Winter Terrorland: Tower of Terror Snow!

Sure, the Tower’s been struck by lightning, but has it ever been snowed on?

Yup!  While snow is almost unheard of in sunny Florida and California, the Paris and Tokyo parks occasionally offer a wintry version of Disney.  The Tower of Terror may be a haunted Hollywood icon, but it isn’t immune to the occasional blizzard.

The Disney And More blog shares a stunning collection of photos from the Paris park after a January snowfall.  The Tower of Terror covered in snow is such an unusual sight!

Paris Tower of Terror snow

The Paris Tower of Terror seems extra haunting under a layer of snow! Photo credit: Disney And More

Over in Tokyo DisneySea, the old New York style Tower of Terror is stunning with a layer of snow gracing its turn-of-the-century architectural details.

Sarah at A Jubilation! visited Tokyo DisneySea in January – along with 7 centimeters of snow. Read her wonderful recounting of the experience here.

Tokyo DisneySea Tower of Terror snow

Photo credit: A Jubilation!

It seems that Disney does not automatically shut its parks down on account of snow, although it may close down early.

The View from the Top of the Tower of Terror Photo Gallery

The doors open and you linger for a few seconds, letting you enjoy the view some 160-some feet above the park before plummeting down the drop shaft.  The view from the top of the Tower of Terror is a fleeting moment, but a few talented photographers have captured it beautifully.

Hollywood Studios (Florida)

The view from the top of the Tower of Terror Hollywood Studios drop shafts

Front of the Hollywood Tower Hotel with the “Echo” drop shaft doors open. Photo credit: Donten photography

The view from the top of the Tower of Terror behind HOLLYWOOD sign

The view from the “Echo” (building’s right side) drop shaft, looking out from behind the “HOLLY” letters. Photo credit:

The view from the top of the Tower of Terror behind TOWER sign

The view from the “Foxtrot” (building’s left side) drop shaft of the Tower of Terror looking out from behind the “TOWER” letters.  Photo credit: expressmonorail

The view from the top of the Tower of Terror

Unobstructed view from the “Echo” drop shaft. Photo credit: mytripsandraces

The view from the top of the Tower of Terror

Not sure which side of the tower this was taken on. Photo credit: Disneyana by Max

Disney California Adventure (California)


DCA Tower of Terror with all three drop shafts open.  Photo credit: cheets99

The view from the top of the Tower of Terror Disney California Adventure DCA

A nighttime view of Disney California Adventure. Photo credit: thebugger2000

Tokyo DisneySea (Tokyo)

The view from the top of the Tower of Terror Tokyo DisneySea

A view from the top of Tokyo DisneySea’s Tower of Terror. Photo credit: Cory Doctorow

The view from the top of the Tower of Terror Tokyo Disneysea

A lower elevation view from the same drop shaft at the Tokyo DisneySea Tower of Terror. Photo credit: Cory Doctorow

Walt Disney Studios (Paris)

The view from the top of the Tower of Terror Paris

A view of the Walt Disney Studios park in Paris, France. Photo credit: neovortex2k at

Do you have a great photo from the top of the Tower of Terror that you’d like to share?  Tell us about it by leaving a comment!

Tower of Terror Architecture Styles

Even casual observers will immediately notice that the Tower of Terror comes in three distinct architectural styles:

  • The original pink-colored Neo-Mediterranean version in Florida
  • A boxy yellow-and-teal Pueblo Deco version in California and Paris
  • An ornate Moorish Revival version in Tokyo

Read on to learn more about each!

Tower of Terror architecture differences styles HS DCA TDS

So why the architectural differences?

Well, for starters, Disney is big on theming.  They never just drop an attraction into a park without thought to how it will complement the surrounding area.  Each park section has its own look and feel, and everything in that section (even down to the trash cans and streetlamps) is designed to fit in.

So while a Neo-Mediterranean tower fit in the “old Hollywood” of MGM-Studios, Florida, Disney’s Imagineers felt that a Pueblo Deco building was more appropriate for the heavily California themed Disney California Adventure park, even though both are creating an idealized vision of Hollywood.

Like most art, architecture doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  A single structure may incorporate traits from multiple time periods and regions.  As we explore the architecture styles of the Tower of Terror attractions, keep in mind that many design ideas are so widely used that they can be represented in multiple architectural styles.

The Original Original Tower

Before we dig into the individual Towers, let’s first meet the original Hollywood Tower.

No, it doesn’t look much like the rides – all it really has in common is the glowing Hollywood Tower sign and the pointy towers atop the roof.  But it’s been cited by Imagineers as inspiration for the attraction, so there you go.

The Hollywood Tower (how difficult it is to type that without adding “of Terror”!) is an apartment complex designed by Cramer & Wise and built in 1929 in the heart of Hollywood.  It still stands today. It’s considered a Hollywood landmark and national treasure (it was even added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988).

Nineteenth and twentieth century revival styles were all the rage in early Hollywood, so the Hollywood Tower is far from the only “faux historic” building in the area, and we’ll get to the importance of those other buildings in the Florida Tower of Terror’s section.

Now that you’ve met the granddaddy, let’s meet the offspring.

The First Tower of Terror

Hollywood Tower Hotel Florida original

The original Tower of Terror’s most noticeable architectural characteristics are Neo-Mediterranean, a revival style that peaked in popularity in the 1920’s and 1930’s in both California and Florida.  The style was especially popular for hotels and apartment buildings. Characteristics of Neo-Mediterranean include red tiled roof, arched doorways and windows, keystones, stuccoed walls, rectangular floor plans, and even lush gardens.

But the Tower of Terror also draws inspiration from at least two real life Hollywood hotels.  The Tower’s twisted columns, minarets, archway ornamentations, and gardens are reminiscent of those of the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa in Riverside, California.

Mission Inn Riverside California vintage photograph Tower of Terror

Tower of Terror HS walkway Riverside Inn

Photo credit: Jack Spence

The Château Marmont Hotel of Hollywood, California looks at first glance like the tower repainted.  Its blocky facade and roof gables are echoed in the Tower’s design.

chateau marmont roof like tower of terror

Some elements of Spanish Gothic architecture tie it all together: the tiled roof, pinkish-orange facade, and soaring height are all reminiscent of the style.

Oh, and it had to blend in with EPCOT’s Morocco exhibit.


The California and Paris Tower of Terrors


Photo credit: Wikipedia

After Disney California Adventure opened in 2001 to relatively poor reviews, Disney’s Imagineers set to work on improving the park.  Opening in 2004, the new DCA Tower of Terror was one of the first imports brought in to help perk up the park.

But since Disney California Adventure is a celebration of California, the Tower would need an architectural makeover to really fit in at its new home on the park’s Lake Buena Vista street, which recreates Los Angeles as it appeared when Walt Disney lived there in the 1920s.  So whereas the original Tower was inspired by old Hollywood, the DCA Tower would be inspired by… 1920’s LA.  It’s a subtle difference, I agree. 🙂

The California (and later, Paris) Tower was built in the distinctly American Pueblo Deco architectural style. Pueblo Deco is a hybrid of Art Deco, which characterized by geometric shapes and bright colors, and Pueblo Revival, characterized by southwestern Native American motifs like sunbursts and arrowheads, adobe (real or simulated) exteriors, and flat roofs.


Photo credit: Matthew Walker


Photo credit: Cehannan


Photo credit: Scott Weitz

Combinations of the two can be found throughout the American Southwest. The DCA/Paris Tower of Terror’s fake construction plaque gives it a construction date of 1929, placing it right in the midst of the Art Deco fever that swept the United States between the World Wars.

But wait, why is the Paris tower built to look like California if it’s in Paris?  When the Tower came once again to the rescue of lagging ticket sales, this time in Paris, there was no “Hollywood Street” already established in the park. So Disney made one.

The decision to keep the Tower grounded in Hollywood was probably both a cost-saving move (yay, recycling!) as well as a desire to celebrate Disney’s California and Hollywood roots.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

The DCA and the Paris Towers are practically twins, but if you look real close near the top you’ll see the easiest to spot difference:


The Lobbies

If there’s one thing the Hollywood Studios Tower and the DCA Tower share, it’s their lobbies.  Identical in layout but varying architectural details (most notably the ceiling structure), both lobbies were inspired by the real-life Biltmore Hotel.

Biltmore Hotel ceiling:

Tower of Terror (Hollywood Studios) ceiling:


Photo credit: maybesomeday

Biltmore elevator doors look a lot like the Tower of Terror’s pre-library wait area:


The Tokyo Tower of Terror


Photo credit: The Disney Wiki

Tokyo Disneysea’s Tower of Terror is mechanically identical to DCA/Paris, but the rest is a complete reimagining of the story concept and architectural design.  The new Tower was plopped down in the established “American Waterfront” land, set in turn-of-the-century New York Harbor and Cape Cod.  A story about the New York City Preservation Society’s efforts to save the historical hotel and solve the mystery of its owner’s disappearance was built up around the new Tower. Since the attraction was “relocated” to New York, styling it after old Hollywood or the American Southwest would be out of place.

Imagineers undoubtedly looked first at turn-of-the-century New York for inspiration, where the Moorish Revival  architectural style was enjoying a period of popularity.  Below, an example of Moorish Revival architecture (also known as Mudéjar, and not to be confused with Moorish).

The DisneySea Tower’s multifoil arches, small domes, simple window tracery, and detailed brickwork are all characteristic of the Moorish Revival style.  The style also emphasizes articulation – the emphasizing of distinct parts of the building.

Compare with the DisneySea Tower:


Photo credit: DF82

A few other influences are mixed in, such as elements of New York’s famous Brownstones.  The brickwork designs, roof gables, lighter stone window trims are all traits of Jacobethan architecture, and the columns and layered arches hint at some Neo-Byzantine and Richardsonian-Romanesque influences.

In contrast with the other two Tower designs is the noticeable lack of lightning damage on the DisneySea Tower’s facade.  According to the story, the destruction came from within on this version. The stained glass windows are broken, but the building itself looks pristine.

As long as we’re on the topic of New York…

Some say the Palazzo Chupi looks quite a bit like the Tower of Terror.  We’ve apparently gone full circle. 🙂

The Tower of Terror’s Environmentally Friendly Low VOC Exterior Refurbishment

If the Florida Tower looked different to you on a recent trip, it might not be you – the Tower got a new “green” paint job! In December 2010, extensive scaffolding was raised around the Tower of Terror’s 199 foot tall exterior.

tower of terror hollywood studios scaffolding new paint job low voc

Photo credit:

tower of terror hollywood studios scaffolding new paint job low voc

Photo credit:

In the five months that followed, the Tower’s surface was stripped bare and completely repainted with low volatile organic compound (low VOC) paint.  The new paint job is a part of Disney’s ongoing, parks-wide effort to reduce VOC emissions through the use of more environmentally friendly paints. The attraction remained open for business during the work.

tower of terror hollywood studios scaffolding close up

Photo credit:

If that sounds inconsequential, consider how much paint Disney uses in a year – usually about 6,000 gallons a year per park, or 110,000 gallons in total, with touchups applied nightly and completely new coats applied regularly.

Disney considers itself a worldwide leader in the adoption of low VOC paint and is proud of its contributions to the good stewardship of the planet. Switching to low-VOC paint for the 110,000 gallons Disney uses annually decreased Disney’s VOC emissions by 2/3rds in just two years. Fewer emissions means less ozone and air pollution for everyone, so let’s hear it for the newly painted Tower!

Tower of Terror at Night Photos

The flickering sign letters, the ominous blue glow, and the occasional shrieks… the Tower of Terror at night is extra spooky! One of my favorite park traditions is to watch the Tower during sunset – it’s a beautiful sight and a great way to give my aching feet a little break. 😀

Hollywood Studios, Florida (HS)

I took this photo of the Florida Tower myself on a cloudy day in December. The clouds suit the Tower well!


Photo credit: M. Grant (TowerSecrets)

I love the toasty brown sky in this photo. This photo is from DisneyRunning, and I have to wonder what conditions allowed for the amber sky and the orange lightshow on the front of the Tower! This is a difficult angle to get in the park, so kudos to them for this great photo of the Tower at twilight!

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

This photo is spectacularly spooky – what a great angle and a great effect with the orange and the grain! If I didn’t know there was a theme park around this structure, I’d be seriously creeped out!

Photo credit: Spectropluto

Photo credit: Spectropluto

The Tower of Terror falls asleep! Have you ever seen the Tower with its sign unlit? Credit goes to Jake for capturing this unusual sight of the Tower!


The Tower falls asleep by Jake.


Disney California Adventure, California (DCA)


Tower of Terror in October, 2014. Photo credit: M. Grant (TowerSecrets)

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

Nighttime Tower of Terror photo DCA

Photo credit: Rae Lane

Tokyo Disneysea, Tokyo (TDS)

The Tokyo DisneySea Tower of Terror doesn’t have a flickering old electric sign; in its place, a mysterious green flare of lightning in the top window. It is, however, still bathed in purple, just like its siblings elsewhere.

Photo credit: The Disney Wiki

Photo credit: The Disney Wiki

For more Tower photos shot by me, visit my Tower of Terror album on Flickr.

→ Return to the Main Photo Gallery.