Prime Inspirations: The Crystal Palace

Disney Theme Parks have made their name offering one of a kind experiences. Exploring Mt. Everest in search of an elusive Yeti, piloting a mission to Mars, being pilloried by pirates, or un-furtively spying “love’s first kiss.” These experiences are all of this world. They are inspired by humanity’s dreams, goodness, and sense of adventure. The same holds true for the Parks’ architectural statements.

Only occasionally are the structures in the Parks truly original. They generally evoke a place and or, a time. Sometimes they “play” with time, transposing  familiar historic style elements into an unfamiliar place, or even in to the future.” And even though the architecture is often not so subtly abbreviated or condensed, we believe in it. It invites us to play and generally tell us “everything is okay.”  It can also tell us who inhabits this place.

With this occasional column, WDWNT hopes to highlight the borrowed buildings of the Disney Theme Parks and their direct antecedents. We hope to encourage some discussion of Park architecture, to showcase the power of the original buildings, and the emulations.


The prime inspiration for the Magic Kingdom’s Crystal Palace at Walt Disney World is San Francisco’s Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. It was California’s first municipal greenhouse. Completed in 1879, it was patterned after The Conservatory, in Kew Gardens, England, and built in a late Victorian style.

The Conservatory of Flowers opened in 1879 and still welcomes visitors to this day.
The Conservatory of Flowers opened in 1879 and still welcomes visitors to this day.

It was built using early techniques of mass production, especially in the creation of it’s distinctive glass work. It was a gift to the City of San Francisco from “public spirited citizens.” The Conservatory is listed as California Registered Historical Landmark No. 841.



The Crystal Palace at the Walt Disney World Resort is a restaurant in the Central Plaza area. It fulfills the same functions as the Plaza Inn at Disneyland Park. Like many areas in The Magic Kingdom,  this pad, and the entire circular Central Plaza, are scaled up for capacity and a grander presentation. There is actually a similarity of scale between the precursory structure and its heir in Florida, with The Conservatory narrowly toping the tale of the tape. (This fits with one of the few artistic directives Walt Disney issued about the look of the then called “Disney World” park – that the buildings be generally full scale.) The biggest difference between the two buildings is their purpose and functionality.

The lush gardens of The Conservatory thrive in a constant warm and humid  environment.
The lush gardens of The Conservatory thrive in a constant warm and humid environment.


The Crystal Palace is cool and comfortable for your dining pleasure.
The Crystal Palace nods to The Conservatory’s glass cupola. Image @ Disney
An elegant drainage system at the Conservatory.
A graceful drainage system at the Conservatory.


 While retaining elements of The Conservatory, The Crystal Palace elegantly plays its role in the Show. Image © Disney
The Crystal Palace features Character Dining in a classic American Victorian setting. Image © Disney

The Conservatory of Flowers is located at 100 John F. Kennedy Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA 94118. They can be contacted at (415) 831-2090 or [email protected] They are online at

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Rufus McGee
Rufus McGee
7 years ago

The “psychology of place” is a fascinating study and its use in the Disney Parks is of personal interest. Walt Disney and the Imagineers were/are masters of this combination of art, architecture, film, and psychology; from the use of forced perspective to creating multi-sensory, immersive experiences.

Thanks for this “occasional column”.