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In the mid-1960’s, Walt Disney Productions was extremely busy. As the 1964 World’s Fair wrapped up, the Disney attractions located there were disassembled and made their way west to DISNEYLAND. DISNEYLAND had various projects either actively under construction or in the planning stages, including Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, New Tomorrowland and a potential new theme park- California Living. The Happiest Millionaire, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats and The Love Bug were in various stages of production and in the midst of all this, Walt Disney took on the massive Florida Project.
Walt Disney’s only known visit to the swamps of
Once the project had been announced, Walt Disney took to the airwaves to announce it to the world. Everyone was interested in what was being called “Disneyland East” at the time, but Walt’s mentions of EPCOT mainly drew blank stares. Was that a theme park? No, it wasn’t (at least not at the time.) How much money would it cost to visit? As an actual city, it would mostly be free. Even members of his own staff didn’t fully understand what EPCOT would be. Walt Disney wasn’t too concerned, however. He had heard the same types of questions when he’d announced DISNEYLAND. He was sure that by the time the doors had opened in Florida that people would know exactly what to expect.
By 1966, Walt Disney’s Imagineers had figured out exactly what Walt Disney wanted at EPCOT and were busily researching the latest ideas for mass transit and urban futurism. EPCOT would feature sleek monorails, mass transit systems, green energy, futuristic designs and technological advances. A model was built to illustrate what EPCOT could look like and was being readied for display at the under construction Carousel of Progress in DISNEYLAND.
While the Imagineers were fully onboard with the project, Roy Disney was not. He loved the idea of another theme park and its associated hotels, but still questioned the viability of a real life experimental city. As his brother concentrated on EPCOT, Roy was concentrating on convincing his brother that EPCOT was a bad idea. Walt Disney, on the other hand, was beginning to feel that time was running out.
In mid 1966, Walt Disney’s health began to deteriorate and he was diagnosed with lung cancer. While others would have seen this as a time to slow down, Walt Disney felt the pressure to step things up.
Wednesday, November 10, 2021
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Despite not being fully onboard with Walt Disney’s idea of an experimental prototype community of tomorrow, Roy Disney began the process of secretly buying Florida swampland for “The Florida Project”. After it was determined that Orlando would be an ideal site due to it not getting too many hurricanes, a command center was setup to begin buying tens of thousands of acres. This was made more difficult by the fact that much of the acreage they were looking to acquire was owned by hundreds of people who had been swindled out of their money by speculators who sold the useless acreage to northerners who thought they were buying easily developable land.
Meanwhile, Walt Disney began assembling the team who would help him plan out EPCOT. Whenever anyone asked him about the plans for “Disneyland East”, Walt cautioned them not to waste their time. He felt that he had already designed the perfect place- DISNEYLAND- and didn’t want to spend his precious time reinventing the theme park. His priority was EPCOT. So what would the project have looked like if Walt’s real plans had come to fruition? It wouldn’t have looked anything like it does now.
The experience would have been much different if Walt Disney's original plans had been realized. The "Seven Seas Lagoon" that stands between the park and the parking lot would not have existed; Walt Disney had originally planned for that to be a green area that could be used for future expansion. (The current lagoon is labeled below with a 4). "Disneyland East" is shown below labeled #1, ringed by its various themed hotels. Guests of the hotels would have been able to walk to the park easily from their hotel rooms in a design similar to the current setup in Anaheim.
If you weren't staying in a Disney hotel, you would have been guided to the main parking lot that was miles away, marked with a 3. Your only mode of transportation from here would have been a monorail which would whisk you north to the park, cutting right through EPCOT, which would have been a real city. The announcer on the monorail would fill you in on this City of the future, inviting you to tour it after your visit to Disneyland East. (EPCOT is shown above as #2.)
The EPCOT of Walt Disney’s dreams would have been a real city where real people could live. It was never intended to be a theme park at all. Sadly, these plans would never come to fruition.
Friday, October 29, 2021
While Roy Disney hated his brother’s plans for an experimental prototype community, he loved the idea of building another Disneyland back east. Despite Roy’s initial doubts, DISNEYLAND had brought financial security to Walt Disney Productions. Building a second park seemed like a no-brainer. As a result, he enthusiastically began lining up financing, hopeful that he could convince his brother that his plans for a real city were not feasible. Meanwhile, Walt Disney began taking on projects at the 1964 New York World’s Fair to prove that his attractions could be successful outside of his Magic Kingdom in Anaheim.
Walt Disney lined up an impressive slate of projects, like the General Electric Carousel of Progress, a unique revolving audio animatronic show that featured an engaging show that amazed audiences and featured the song that its legendary writers considered to be an unofficial Walt Disney anthem- There’s A Great, Big Beautiful Tomorrow.
Another amazing pavilion was Ford’s Magic Journey, a ride through attraction that allowed guests to get behind the wheel of a Ford and ride through elaborate animatronic scenes featuring the past, present and future of the world.
The final project that Walt Disney planned to oversee was Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, a jaw dropping animatronic show featuring Walt’s favorite President- Abraham Lincoln- who would literally come back to life in a sophisticated, reverent presentation.
With these projects, plus the ones taking place at DISNEYLAND, plus the secret planning for a possible Florida project, Walt Disney Imagineering had its hands full. Meanwhile, PepsiCo was involved in a power struggle. After the death of its chairman Alfred Steele, his widow, the Hollywood actress Joan Crawford, had insisted on taking his place on the board of the company. When the company pledged to build a fundraising attraction for UNICEF at the World’s Fair, the warring factions on the board couldn’t agree on what the attraction should be or who should build it for them. Confronted by the PR department, who felt not having the promised attraction would be a black eye for the company, the board agreed to authorize Joan Crawford to approach her Hollywood friend Walt Disney to see if he could put something together. The result was the classic attraction it’s a small world.
The attractions were a smash success. Three of them- General Electric’s Carousel of Progress, Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln and it’s a small world moved out west to DISNEYLAND and Walt was emboldened to take his ideas for EPCOT and Disneyland East to the public.
Saturday, October 23, 2021
Friday, October 22, 2021
As DISNEYLAND became a worldwide sensation, Walt Disney was pressured to try to replicate his Magic Kingdom elsewhere. At first, he was resistant. He didn’t see the point in making a copy of his beloved DISNEYLAND. After seeing Anaheim’s mistakes in managing the area around his park, however, Walt began to think bigger than just building another theme park. He wanted to build a model city.
Walt figured that if cities weren’t willing to move forward with mass transit, cleaner energy and more modern ways of living, he’d have to show them how to do it. Originally he thought that he could buy thousands of acres near Palm Springs, California and construct his experimental city there. His brother Roy, however, thought it was a terrible idea. Roy called up his friend Lew Wasserman, the head of MCA and Universal Studios to try to talk some sense into his brother.
Why would Roy want Lew to talk to Walt? As the head of Universal Studios, Lew had inherited a headache called Universal City. Setup by studio founder Carl Laemmle, Universal City was an actual privately owned and incorporated city surrounded by Burbank and Los Angeles. It began life as a publicity stunt, but by the 1960’s it had become a mess that Lew was trying to clean up. Lew told Walt about his problems with infrastructure, resources and zoning issues. Carl Laemmle had originally setup the municipality to give his studio more freedom in building whatever it liked and also for the publicity having his own city would bring. Lew insisted that Walt wouldn’t really want these problems- and besides, wouldn’t a “Disney City” in Palm Springs take away business from DISNEYLAND?
Walt seemed to take his conversation with Lew seriously, but he didn’t take away the lesson that Roy hoped he’d learn. Walt realized that people probably wouldn’t go to his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow unless there was something else to attract them to it. He also didn’t want to take business away from DISNEYLAND. Walt would decide to look East for a place with cheap land far away from DISNEYLAND. He turned his eyes to Florida.
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DISNEYLAND’s success brought the world to Anaheim, California. The park’s visitors marveled at how clean and wonderful Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom was. The city tried to put its best foot forward to attract new residents and visitors.
Unfortunately, the reality didn’t match what Walt Disney had dreamed of. The City of Anaheim squandered its opportunity to develop the land surrounding DISNEYLAND in a way that complemented the park. They approved incompatible projects adjacent to the park like tract housing that would later become blighted and cheap motels that would turn into eyesores.
While Walt Disney hadn’t solely opened DISNEYLAND just to make money, he eventually grew bitter about the outside businesses that were profiting off of his dream. That money could have gone into improving his Magic Kingdom. Instead it was going into the pockets of the very people whose fly by night operations had turned the area around the park into what Mr. Disney described as a “second rate Las Vegas.”
Inside the park, Tomorrowland pointed to the great big beautiful tomorrow that could be our shared future- seemingly far removed from the mess that Anaheim had made of the surrounding area. Walt had hoped that guests would be inspired by what they saw in Tomorrowland and take those ideas home to demand sleek mass transportation like the DISNEYLAND Monorail. Unfortunately, DISNEYLAND’s use of alternative transportation concepts made it easy for skeptics to ridicule any attempt to improve transportation by deriding it as just a “DISNEYLAND ride”.
Walt Disney soon realized that he would have to present his futuristic ideas in a more realistic setting to get others to see them as practical. That’s when he started to dream about an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow- EPCOT.
Friday, October 8, 2021
Disney World’s roots can be traced back to before DISNEYLAND even opened back in 1955. When Walt Disney first began planning out DISNEYLAND, he found few people who believed in the project. Even his brother Roy doubted its feasibility and only signed onto the project to gain the trademark rights to the Walt Disney name. This meant that Walt couldn’t buy as much land as he wanted. When DISNEYLAND was under construction, Walt would often take his wealthy Hollywood friends out to the site to see what he was building and to try to convince them to buy up the surrounding land. He found no takers, even after he promised that once DISNEYLAND became profitable, he’d buy the land off of them. As DISNEYLAND’s opening day grew near, it was obvious that the surrounding area would not be controlled by Walt Disney Productions.
In a last ditch effort to create an attractive tourism area around the park, Walt Disney appealed to the city of Anaheim to create a special zone around the park which would control the look and feel of what he thought was sure to be a bustling tourist district. The city, however, seemed to approve any structure that didn’t immediately collapse, much to the chagrin of Walt Disney. This situation was made worse by the fact that most of the earliest business owners who decided to take the risk and open up near DISNEYLAND were smaller operators who couldn’t afford large parcels of land. Anaheim was willing to divide up parcels in any required size, which made for a mishmash of oddly sized properties that would prove to be difficult to sell or buy in the distant future.
By the time that DISNEYLAND was a huge success, the area around it was a tacky mess, and Walt Disney was powerless to clean it up or improve it. While the city of Anaheim has sometimes blamed the problems in its resort area on DISNEYLAND’s explosive success having caught it off guard and unprepared, it actually had every opportunity to prevent them from occurring had it listened to Mr. Disney to begin with.
While Walt Disney received huge pressure to expand his theme park empire to other cities, he completely resisted it- at first. One look at the real world just outside the gates of his Magic Kingdom made him consider the possibilities of a second attraction- though he was not interested in just building a theme park or a vacation resort. He wanted to build an actual city of his own.