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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.