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Pam Marino here, remembering my first visit to Disneyland as a kid. I specifically recall thinking that the design and architecture of New Orleans Square was very charming. Decades later I visited the real thing, and probably the thing I remember most was how bad Bourbon Street smelled thanks to hordes of drunken tourists. (I still fell in love with the city as a whole.)

A 2019 post on the Disney Parks Blog suggests Walt Disney created New Orleans Square out of his and his wife’s love of searching for antiques and treasures in the Big Easy. “Walt wanted to replicate the sense of discovery that he and Lillian enjoyed in New Orleans,” it reads. The Disney version is meant to celebrate “the spirit and culture” of the city. Sans the stink, obviously.

In other words, Walt Disney created a sanitized version of one of the U.S.’s most culturally rich cities. There’s an official word for it: Disneyfication. The term first surfaced in 1959 and is used in sociology to describe commercially transforming real places into simplified and safe formats. 

That’s exactly what came to my mind when a Carmel resident made a comment to me that the plans for the proposed Ulrika Plaza, located at the southwest corner of 5th Avenue and Dolores Street, essentially took elements of architecture found around downtown Carmel—specifically Tudor and Mediterranean—and copied them to make a theme park version. Disney never came up, but it was hard for me not to connect those dots.

The proposal by Esperanza Carmel is for a 20,451-square-foot, two-story, mixed use building to replace what’s currently known around town as “The Pit.” (A former developer started a project and had to stop in 2019 after running out of funds, leaving a huge hole in the ground.) It includes 12 apartments and 15 retail spaces, with a 15,2111-square-foot basement with room for 27 parking spaces.

The building is being built next to Tudor-style buildings on Dolores Street, so half of the front facade of Ulrika Plaza is Tudor style, and the other half that runs toward the corner of 5th Avenue is Mediterranean style. You can check out the design for yourself online. (The Carmel Planning Department’s staff report is available here.)

Ulrika Plaza is generating a lot of interest among Carmelitesas evidenced by how so many of them tried to jump into a virtual Planning Commission meeting on April 14 when it was on the agenda. It wasn’t a hearing—the planning staff wanted the commission’s input as the plan progresses—but commissioners said that day that the project was too important to be on a regular agenda. They voted unanimously to move it to a special meeting, taking place online at 4pm tomorrow, April 28.

If I’ve learned anything in covering Carmel for the last four-and-a-half years it’s that Carmelites will go to great lengths to protect what they call “village character.” I have no doubt that term will be bandied about quite a bit tomorrow as residents vie for a design they feel connects in a very real way to that character.

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