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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.
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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.