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Delighting in Disney



Hotel Guy for the mothership: Hideo Amemiya '71

From the upper, east-facing floors of the Disneyland hotels, the Magic Kingdom can at last be spied. Tiny and contained, the original Disney theme park is currently nearly invisible from ground level; a welter of construction underway on and around I-5 in Anaheim has encircled the hotels with acres of scraped earth and is lapping against the very edges of the island-like park. The landmarks are unmistakable, however: the miniature Matterhorn the highest point of its topography, the topmost turrets of Sleeping Beauty Castle just breaching the canopy of forty-five-year-old trees.

     "It's very intimate, very special," says Hideo Amemiya '71, Disneyland's senior vice president for resort hotels, about the mothership of Disney destinations that opened in 1955. "This is where Walt walked," says Amemiya with a smile that's self-aware but by no means cynical. "You don't want to mess with that." As "the hotel guy" for the resort, Amemiya has the mission of expanding Disneyland's profitability with facilities and amenities that are not only updated but grander, more spectacular than anything that was there before.

     In fact, there wasn't a lot there before: In the days of Walt, the company wasn't thinking "resort," or "conference destination," it was thinking "new kind of amusement park." Half a century later, with resorts in Florida, France, and Japan under its very large corporate belt, Disney plans on a vaster scale.

     All those scraped acres will soon be filled with structure and glitter. By next year, the original Disneyland will be adjoined by a second park on a California theme and an assortment of additional attractions. And the two preowned hotels which Amemiya took charge of and "Disneyfied" when he came to Anaheim will be joined by a huge new hotel built from scratch in a California Arts and Crafts style.

     "Mission, Malibu, and Maybeck," says Amemiya, are the thematic essences of California on which Disney's designers are basing this huge – $1.4 billion, fifty-five acre – expansion. And it's an obvious delight to Amemiya that his new hotel, Disney's Grand Californian, will be based on the shaggily elegant architectural style of California Arts and Crafts architect Bernard Maybeck. Though Amemiya doesn't mention it, the style is hard to imagine without the example of Japanese architecture.

     A graduate of Rikkyo University in Tokyo, Amemiya came to the U.S. to get a degree in hotel and restaurant administration. He found himself at UMass – from which he went directly to Orlando, by the way, as an assistant front desk manager at Walt Disney World.

     Compact, energetic, with close-cropped gray hair, a boyish smile, and wise eyes, Amemiya says he's "never wanted to be anything other than a hotelier." Despite his obvious comfort in an office-suite filled with plans, drawings, flowcharts, timelines, and the documentia of landfills, "hardscapes," and budgets in the hundreds of millions, his conversation touches back frequently on the ground truths of the hotelier's craft: the experience of a room, of a meal, of a service rendered. "Sometimes," Amemiya says of the massive modern hotel industry, "I think we get so smart we can't talk to the guests anymore."

     Perhaps that's an appeal of Disney culture for him - its unstoppable audience-orientation, its unshakable desire to please as well as profit. Perhaps appealing also is a certain willful naïveté: Amemiya comes from a family of artists in Japan – his father, the eleventh-generation inkstone carver Seiken Amemiya, was in fact named one of that country's living National Treasures – and he studied martial arts from boyhood onward. He speaks of a particular quality of art, and of work in general, that he absorbed from his family and his masters: "Art," he says, "has to be innocent."

– Patricia Wright

 
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