When I first read Disneyland Paris - From Sketch from Reality, I was especially fascinated by four pages in the book. Two are about the original Space Mountain concepts (I will explore those in a later article). Two are about the hotel concepts that were never built. One of those is an aircraft carrier, the other is completely transparent! Now here was something I had never heard about before buying the book. I had to explore this creative aspect of the Disneyland Paris story. I needed to learn all I could about "the hotels that never were". Let me take you with me today to discover the results of that quest.

As you know already if you read Michael Eisner's Work in Progress, early 1988, both Wing Chao and Eisner decided to gather some of the best architects at the time. To do so, they decide to "hijack" a dinner organised by architectural critic Elizabeth McMillan. Through this astonishing procedure, they assembled at the Studio that evening around a Chinese food dinner a "think tank" that includes among others Frank Gehry, Stanley Tingerman, Michael Rotondi and Robert Stern, along with some world famous art critics and architectural journalists. That first "impromptu" work-session was soon followed by a second one, on Easter weekend of 1988. The team that gathered then was nicknamed the "gang of 5": Robert Stern, Frank Gehry, Stanley Tingerman, Michael Graves and Robert Venturi.

The meeting was headed by Wing Chao, who at the time directed a structure of Disney separate from Walt Disney Imagineering and known as the Disney Development Company (DDC). It is during that second "workshop" that Robert Venturi introduced an idea that is mentioned in the book "The Architecture of Reassurance": creating a giant avenue, between the Park and the hotels, lined with 160-foot tall Mickey and Minnie figures.

Now it is interesting to note that in parallel to that creative work headed by the DDC, Walt Disney Imagineering was also working on ideas for the area of the hotels. One of those WDI work sessions happened in Palm Springs and was directed by guest architect Charles Moore (1925 - 1993), famous among other projects for the Hood Museum of Art in Hanover, NH and the Burns House in Santa Monica Canyon, CA and who had taught at Berkeley, Yale and UCLA. Among the ideas suggested for the hotels: a cruise ship surrounded by a sea of grass, a hotel in the shape of a castle, one that evoked Hollywood with an Old West town and even the idealistic town of Shangri-La. WDI also imagined the heart of the resort taking the form of an island surrounded by an area of canals, rivers and lakes with water playing an important role in making guests reassured and comfortable.

But it is DDC that in the end was named as the leader of the hotel side of the Disneyland Paris project and on Easter Weekend it had settled the master-planning thanks to the help of the "Gang of Five". It could move to phase two : the competition between the best and most renown architects of the world. And that's where things became really interesting: when those world-class architects explained their ideas to the top Disney management team during a 4 days session, only three weeks later.

The central theme for all the hotels was to be America.

Austrian Hans Hollein admitted that, for him, America meant "war". Thus, he conceived of a hotel in the form of an aircraft carrier. Dutchman Rem Koolhass came up with a concept for a hotel on a pedestal with a shape like a Goodyear blimp. The French Jean Nouvel proposed a completely transparent hotel. Now you would think that this was by far the most outrageous of all the ideas introduced during that meeting. You would be wrong!

American Peter Eisenman suggested a hotel that would be entirely underground for the area where the Sequoia Lodge is located today. His theory was that the French countryside was so beautiful that it should be protected. He also felt that the unifying theme for Disney is death, which one finds at the center of most of the great classic Disney animated films!

Some of the concepts that also died were Christian de Pozamparc's proposal inspired by the Colorado mountains, Jean-Paul Vigier's and Stanley Tingerman's idea centered around the theme of western films and Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi's very modern concept: circular, red, and in the middle of which sat a marina.

Two projects that excited the DDC team also did not make it to the final stage, but for more subtle reasons.

First was Italian architect's Aldo Rossi's suggestion of a New Orleans themed hotel. While excellent from a design point of view, it required some functional adaptations. Aldo Rossi refused to include those. His magnificent rebuttal is quoted by Michael Eisner in Work in Progress: "Dear Michael, I am not personally offended and can ignore all the negative points that have been made about our projects in Paris, [...] The Cavalier Bernini, invited to Paris for the Louvre project was tormented by a multitude of functionaries who continued to demand that changes be made to the project to make it more functional. It is clear that I am not the Cavalier Bernini, but it is also clear that you are not the King of France. Aside from the differences, I do not intend to be the object of minuscule criticisms that any interior designer could handle. It is my belief that our project, notwithstanding the specialists, is beautiful in its own right and as such will become famous and built in some other place."

The second issue was even more bitter and bruised even more egos. One of the hotels that had been selected for construction by DDC during the 4 days session was Robert Venturi's. Venturi had created a hotel called Hotel Fantasia that had Las Vegas as its central theme.

But while DDC, headed by Wing Chao, was busy selecting the best proposals for the hotels of Disneyland Paris, Tony Baxter's team at WDI was hard at work creating the park itself. And among the renderings that they showed to Michael Eisner at the time was a concept for the entrance of the park that included a fake facade of a big hotel. The facade was there to reassure, to give a sense of welcoming to arriving guests. However, building a fake facade was way too costly. The project only made sense if conceived as a real hotel (what would become the Disneyland Hotel). But there was no budget or economic rational for that new hotel. So it came down to a "simple" choice: either the Disneyland Hotel would go or the Hotel Fantasia concept would be scraped.

To define the matter, Michael Eisner decided to bring Tony Baxter and Robert Venturi together in one room in order to hear their respective arguments. Robert Venturi thought a hotel shouldn't be located at the entrance to the Park, so that you could see 'Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant' from the freeway. For Tony Baxter, the Disneyland experience shouldn't begin until you had entered the Park. The view of the castle was at the heart of the debate. As we all know, in the end Eisner sided with Tony's views. And we are obviously glad that he did.

Now, however, there was still at least one part of Tony's original project that did not exactly make it to the final phase. You are all familiar with the "Fantasia Gardens" located in front of the Disneyland Hotel, at the entrance of the park. Originally, the "Fantasia Gardens" were to have been called the "Electrical Light Gardens". An ice skating rink, evoking the "Nutcracker" sequence in Fantasia, would have been located in the middle of the gardens. And they would have been decorated with small twinkling lights, which, during wintertime, would have come to life at night in a spectacular way. When the Imagineers decided to include the Electrical Parade in the Park, the project was abandoned.

Now the fun thing is that the Fantasia Gardens do bring us back to an earlier anecdote. When creating them, Tony Baxter was thinking of the welcoming aspects of Versailles gardens. So Aldo Rossi may not have been so far off when writing his letter to Eisner. There was a feel of Louis XIV in the air!

Before I conclude this piece, here are a few more details you may not have noticed. Did you know that:

Frank Armitage painted a fresco in the lobby of the Disneyland Hotel that depicts the inauguration of the hotel just as it might have taken place one hundred years ago in 1895. Frank is the person in the foreground with the white hair, sitting on a bench.

In the Hotel Santa Fe, the red building is the symbolic representation of a brothel.

Before creating the Sequoia Lodge hotel, French Antoine Grumbach had also worked on two different projects for Disneyland Paris: The first one, a landscaping idea was a park built in a Gaudi style with fountains, illuminated elements, and a play on the connections to water. The other one was a hotel, called "Forest of the Giants", the rooms of which would have been located in giant sequoia trees.

Finally, as Xmas is so close, Didier Ghez just informed me that he now has Regular Editions of the book From Sketch to Reality to sell at a reduced price, along with the Collector's Editions. You can contact him at [email protected] for more detailed information.