Did you know that there’s a palm tree in Disneyland that was planted way back in 1896, and is still there today? This story has to do with a promise Walt made to a family whose land he purchased to help build Disneyland in the 1950’s. That palm tree was already over 50 years old then, and the Disney company continues to protect this proud tree to this very day.
To buy the land he needed to build Disneyland, Walt had to approach seventeen different families to purchase/assemble a total of 160 acres of orange groves, walnut trees, and strawberry fields in Orange County, CA. One of those families was Paul and Laura Dominguez, who owned 10 acres off of Cerritos Avenue, which used to run east-west between Harbor Blvd. and West Street. The family had a sentimental attachment to a certain palm tree on their property…
Dominguez Family History
The Dominguez family has deep, 200+ year old roots in Southern California. A remote ancestor named Jose Antonio Yorba arrived in California with the Spanish army and was awarded a 62,000 acre land grant by the King of Spain in 1769. That area covers what is now parts of Santa Ana, Tustin, Orange and Costa Mesa. Many generations later, Paul Dominguez, who was related to Yorba’s great-great grandson, Bernardo Yorba, owned a 10 acre orange grove in Anaheim.
Paul and Laura Dominguez married in 1920. She was an Anaheim native born in 1898, and her parents had moved to Orange County in 1884. Together they built a two-story Spanish-style home in 1925 near where the present day entrance to Pirates of the Caribbean/Cafe Orleans is today.
Their son, Ronald K. Dominguez, was born in that home on August 10, 1935 and grew up working in the family’s orange groves until 1954, when his parents agreed to sell their 10 acre property to Walt Disney. Update: Ron Dominguez, sadly, passed away on January 1, 2021. He was 85 years of age.
The Dominguez Palm
It was an emotional decision to sell, and the family asked Walt for a favor or consideration. A rare Canary Island date palm had been given to Ron’s grandparents as a wedding gift from Anaheim’s first horticulturalist, Tim Carroll. He planted it on Ron’s grandparents’ property in 1896, and the tree held huge sentimental value to the family. Generations grew up under the majestic palm. One or more members of the Dominguez family were reportedly married under the tree, and they asked Walt if he would spare the tree.
Walt agreed, but since the rare palm was planted in front of Ron’s grandparents’ home, which was slated to become Section C of the future Disneyland parking lot, it had to be moved. So Walt directed that the 15 ton tree be balled up and re-planted in Adventureland where you can still see the magnificent palm today. It’s located between the entrances to Indiana Jones and the Jungle Cruise Boathouse – just behind some tall bamboo.
There might be some confusion about the “three trees” in Disneyland. The Dominguez Palm has been at Disneyland the “longest,” but is not the “oldest” living tree there. That honor falls to the Mugo Pine in Storybook land (2020 update – this is not a Mugo Pine, but rather a Stone Pine or pinus pinea.) The oldest tree and the oldest thing – period – is of course the Petrified Tree in Frontierland which is estimated to be between 55-70 million years old.
Ron Dominguez’s Disney career
Nineteen year old Ron Dominguez was hired as a ticket taker just four days before Disneyland’s opening day in 1955 and began quickly moving up the management ranks until he retired in 1994 as Executive Vice President, Walt Disney Attractions, West Coast. Later, Disney bestowed one of its highest honors on Ron, naming him a “Disney Legend.” He was also honored with a window on Main Street USA, which you can see on the 2nd story of the Market House. Update: Ron Dominguez, sadly, passed away on January 1, 2021 at the age of 85.