While Walt Disney World in Florida often gets much of the attention these days when The Walt Disney Company talks about its theme parks and resorts, when it comes to books and documentaries most of the attention is focused on DISNEYLAND. While DISNEYLAND’s milestone anniversaries are always marked with a flood of new books, collectibles and deluxe box sets, Walt Disney World’s milestones are often overlooked. Even this site has been guilty of focusing on Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Anaheim to the exclusion of Disney World in Florida.
So what would explain this disconnect? It is undoubtedly due to the fact that DISNEYLAND Park was Walt’s pride and joy, the only park that he completely designed from start to finish. Its rich history and development make it a fascinating subject to study. It only exists because of the will of Walt Disney. Walt Disney World, on the other hand, was more of an afterthought in the mind of Walt Disney. It is a theme park whose only reason for existence is that Walt Disney needed something to attract people to visit his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, a project that was never actually built as designed by its founder.
While DISNEYLAND can trace its history back to Walt Disney’s own childhood, Walt Disney World’s history can be traced back to the development of DISNEYLAND. Walt Disney raised every last penny he could and planned to spend it all on his Magic Kingdom. After determining the ideal location, Walt Disney bought up as much land as he could- about 260 acres in Anaheim, California. When he realized that he didn’t have enough money to build the DISNEYLAND Hotel, he began lobbying his wealthy Hollywood friends. Even if they wouldn’t invest in his park, he suggested that they purchase some of the adjoining land, which they could sell back to him in the future at a tidy profit once DISNEYLAND took off. None of them took him up on the offer.
When Walt Disney realized that he wasn’t going to have much, if any, control over the area surrounding DISNEYLAND, he implored the city of Anaheim to enact stricter building codes and zoning around the park so that desirable, compatible development would spring up around the park. Anaheim would sadly take none of his recommendations; in fact, it appeared that they would approve practically any building as long as it didn’t fall down. While DISNEYLAND was perfectly planned and designed to be a reassuring oasis from the real world, the area around the park became a tacky mess filled with incompatible zoning, gaudy neon signs and ugly utility poles. Mr. Disney looked on helplessly as his guests had to pass a tacky mess to get to his park.
It was this mess, along with the civil unrest of the 1960’s, that made Walt Disney think about how these problems could be solved. He had long resisted the endless appeals to build another DISNEYLAND, but as he thought about how to solve the environmental and civic challenges faced by cities at the time, he hit upon an idea that he thought could serve as a model to the world on how to create better cities. He just needed something that could attract people to see his ideas- possibly another DISNEYLAND.