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Saturday, May 30, 2020

65 Years of Magic! Unusual DISNEYLAND Facts

To celebrate 65 Years of a Dream Come True, we will be highlighting unusual facts about Walt Disney’s greatest dream- DISNEYLAND Park. Our months long tribute will last until July 17th- the day that Walt Disney showed his amazing showcase to the world in 1955!

Friday, May 29, 2020

Walt Disney World Origins: PART SIX

In the latter part of 1966, Walt Disney seemed to be in a rush to those who knew him; almost as though he thought he was running out of time. Walt seemed to lose his temper whenever anyone asked him about working on “Disneyland East”, insisting that they concentrate on EPCOT. Walt must have realized that if EPCOT didn’t have its groundbreaking before “Disneyland East”, Roy Disney most likely would have cut back funding for EPCOT. Unfortunately, the world would lose Walt Disney (and EPCOT) on December 15, 1966.

While the company mourned the loss of its creative leader, Roy Disney immediately canceled all plans for EPCOT and re-directed the Florida team to work on the theme park for what he was now ironically calling Walt Disney World. Why was the name ironic? Because the project more closely resembled the vision Roy Disney had for the property- a revenue generating theme park surrounded by hotels- a vacation kingdom rather than a utopian city that happened to have a theme park near it. EPCOT as Walt had imagined it would never get built.

For decades, the model of what Walt Disney originally wanted EPCOT to look like was prominently displayed along the Peoplemover track in the Florida Magic Kingdom Park. Most of the time the ride narration referred to it as “Progress City” or “Walt Disney’s City of the Future.” Walt Disney’s company didn’t want its guests to realize that the EPCOT theme park down the road was originally supposed to be much different. The ride narration was eventually changed to acknowledge that the model is actually the EPCOT of Walt’s dreams.

In the end, Walt Disney World ended up becoming Roy Disney World. Roy conservatively built less than half of the originally planned hotels, which ended up making Orlando “Anaheim, Part Two”. The same sort of eyesore leeches that Walt Disney wanted to avoid ended up getting built, though they were across town instead of across the street. The resort would eventually begin a huge hotel building project, adding thousands of rooms, but by then the cheesy properties had already taken hold. While it would be hard to guess what Walt might have thought about the vacation kingdom that bears his name (he was always changing his mind and might have eventually decided to drop EPCOT himself) we can definitely say that it doesn’t resemble his original vision and ended up just pushing the blight he hated in Anaheim further away.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Walt Disney World Origins: PART FIVE

Despite his brother’s disapproval, Walt Disney pushed forward with his plans for EPCOT. The state of Florida eagerly approved the establishment of a privately owned municipality that would own and operate EPCOT, Disneyland East and the Disney owned hotels. Despite not fully understanding what Walt Disney was planning to build, the state of Florida, the city of Orlando and the world looked forward to whatever would get built in the swamplands outside of Orlando.

Roy Disney loved the idea of Disneyland East because he finally saw how profitable a theme park could be. While Walt Disney wasn’t completely motivated by profits, it always irked him that the majority of the revenue generated by DISNEYLAND went to outside entities. Whenever he wanted to fund expansion projects at his Magic Kingdom he’d often run into cash flow problems. While he was concentrating his resources and time on EPCOT, he had plans for multiple hotels and motels that would be Disney-owned. Walt Disney hoped that by building more lodging than needed, tawdry motels wouldn’t spring up in Orlando.

Walt Disney went on television to layout his plans for a real city- EPCOT. He put his team to work only on EPCOT; whenever anyone wanted to work on the theme park, he’d steer them back to his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. “We’ve already designed the perfect place,” he’d say, “We’ll just build that again and have more water.” Unfortunately for Walt- but fortunately for his brother- nobody outside of Walt Disney and his imagineers fully understood what EPCOT really was.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Walt Disney World Origins: PART FOUR

When Walt Disney decided to build his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, he originally set his sights on a parcel of land near Palm Springs. The success of DISNEYLAND made it possible to buy much more land than he could afford in 1955. At some point, Walt realized that not too many people would flock to see EPCOT unless he had something else to attract them. That “something” would have to be another DISNEYLAND. Once he came to this realization, he had to look for a site much further away from Anaheim to avoid taking business away from DISNEYLAND. He eventually settled on Orlando, FL.

Roy Disney, meanwhile, was not happy with this plan. While he was onboard with the idea of building “Disneyland East”, he hated this ‘futuristic city’ plan. He enlisted the help of MCA’s Lew Wasserman, a friend of the Disney Brothers, to help make Walt Disney come to his senses. Wasserman had recently added Universal Studios to his MCA empire and had become acquainted with the frustrations of running a privately owned city. Back in the early years of Universal Pictures, company founder Carl Laemmle had setup “Universal City” as its own municipality as part of a publicity stunt. After Lew took over, he became frustrated with the added bureaucracy and regulatory headaches he had to deal with. Roy Disney hoped that Lew could talk his brother out of wanting to go forward with EPCOT. Wasserman was unsuccessful.

So Walt Disney pushed on with his “Florida Project” with the hope that the millions of tourists who visited Disneyland East would like what they saw in EPCOT and take some of the ideas home with them. Roy, on the other hand, hoped that he could convince his brother to just build Disneyland East and forget all about EPCOT. In 1966, however, Walt Disney wasn’t even thinking about the Disneyland East theme park and had nobody working on it. Everyone at Walt Disney Imagineering was focused on Mr. Disney’s experimental town.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Walt Disney World Origins: PART THREE

Millions of people from around the world flocked to see the amazing, magical kingdom built by Walt Disney in Anaheim, making it an instant success. These same people clamored for their own magic kingdom. Walt Disney received daily offers from cities around the world begging him to build another DISNEYLAND in their hometowns. Walt turned these offers down; after all, he hated repeating himself. He had built the most amazing entertainment complex in the world; why would he want to waste his time building a copy of the Happiest Place on earth? 

But as perfect as DISNEYLAND was inside its gates, outside, the City of Anaheim was anything but. The city hadn’t followed Mr. Disney’s advice and basically approved any construction project that was structurally sound with no regard for whether it was compatible with a vacation resort area or visually attractive.

Houses were built mere yards from the Magic Kingdom, bringing complaining residents who were shocked that traffic and noise would emanate from a theme park that had already been there when they moved in. In just ten years, Anaheim had mismanaged its planning process and turned the area around DISNEYLAND into what Walt Disney called a ‘third rate Las Vegas’. Anaheim’s planning debacle coupled with urban decay in cities around the world led Mr. Disney to begin thinking about the future of cities and how they could be designed to be resistant to blight, self sufficient and more ecologically friendly. He soon set his sights on building a new project- the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow- EPCOT.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Walt Disney World Origins: PART TWO

Walt Disney eventually accepted the fact that none of his Hollywood friends really believed in his project. Bob Hope would famously joke about how he missed out by not investing in the area around DISNEYLAND. While it is easy to judge his famous friends, it isn’t hard to see why they- and the Major Hotel chains- weren’t willing to invest in Anaheim. At the time, Anaheim was just a sleepy farm town that people passed through to get to other, more interesting places. Most tourists visiting Southern California stayed in hotels clustered around downtown, Hollywood or the beaches. Sure, DISNEYLAND would eventually change this, but hardly anyone outside of Mr. Disney was certain of the park’s success. If DISNEYLAND shut down, it would also take down any hotels that sprang up around it.

Walt Disney and Anaheim’s last hope for an orderly world outside of the Magic Kingdom laid in the hands of Anaheim’s city government. They would be responsible for ensuring that real world Anaheim was as beautiful and high quality as the world inside DISNEYLAND. Sadly, they would fail miserably. Incompatible housing was zoned mere blocks away from DISNEYLAND. It seemed like as long as the proposed structure didn’t fall down, it was approved. Plus, since most of the entrepreneurs who swooped in to build around the park were relatively cash poor, they often carved out oddly shaped parcels of land that were only suitable to host whatever was being built on them and not much else. Anaheim had majorly dropped the ball and it was this “third rate Las Vegas” environment that encouraged Mr. Disney to look east- to EPCOT.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Walt Disney World: Origins PART ONE

When Walt Disney opened DISNEYLAND, it was like nothing else in the world. Dignitaries from around the United States and the world flocked to Anaheim to not just enjoy DISNEYLAND as guests, but to also try to convince Walt Disney to build another DISNEYLAND in their hometowns. The idea of building another DISNEYLAND didn’t appeal to Walt Disney and he rejected every offer of duplicating his Magic Kingdom anywhere else. So why did Walt Disney eventually change his mind? It turns out, he never really did, regardless of what the Disney PR machine eventually claimed. So why does Walt Disney World exist? The origin of Walt Disney World can be traced back to 1952- before construction had even begun on DISNEYLAND.

As the twentieth century entered its midway point, the United States began an unprecedented era of economic expansion. As the only major country whose infrastructure had not been destroyed by World War II, the United States was able to take advantage of its newfound power to enter a golden age of consumerism. Southern California, in particular, was becoming a world power in its own right. The Cold War was beginning and the epicenter of the military industrial complex was springing up in Los Angeles and its surrounding areas. Anaheim, then a sleepy town of 2,000 people primarily engaged in citrus farming, wanted to get in on the action and began rezoning vast tracts of land for housing subdivisions and aeronautic factories. Anaheim’s city fathers had decided that the town should become an inexpensive bedroom community for Los Angeles and possibly an aeronautic powerhouse. Walt Disney, however, would change those plans.

When the news first came out that Walt Disney had purchased hundreds of acres of land in Anaheim, many people thought that he planned to move his studio. When he officially announced that he would be building a theme park, Anaheim was further confused. Would this be a tawdry carnival or circus? When Mr. Disney assured them that it wouldn’t be, the land that had previously been planned to host subdivisions was re-zoned for commercial use.

DISNEYLAND had few boosters at the time and financing was hard to come by. Walt Disney had purchased as much land as he could afford at the time and tried to convince his wealthy Hollywood friends to buy some of the property surrounding his future Magic Kingdom. While he was able to get Jack Wrather to finance The DISNEYLAND Hotel, he was unsuccessful at convincing others to buy land, even when he promised to buy it back later. Mr. Disney pushed forward, however, finishing his Magic Kingdom and begging the City of Anaheim to carefully zone and plan the world outside his park. The city’s actions would later plant the seeds of EPCOT in Walt Disney’s mind.