” in an urban environment.
The Hotel grew as Disneyland did, even changing the skyline of Orange County with the addition of its first high-rise building, the 11-story Sierra Tower addition in 1962.
In September 1980, Jack made another indelible mark on the development of tourism in Southern California. Wrather Port Properties signed a 66-year lease for the rights to manage the retired luxury liner Queen Mary, berthed in Long Beach harbor since her final voyage in 1967. He spent more than $25 million to restore the ship and turned her former stateroom cabins into hotel accommodations. In 1981, as a favor to his longtime friend Howard Hughes, Jack saved the airplane known as the “Spruce Goose” from demolition and gave it a new home next to the Queen Mary, where it remained under a giant white dome until it was moved in 1992 to an aviation museum in Oregon.
Jack passed away at the age of 66 on November 12, 1984. His son Chris later remembered him this way: “My father had the notion that business should be fun. He had more fun with the Disneyland Hotel than with any other investment.”