Featured Attractions

Monday, February 26, 2024

EPCOT Part Five: Walt Disney’s Experimental Community

When Walt Disney decided to announce his latest project, the public was confused. They loved the idea of Disneyland East, but what was this EPCOT thing? Was it another theme park? For those of you who have been following along, you know that it was definitely NOT a theme park. But what exactly was Walt planning to build? Today we take a look at what EPCOT would have been like if Walt Disney had lived to see it open.

Guests would have entered the massive property at its southern end, parking their cars in massive parking lots located where Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the All-Star Resorts are located today. They would then board monorails and peoplemovers that would whisk them north to Disneyland East through Walt Disney’s Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow- EPCOT. As guests pass through the city, a pre-recorded spiel would point out the important features of this real life city and encourage them to take a tour of it during their stay.

The city itself would feature working factories and mixed use development where people could actually live and work. The factories would be operated by some of the biggest names in American industry and permit guests to tour the grounds. Walt envisioned a place where people lived close to where they worked and shopped, predicting a future where mixed use development would be proposed as a way to reduce carbon emissions caused by lengthy commutes. 

Walt believed that he could convince the titans of industry to setup shop in EPCOT and he would start with the companies that already sponsored attractions in Disneyland- Monsanto, RCA, General Electric and McDonnell-Douglas. The hope was that guests of Disneyland East would head back home and encourage their hometown leadership to adopt the ideas and technology found at EPCOT. Even better, some guests might be inspired enough to pull up stakes and move to the futuristic city. While Disneyland East would be the weenie that attracted the world to Orlando, EPCOT would be the real life city that would truly inspire the world to look to a brighter future.

While Walt Disney enthusiastically pushed forward with his version of EPCOT, Roy Disney was enthusiastically pushing his brother to start work on designing Disneyland East. Walt cared little about the theme park and ordered his staff to not waste time on it. He reasoned that the original Disneyland was already perfect and he would just duplicate it in Florida without New Orleans Square and with more water. Would this impasse between Walt and Roy lead to their greatest argument ever? Sadly, fate would intervene in the most tragic way possible, forestalling the inevitable fight over Disney’s Florida Project.

Monday, February 19, 2024

EPCOT Part Four: From NYC to Florida Swampland

By 1964, Walt Disney had set his sights on building “Disneyland East” somewhere in Florida where he could buy up vast tracts of land at a cheap price. Unlike his previous project in Anaheim, “Disneyland East” would not be the focus of this new development- that would be his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow- EPCOT. “Disneyland East” would just be a way to get people to visit EPCOT- a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. By this time, Roy Disney had seen the huge success that DISNEYLAND had been and relished the idea of re-creating it in Florida. He hated the idea of EPCOT, but figured he could convince his brother to scrap it as unworkable eventually. He would keep this plan close to the vest, however.

For now, Walt Disney wanted to prove that a Disney attraction could succeed far from Hollywood’s backyard. He decided that the best way to do this was to embrace New York’s 1964 World’s Fair. If Disney could successfully build and operate multiple attractions in the cosmopolitan city of New York, it would prove that a Disney theme park could work on the east coast. WDI quickly got the word out that it was ready and willing to work with American industry to build exciting new attractions.

Ford Motor Company, General Electric and the State of Illinois quickly lined up to have Walt Disney’s Imagineers work on new attractions. With three major projects underway plus extensive expansion at DISNEYLAND, Walt Disney Imagineering’s hands were full. 

Despite the huge amount of work already being undertaken on a staggering number of projects, Walt Disney decided to sign up one more project that would produce one of the company’s most beloved attractions- “it’s a small world”. PepsiCo’s board of directors had been fighting ever since Hollywood actress Joan Crawford had insisted on taking her late husband’s seat on the board. The internal war had delayed the planning of the company’s World’s Fair attraction that it had publicly announced would benefit UNICEF. Forced to compromise rather than suffer a PR black eye, the company enlisted Joan Crawford to appeal to her Hollywood friend Walt Disney to get a fast tracked attraction built- a ride that became “it’s a small world.” Yes folks, the ride beloved by generations of children exists in part because of Joan “Mommie Dearest” Crawford.

Disney’s World’s Fair attractions were the highlight of the event and proved that DISNEYLAND’s magic would work even thousands of miles away from its main gate. With this success, the company went full speed ahead, acquiring thousands of acres of swampland in the middle of Florida. While Walt Disney saw a vast wilderness that he could tame into becoming a model (and real) city, his brother had an entirely different idea for a vacation kingdom.

Walt and Roy were headed towards a battle over what this “Florida Project” would actually be. Come back next week as we take a look at what Walt’s Florida Project would have looked like if he had lived to see it open and won the battle against his brother Roy who was extremely skeptical of EPCOT’s viability.


Monday, February 12, 2024

EPCOT Part Three: Walt Looks East- To Palm Springs

Upset with the urban sprawl that quickly surrounded his Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney began to think about ways to influence the way cities were being planned around the world. He attempted to show futuristic modes of transportation and technology in Tomorrowland, but the influencers of the time derided attempts to introduce any of these ideas to the real world as impractical amusement park rides. Walt’s best efforts to promote a great big beautiful tomorrow were actually standing in the way of these technologies making their way to the outside world.

Walt decided that he needed to build an actual city- an experimental prototype community of tomorrow- that would show everyone how monorails, technology and careful planning would solve the problems plaguing cities at the time. Suburban sprawl and its resultant decay, which the city of Anaheim regrettably allowed to surround Walt Disney’s perfect park, could hopefully be held at bay if guests took the things they learned from Walt’s experimental city back to their respective cities. But where could this city be built? Walt originally looked east- to Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley.

Walt Disney was very familiar with Palm Springs and its surrounding area. The city had become a desert getaway for much of Hollywood, Walt Disney included. In fact, he had mortgaged his own Palm Springs home at the area’s famed Smoke Tree Ranch to help finance Disneyland. Walt looked at various sites south of Palm Springs where he could build EPCOT. Walt wanted to do more than just build a city of tomorrow; he wanted to establish it as a city that Walt Disney Productions could fully own, operate and manage. This greatly concerned Roy Disney, who enlisted MCA/Universal’s Lew Wasserman to talk some sense into his brother.

In the 1920’s, Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle bought hundreds of acres in North Los Angeles to build his new studio. Laemmle incorporated “Universal City” as a privately owned and operated city that just so happened to produce motion pictures. His intent, however, wasn’t as noble as Walt’s- he used his private city’s status as a publicity stunt and a way to circumvent regulations. By the 1960’s, however, new CEO Lew Wasserman saw the city’s incorporation as an albatross and agreed to help his friend by meeting with Walt to discuss the headaches and pitfalls of establishing a private city. He was unsuccessful; Walt left the meeting even more emboldened to build his city.

After running the numbers, Walt Disney’s consultants pointed to an obvious problem; tourists would not flock to tour a “city of tomorrow” regardless of whether it had the Disney name attached. Walt Disney’s guests would be disappointed and possibly disenchanted with his company if they showed up to EPCOT and saw a city instead of a fun park. He would need to build something fun to attract the public then hope they stick around long enough to then tour the experimental city. If this enterprise were built in the Coachella Valley, it would draw guests away from Disneyland, diluting the park’s profits. So how could Walt try to avoid cannibalizing Disneyland’s business? By locating his new project on the opposite side of the United States. Thus he began planning out what he was now calling  “The Florida Project” .

Monday, February 5, 2024

EPCOT Part Two: Walt’s Misadventures in Vacationland

When DISNEYLAND started construction in 1954, there was very little development in Anaheim. The park was being built in the middle of an orange grove surrounded by open farmland. The Anaheim canvas was, for the most part, entirely blank.

Walt Disney purchased as much land as he could afford at the time- about 250 acres- and began asking his famous Hollywood friends for investment funds. Since few people believed that the park would succeed, he wasn’t successful in this effort. Moving on, Walt decided to ask his wealthy friends to purchase some of the large parcels of open land that would surround the future Magic Kingdom, promising to buy it all from them after Disneyland became profitable. This appeal was also unsuccessful.

Eventually, Walt gave up on the prospect of securing more land in Anaheim and decided to make an appeal to the city itself. Disneyland was going to be a jewel, attracting millions of tourists to the town, so the city had to be prepared to deal with the onslaught. Anaheim would need to put its best foot forward to impress the millions of guests who would find their way to Disneyland, so he advised them to be careful with their zoning. It should only allow tasteful and complementary development around Disneyland. Unfortunately, the city never took his advice.

It seemed like the only requirement the city of Anaheim had at the time for businesses in the area surrounding Disneyland was that the building didn’t fall down. The city even allowed housing to spring up mere feet away from the Disneyland Hotel, bringing in a wave of residents who would eventually complain about the noise and traffic. Walt Disney despised the “third rate Las Vegas” that surrounded his Magic Kingdom and he quickly pondered a solution to the urban decay that seemed to be endemic to large cities around the world. Maybe he could use all of the things he had learned when dreaming up Disneyland to show the world how its cities could be improved. The huge success of Disneyland could bankroll his experimental community of tomorrow- a project he called EPCOT.