Rick Caruso

Disneyland memories

Talking to Rick Caruso, the force behind Los Angeles’ Grove mall development, about Disneyland is like talking to a physicist about Einstein: It’s his element.

“I’ve always been captivated with the sense of place it creates on Main Street,” the father of four says of the Mouse House theme park. “There’s something magical about it, even though its in 7/8 scale. … You look into the second-floor windows, and you have this sense that someone’s living or working in there — that it’s alive.”

To create a similar magic in his projects, Caruso read Walt Disney’s extensive writings on town planning and on the creation of fantasylands — and usurped many ideas for his own, including conceptualizing patrons as “guests,” and treating each day as a performance.

“When the day starts, the show starts,” he says. Caruso also admits he’s obsessed, much like Disney was, with scale. “We studied streets to the point that we had measuring tapes,” he says of preparations for building the Grove, which led him to the theme park’s Main Street as well as favorite streets in Charleston, SC; Chicago; and Savanna, Ga.

“Disney got that a long time ago — he understood better than anybody that the scale of a place … is everything. (It can) make you feel good just being there,” Caruso says.

He really lights up when talking about the one thing Disneyland and the Grove literally, not just figuratively, share: the trolley man. “He worked directly for Walt Disney,” Caruso says of the designer who created the Grove’s vehicle, which shuttles between the Farmers Market and the newfangled mall. “He’s a great old guy. He’s got a twinkle in his eye.”

Rick Caruso is the founder and chief executive officer of Caruso Affiliated. His “lifestyle centers” include the Encino Marketplace and the Promenade at Westlake.