Walt Disney World Research Help Needed

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

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

frontpagepic_IMGRD

Published on September 16, 2013 at 2:00 am with 9 Comments

Calling all ImagiNERDS!

I’ve got some Walt Disney World mysteries that I need your help to uncover that I’ve listed at the end of this article. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can discover!

Writing for MiceChat has opened many doors and provided a great way to meet other Disney historians to share resources, discuss finer points and to get answers to questions that seem to plague only me. For the longest time, I obsessed over the Bob-A-Round boats until I found most every piece of information on them (except a really good interior shot). People still email me photos and scans of Bob-A-Round boats (which is awesome) and my original article has led to a few conversations with Disney Legend Bob Gurr about other Disney projects (check out Bob’s tale about the ill-fated Bob-A-Long boat).

Jeff Lange provided this image of a Bob-A-Long boat. It might have been the production model and the ONLY one to ever sail the Seven Seas. Any thoughts?

 

Columbia Harbour House Opening Date

I’ve run across many other park mysteries that seemed to be answered serendipitously.

According the the magnificent Disney A to Z: the Official Disney Encyclopedia by Dave Smith, the Columbia Harbour House was an opening day restaurant at the Magic Kingdom. I’ve confirmed with several friends that the Columbia Harbour House wasn’t open until Christmas 1971 or later. I ran across a great article in a May 20, 1972 Eyes and Ears (cast member newsletter) with the following photo:

 

columbia-harbour-house-02

In the heart of Liberty Square a new multi-guest food facility opens. The Columbia Harbour House is sure to please the palate with Southern fried chicken and fresh ocean fish.

So, that means that the Columbia Harbour House wasn’t officially opened with the park in October 1971 and that it didn’t debut until that first summer season of 1972. Did you know that there was an upstairs kitchen there, as well? That’s another mystery…

Ft. Wilderness Hotel Complex

I’ve seen concept artwork and some information about the Ft. Wilderness hotel complex that was planned to be built close to the current Wilderness Lodge. This is one of the earliest iterations of the hotel that I’ve seen.

On the design table lies a concept for a 450 unit hotel, complete themes western town and even a small railroad to shuttle guests back and forth to an eventually expanded campground of nearly 1,000 campsites.

ft-wilderness-hotel-02

Looks like a cross between the Golf Resort and the Polynesian Village. Almost 10 years later, we would get reports of the Cypress Point Lodge (check out Michael Crawford’s great article on the Cypress Point Lodge). It looks like this hotel complex went bye-bye about the same time as the Venetian, Asian and Persian Phase II hotels. It’s interesting to track the changes of this project.

Mystery Main Gate Guest and Employee Restaurant

Sometimes you run across things that are so out-of-context that you’re not sure what to do with it.

And speaking of food, pens and pencils are busily at work planning a restaurant, lounge and oyster bar to be constructed to the left of the Main Gate Complex next summer. And here’s some good news for employees … an employee cafeteria seating 150 is also planned for the new main gate facility.

Oyster bar?

Lounge?

Employee cafeteria?

To the left of the Main Gate Complex?

main-gate-food-complex-02

Envisioned guest and employee food facility at the Main Gate Complex

I’m assuming they don’t mean stage left, which would put this restaurant near the monorail station or even further along Seven Seas Lagoon where the Grand Floridian would eventually be (where the West Walkway of the Walk Around the World is today).

It’s hard to tell where the restaurant would have actually been placed from the model. It’s obviously placed near the water with a flagpole. The glass-walled building in the front does look like a pre-cursor to Cap’n Jack’s from the Disney Village. I’m making an assumption that the oddly-shaped building would have been the oyster bar. Any thoughts?

My Theme Park Mysteries

So, here’s where I get to why I need your help!

Perusing the literature of early Walt Disney World, you run across mentions of several locations at the Contemporary Resort and the Polynesian Village Resort. I’ve done a lot of searching online and contacted many other Disney historians and researchers and we all sort of come up blank in regards to the layout of the stores and restaurants of those early days.

The Gulf Coast Room and the Pueblo Room existed for close to 20 years before being converted into meeting and conference rooms.

Teevtee from Parkeology offers one of the better descriptions of where the Gulf Coast Room was located:

From 1971 to 1988 the Gulf Coast Room sat unobtrusively on the second floor of the Contemporary’s main tower. Unadorned with a fancy marquee or even the most basic of restaurant trappings, from the outside the Gulf Coast Room appeared to be little more than a corporate meeting hall, yet inside the upper crust of Disney diners would find subdued elegance and a full (if over-rout) continental menu.

Unlike modern Disney fine dining restaurants the Gulf Coast Room did not feature stunning vistas from broad windows, in fact it had no windows whatsoever. Nor did it feature a fancy entranceway; rather it was a nearly unmarked door that gave the place a vibe of a private club (Club 33 East perhaps?).

http://passport2dreams.blogspot.com/2011/01/snapshot-mysteries-of-second-floor.html

Passport to Dreams Old & New offers some amazing insight into the second floor of the Contemporary Resort, as well.

Nearby all the “Convention Excitement”, the sedate Gulf Coast Room was largely mysterious. Operating out of the exact same service counter which is now used for the California Grill and built apparently hastily in the adjacent conference room, the Gulf Coast Room was a quick and simple solution for Disney, looking as they were for an extra high end restaurant and which involved nothing more than a few rolls of wallpaper, high backed chairs and linen draped tables. Lighting was dim and simple and there were no windows or even much in the way of decor. The focal-point was on fresh food and continental service. Described in Walt Disney World News April 1976: “second floor. Gracious evening dining, with atmosphere entertainment. Reservations requested, with coats for gentlemen, please. Seatings 6:30 – 10 pm, $7.95 – $12.50.”

So, there’s plenty of text-based documentation of the different areas of the resort, but what we’re all missing are the ubiquitous check-in and hotel maps that we get today that detail all of the restaurants, shops and services provided.

So, here’s my challenge to you: help me locate where the shops, restaurants, etc. were located in the three hotels of the 1970s at Walt Disney World.

I’m looking for any and all details about the Contemporary Resort, the Polynesian Village Resort and the Golf Resort.

Email me at [email protected] with photos, stories or anything else that will help us shed light on these mysteries. Especially Disney travel and hotel check-in information!


ImagiNERDing is written and edited by George Taylor

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.

Browse Archived Articles by

9 Comments

Comments for Walt Disney World Research Help Needed are now closed.

  1. George, I wish I could help you solve these mysteries but they were before my time. I did however want to leave a comment thanking you for your investigating. You do such a great job and it’s exciting to see all this history being pieced together. Keep up the great work!

  2. I worked at Columbia Harbour House as part of the college program in 2000 and seasonally afterwards (my college breaks). There is still a kitchen upstairs at the Harbour House. It is mainly used by the carts outside and the fruit stand area just outside the restaurant near Hall of Presidents.
    We had a burst pipe once in December 2001 (or was it 2000) due to the cold weather snap we had. It was raining in the downstairs kitchen. As a result, everyone was sent to new locations. This was after the remodel that they had done and cast members were sent to different locations. Since many of the cast members spent a few months at other locations while Harbour House was closed, most of those cast members were sent to their old location. I was sent to Pecos. A few were left at Habour House to man the doors. Hours later, we were called back to Harbour House to open as the pipe was repaired.

  3. I cannot post a picture- but for the Restaurant/Oyster bar- look at the TTC. There is space between the monorail station, Ferry boat dock and water that could fit that facility. They would have had to modify the shoreline as well- but that’s nothing new.

  4. Columbia Harbor House – Yes upstairs did have fast serve counters (3), they were open during peak times, later boarded up. Find the brick flooring, that’s where the service counters were. The kitchen is still back there.

    I think they are talking about the TTC – There is a big employee cafeteria on the left side of the TTC built to serve TTC Admissions, Parking and Transportation employees. Never heard about the other stuff although Tangarora Terrace at the nearby Poly was built to provide more restaurant service in the early years. I wish there was a (DL Hotel type) Monorail Diner above the Station for breakfast and drinks at night for watching the trains

    The Gulf Coast Room was actually part of the Grand Republic Ballroom, made up of 3 rooms – the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coast Rooms. The Atlantic and Gulf Coast had low ceilings of about 9 feet with dark walls, the Pacific had 15 foot ceilings. The Gulf Coast Room was the closest to the 2nd Floor Lobby and had a Chrome Frame with lights over the doorways. The restaurant was made up of chairs, tables, dividers etc and all removable if a big enough convention needed the space. The restaurant used part of the convention floor kitchens which run most of the length of the Tower front.

  5. Although I’ve never been to Florida, I want to wish you luck with your passion. There’s no thing as “too much Disney” in Dobby’s Closet!

  6. Fantastic article I’m afraid I can’t help your quests as they are a little before my time but I love reading early WDW history, especially the plans that were abandoned – I’d love to read more about the planned resorts etc which were delayed then abandoned after opening, they all sound more exotic than what we ended up with!

  7. George,

    There is a long, detailed internal document I have showing the history of Walt Disney World. In that document they note that in June of 1972 the Columbia Harbor House opened along with “If You Had Wings.” My guess is that the original opening was for June, but it managed to soft open on Saturday, the 20th, a week ahead of Labor Day.

    There’s another story, and I think it’s in the Roy Disney biography, but I’m on the road and can’t research it. Still the story was that there was some thought about putting some kind of restaurant (though the reference was toward a Chicken dinner/take out restaurant…think Knotts) that was going to go into the Main Gate area. Roy was said that he was against the idea because it seemed life they were “nickeling and diming” the guests as they were going out the door, and that the last memory shouldn’t be getting chicken to go. Perhaps that story is connected to your Main Gate restaurant.

  8. I worked at Sleepy Hollow Refreshments in ’89, and we used the upstairs kitchen at Columbia Harbor House.

    In the summer of ’90 the cast member cafeteria at the tunnel entrance was being refurbished, and the second floor of the Columbia Harbor House was repurposed as a temporary cast cafeteria

  9. Check with the Passports to Dreams blogger, HE should be able to help with more details…