In another look at yesterday’s tomorrows, let’s turn the clock back to 1975 and see what Walt Disney Productions (WDP) was up to with regards to their theme parks. Both Walt and Roy were gone and the management team headed by Cardon Walker was trying to make sense of their legacy. In 1975, Disneyland would turn 20 years old and the first phase of the Magic Kingdom and Walt Disney World was deemed completed. What would be the future?
Now that the Florida project was ten years old, the leadership at WDP started to look at ways to bring Walt’s vision of a demonstration city forward. What they did not want was a huge, traditional brick and mortar community which might possibly become obsolete. Instead, they wanted to build “a community system oriented to the communication of new ideas, rather than to serving the day-to-day needs of a limited number of permanent residents.”
To that end, WDP created the EPCOT Institute, an independent organization to provide the administrative structure for all activities regarding the development of Walt’s demonstration city. This version of EPCOT’s Future World Theme Center was meant to be a long-range, non-profit activity financed by governments, corporations, and foundations. There would be no admission charge. WDP would benefit from longer stays by guests and increased convention business.
Some of the earliest innovations included the first WDW tram to run on alcohol and the use of water hyacinth to filter waste water in the water treatment facility. The office building for the Reedy Creek Improvement District was one of the earliest to be heated and cooled by solar panels. The same system would be used to power 25 new homes in Lake Buena Vista. Sewage would be treated with algae and daphnia mariculture. Even the monorail and the linear motor-propelled WEDway PeopleMover were cited as advancements. One of the earliest and least known efforts was the creation of a prototype hospital day care center.
In addition to the Future World Theme Center, a new attraction, the World Showcase, would be built on a 100-acre site between the Transportation-Ticket Center and Florida Highway 192. It would be linked to Future World and the Magic Kingdom by monorail.
The design of the exhibit would be two side-by-side semi-circular structures facing each other. Each country would be offered a pavilion with a facade equal in size to every other country. However, the rest of the pavilion would vary in size depending on the activities inside. For example, inside of the Mexico pavilion would be a boat ride to Lake Xochimilco or a simulated bullet train ride through the Japanese countryside. In between would be the Courtyard of Nations with performance space. The on-going international exposition was slated to open in late 1979.
To staff the World Showcase, Walt Disney Productions had proposed an early version of the International College program. While WDP would be responsible for the design of each pavilion, the sponsor countries would pay for the development and operation of their pavilions for a minimum of ten years. WDP would profit by a general admission charge to the World Showcase.
WDP was very aggressive in soliciting support from the international community. By 1975, they hired former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Tourism C. Langhorne Washburn and his team had already approached over 31 countries. The goal was to lock in as many countries as possible and then make an announcement to proceed by the nation’s bicentennial on July 4, 1976.
Trying to stay on property was becoming increasingly difficult. WDW only had three hotels at the time (the Contemporary, the Polynesian Village, and the Golf Resort), which were operating at 95% occupancy. Even the Fort Wilderness campground was a hit with occupancy rates in 1975 topping 83%. For 1976, WDP planned on adding 118 additional campsites. Also new for 1976 would be the opening of Disney’s first water park, River Country.
The Magic Kingdom also saw the largest expansion in its early history. The addition of Space Mountain, the WEDway PeopleMover, and the Tomorrowland Rocket helped to drive record attendance.
At Disneyland, for the first time, a off-season local advertising program was instituted. The theme was “Disneyland, the happiest part of growing up. Come live it again.” New attractions included the return of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and the premiere of America on Parade. Construction of Space Mountain had also begun.
WDP was also working on feasibility studies for the Tokyo Disneyland project in 1975. WDP proposed to design the park in exchange for a percentage from revenues. The Oriental Land Company would be responsible for financing the project.
Another big initiative was the Independence Lake Project. After struggling to get the Mineral King Ski Resort off the ground, WDP was determined to build a ski resort in California. Independence Lake was located near Truckee. WDP planned to build a 15-acre village at one end of the lake with overnight accommodations. Overall, the entire resort would cover some 9,500 acres with 90% set aside as undeveloped land. Expected attendance was 1.2 million per year. By 1975, the project was on hold pending a decision by the United States Forest Service. In the end, it would never be built.
Alas, with the future the only thing that is certain is what has already passed.