Looking forward to Walt Disney World’s past

Written by Sam Gennawey. Posted in Samland, Walt Disney World

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Published on January 03, 2013 at 4:01 am with 7 Comments

Time to step into the Wayback Machine and take a look at how the Walt Disney World public relations team tried to portray the Magic Kingdom just prior to opening.

Back in April 1969, it was announced that Disney’s “Vacation Kingdom” would consist of two resort hotels. The 360-room “tomorrow” hotel would include a ballroom/convention center. The 10-story, 750-room Contemporary hotel would be much larger than originally planned. This was the “flagship” hotel on property and was designed with a ballroom capable of accommodating 2,000 guests for banquets and 3,000 in theater-style seating. It’s most notable features would be the “spectacular open-mall lobby longer than a football field, with an 80-foot ceiling” and the Walt Disney World monorail train running through the space.

The “South Sea” hotel was going to have 840 rooms in a motel complex along with 250 rooms with private gardens. That concept evolved into the 12-story, 700-room “Polynesian-style” resort. This high rise structure would also feature two-story “out-buildings.” All of the rooms were designed to face the water. Guests would “almost literally feel they have traveled to the far Pacific.”

The 1,450 steel framed unitized rooms for both hotels would be built off-site as modular structures then slipped into the framework on site. The goal was to reduce the weight of each room thereby, reducing the amount of steel necessary to build the structures. A typical room weighed 30-tons while this new process would cut that weight to only 6 tons. The project was meant to be a demonstration of new technologies in keeping with the original spirit of the E.P.C.O.T. project. Each unit was so strong, three could be stacked on top of one another without any additional support. Welton Becket & Associates was hired as architect. There were additional hotels also mentioned in early press releases, to be built in the future, including the Asian, Venetian, and Persian motifs.

One of the most impressive new attractions at the Magic Kingdom would be Thunder Mesa. Set in Frontierland, the show building would have been massive and “designed to resemble a ‘table-top mountain,’ typical of those on southwestern deserts.” There would be “a pueblo-style village and other attractions, including the Western River Expedition, a frontier fantasy on the grand scale of Pirates of the Caribbean” in California’s Disneyland.

Another attraction sure to draw tourists would be Space Mountain. “At 20-stories tall, this structure in Tomorrowland will house a number of adventures and attractions themed to the world of the future.” There would be 4 “high speed ‘rocket sled’ tracks” that would “climb the outside of the mountain, then plunge inside for a dark ride, simulating a trip though outer space.”

Also new to this park would be Liberty Square. The land would “recreate America’s past at the time of our nation’s founding. Here, shops and stores will portray the way of life in colonial days, and housed in a replica of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall will be One Nation Under God, an inspiring dramatization about the American Constitution and the 37 Presidents who have led our nation.”

At the heart of the Magic Kingdom would be Cinderella Castle. The PR team stated it would “be the visual focal point for Walt Disney World’s theme park. Twice as high as the castle at California’s Disneyland, it may be seen by guests staying at the ‘Vacation Kingdom’s’ nearby resort hotels.” A sit down restaurant in the Castle’s interior with Medieval decor was also announced.

RCA would be a sponsor and they would be responsible for providing the telecommunications system for the entire resort. This is a drawing of the RCA Information-Communication nerve center.

Walt Disney World was always meant to be more than just a theme park. It was designed to be an all-inclusive resort. One of the major amenities was the variety of water recreational opportunities including sailing, boating, fishing, and water-skiing. The Disney built Seven Seas Lagoon would extend “the existing lake into a three-mile pleasure waterway, dotted with natural and man-made islands.” The Resort promised, “aquatic spectacles and sports, while at the same time retaining its often spectacular beauty.” The “lake and lagoon have already been lined with broad, sandy beaches for sunning and swimming.


Of course, a lot of those early announced features didn’t quite make it to opening day. is there anything in the early plans that you wish had been built as described?

If you enjoy reading SAMLAND, you’ll love my book. Walt and the Promise of Progress City. It offers a detailed look into how Walt Disney envisioned the future of communities. Along the way, we explore many facets of a fascinating man. Plus, buying the book helps ensure that I’ll be able to continue bringing you more Samland. It’s a win/win situation.

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About Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennawey is an urban planner who has collaborated with communities throughout California over the course of more than 100 projects to create a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. Sam is a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Regional Planning History Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving municipal, county, and private sector planning documents from throughout Los Angeles County. Sam is the author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City which you can find on Amazon.

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7 Comments

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  1. Thunder Mesa would have been awesome!

  2. I wonder if the loss of these wonderful attractions began with the loss of Walt…

  3. Thunder Mesa sounds like quite an upgrade over Tom Sawyer’s Island. Wish it would have come to fruition.

  4. I’m so curious about that early concept for Space Mountain. It’s interesting that both WDW and Euro Disneyland planned major complexes for Space Mountain that were both scaled back to simple coasters in the dark. Oh how I wish that at least one of the major Space Mountain complexes had been built. Ditto that for Thunder Mesa.

  5. Sam thank you for the trip back in time. Perhaps Thunder Mesa could still be fitted in to Disneyland’s Fronteirland next to Big Thunder. Would love to see the Western River Expedition finally happen. PDL Phantom Manor gives a taste of what it would be like only floating in a Pirates like boat.

  6. Western River Expedition MUST happen in some shape or form. They should close the northern part of the river in either DL or WDW and put Thunder Mesa there. I can understand them putting Pirates in WDW instead of WRE, but the time for WRE has come. Actually if I think about it, Pirates doesn’t have THAT many animatronics, maybe 40? The awesomeness of Pirates is the animatronics IN the immersive environment. Tokyo DL should have put WRE in long ago, although I’ve heard that they might put Carsland in the Westernland area.

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