Walt Disney World Photo Parkeology

Written by George Taylor. Posted in Disney, Disney History, Disney Parks, Features, Imaginerding, Walt Disney World

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Published on January 14, 2013 at 4:01 am with 20 Comments

In last week’s column, I looked at some vintage images from a 1974 pictorial souvenir of Walt Disney World and got pretty nerdy over a park bench. There must be a lot of WDW nerds out there because you folks asked for more. So, let’s go deeper this week. I got an email from Ed K., who sent along an image from the 1972 Souvenir Guidepack that offered another view of one of the images I featured. It’s another example of Disney re-using an image or set of images many times.

As I mentioned in the last column, the image looks like a relaxing afternoon at a beach. We’re obviously near the Contemporary, but from this angle, it’s hard to tell where the photo was taken or if it was a composite. We had lots of great comments. What do you think?

Ed K. sent me an email with the following image. He commented: “It’s the same “family” as the 1974 book, just in a different pose!”

Right away, I noticed the caption, “Relaxing on the beach of the Seven Seas Lagoon.” Geographically, this seems impossible because the monorail beam is always between the Contemporary Resort Garden Wings and Seven Seas Lagoon. You wouldn’t have an unimpeded view of the Garden Wings from anywhere on the Seven Seas Lagoon. Of course, it sounds so much better to say Seven Seas Lagoon than Bay Lake in public relations material.

I’m assuming the image from Ed was taken first. The smaller boat is closer in Ed’s image and it looks like the guy in the white trunks threw the ball. Although, the blonde on the left has her arm extended as if she threw it. Check out that Mickey flotation device/seat. The guy in the white shorts was sitting on it in my image.

It’s still too difficult to tell where the image was taken. I did a post in 2008 about Discovery Island and I took a screen image of a satellite image. You can see the Garden Wings on the left side of the image. Because we can’t see the Contemporary Tower in the images from 1972 and 1974, it had to have been taken from an odd angle. My thought is that, if it isn’t a composite (which seems unlikely because we have two different images), then it had to have been taken from the north shore of Bay Lake (the part cropped out of the top of the image below).

The image below is from a larger scan that Ed K. sent me. I highlighted the area in light blue where I think the photo was staged. They were on a sandy beach which limits where they could have been. Since we can’t see the tower, it has to be at an angle that just shows the Wing with an island behind it. The small island to the right of the South Garden Wing could be the background of the image. If you look at satellite imagery today, the area in blue is more marsh-like than sandy beach.

But why would they take a photo without the iconic Contemporary Resort Tower? And wouldn’t the pier/boat area be visible in a photo from that area?

The next image is from Walt Disney World, the First Decade. It’s an aerial view of Blackbeard’s Island (renamed Treasure Island in 1974 and ultimately Discovery Island in 1976) with the Contemporary Resort under construction. The dock was one of the first things constructed on the island. About 55,000 cubic yards of soil was added to the island in 1973/1974 to build it out for use. It changed the shape and the level of the island drastically. So, they could have taken the photo from the shore of Discovery Island but it seems highly unlikely considering there wouldn’t be trees behind the North Garden Wing (on the right-hand side of the image below) because of the parking lot and tennis courts.

So, where does this leave us?

Does anyone even care?

I’ll leave you with a palate cleanser, of sorts. The following is a fantastic image of Main Street, USA with  Seven Seas Lagoon as an unusual backdrop. It’s a late afternoon shot with people exiting the park.

So, what do you think about the photos? Any idea where they were shot?


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About George Taylor

George has been obsessed with Disney theme parks since the first time he saw a photo of the Haunted Mansion in the early 70s. He started writing about Disney in 2007 and has amassed one of the world's largest Disney-related libraries.

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20 Comments

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  1. NEEEEEEEEEERD!

    But, I’m sure there are other people out there that are as fascinated by stuff like this as we are. I mean, it’s kind of fun to figure out where this stuff is…even if only for our own sakes!

    • Takes one to know one!

  2. What got my attention from the photos was how close the Widerness Lodge is to the Comtemporary. A lake-front walking bridge should connect these two and would enhance both deluxe resorts. And some hearty Wilderness lodge guest would like the option of walking to the Magic Kingdom, even though they could take a boat or a bus. I guess they could walk there now, but (correct me if I’m wrong) it’s a pedestrian unfriendly, indirect route.

    • It’s a very unfriendly walk. There is a bike path between Ft. Wilderness and the Wilderness lodge and it is more than a mile.

      I’ve had quite a few people email me directly with more photographic evidence.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. I’d agree that the shot is from the blue shaded area (or even a bit more to the east). Every time I looked at that shot (during my teenage years in the 70′s), I often thought how much fun it would be to have a group of my high school friends at WDW with me, and renting some boats and heading over to that secluded beach. It seems as though (like the group in the photo), we took WDW at a much slower pace in those days, and really enjoyed the whole resort, not just the parks. A majority of todays WDW guests really have no idea of the vast recreational opportunities that once existed on the Florida property.

    • Absolutely! The pace was slower and the focus was on recreation in general (golf, boats, horses, camping, shows, pools, beaches, etc) in addition to the Magic Kingdom. It was certainly a simpler time. It was actually a very sporty, but relaxing vacation. My how times have changed.

    • I agree–more to the East. The blue zone is too tight an angle.

    • A Walt Disney World vacation changed when Epcot opened and then changed even more when Eisner took over and tried to expand the resort property.

      I think a WDW vacation from the 1970s would have been amazing and relaxing.

  4. The shot seems too close to be from the north shore of Bay Lake. Perhaps the images have been reversed and we are actually looking at the North Garden Rooms from the beach on Blackbeard’s Island?? If they lied about Seven Seas Lagoon they are not beyond reversing an image for the sake of composition in a layout.

    • That might be more plausible.

    • That’s not a bad thought!

      Thanks for the comment.

  5. Looking at satelite images it would appear that there was a small beach for the “city” of Bay Lake on the north shore, the beach looks to be overgrown these days, but this would be the correct line of sight for the image.

    • That’s my first thought, but there just isn’t enough evidence. From the promotional photos of the time, it looks like the shores of Bay Lake did have some sandy areas.

  6. If that image was taken from the blue shaded area, it appears you would be able to see not only the pier but also the North Garden Wings as well as the South. Maybe I’m way off, but it looks to me like the photo may have been staged farther east or along the northwest corner of what will be Discovery Island.

    Was there ever a beach in front of the North garden wings? Because if there wasn’t, that can’t be a reversed photo, it has to be the south wings with the pier just barely out of view.

    • I’m pretty sure there were always rocks (like today) surrounding the Bay Lake edges of the Garden Wings.

      It’s quite an odd picture for so many reasons.

      Thanks for the comment!

  7. I’ve extrapolated these sorts of shots before and also altered things like this as a professional. Judging from the angle of the wing and the look of the forest behind, it was probably shot just to the east of the blue area, about one more blue box’s width. The reason the main tower isn’t in it, is likely because its exterior wasn’t completed as soon as the wings were. Also, remember that there was a plan to put another resort to the North of Contemporary, near where Space Mountain and the Monorail barns would end up and could have been proposed as far to the north and east as where this shot looks like it originated, so grooming up a beach here wouldn’t have been odd if it meant you could use it as a hotel location one day. Its MUCH cheaper to make it right at the beginning rather than wait for later. Plus, the story goes that there was a LOT of nice white sand dredged up from the bottom of the lake, so the company would have wanted to have spread it as far around the perimeter as possible to give it a pristine tropical look for as far as the guests could see… Nerdy indeed!

    • Great thoughts!

      There were so many great opportunities for photos, even with WDW under construction that it’s odd to composite a photo. But Disney had obvious issues with promoting Walt Disney World, that they might have just handed it off to the marketing people.

      Thanks for commenting.

  8. Regarding: “it looks like the guy in the white trunks threw the ball. Although, the blonde on the left has her arm extended as if she threw it”

    I believe that it was the girl who threw the ball. In the top photo, the ball is in the boys lap and the girl is about to pick it up. The next photo, the ball is obviously gone from the lap and en route to presumably the father.

  9. George, I’m pretty sure it’s a cut and paste, old school style image. (I’ve watched ad and print guys actually use X-Acto knives. It’s comical, when you think about how it’s done today.) I bet actors were hired, photos shot, and then composite images were created to satisfy the needs of the ad and marketing teams as they came about. If you notice Ed K.’s image, there are significant contrast differences between the water, people, and the beach ball looks very odd. I’m pretty sure these were manufactured.

    That said, I think there’s another item to consider. I would doubt an image of that quality could be taken from the distance you suggested (blue shaded area) back in the ’70s. I am convinced, though, that your direction is right but look at this link: http://www.passporter.com/photos/contemporary-resort/p1278-disney-27s-contemporary-resort-garden-wing.html and you might be convinced it was taken from the Contemporary dock, instead.

    Great article!

    • Good insight! If that’s the case they could have even taken the pic from a boat!