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).
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:
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.
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.
To the left of 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?).
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
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