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The EPCOT that we ALMOST got

Jim Hill

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The EPCOT that we ALMOST got

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Most JHM readers already know about all the plans that Walt Disney had dreamed up for EPCOT. That "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow" that Walt wanted to have rise out of that large chunk of swampland that Walt Disney Productions had purchased just outside of Orlando.

And I'm sure that most of you are already extremely familiar with Epcot (the theme park). That creatively compromised project that Mouse House managers cooked up after the "Old Mousetro" died 'way back in December of 1966. And Walt's loyal lieutenants lost their nerve and couldn't bring themselves to actually go forward with construction of their boss's biggest dream: a futuristic city.

Well, how many of you other there realize that that there were several versions of the EPCOT project that were proposed AFTER construction of the futuristic city was canceled but BEFORE the theme park version was given the green light. Where the Imagineers struggled mightily to find some sort of version of this project that would make sense financially but - at the same time - be somewhat faithful to Walt's original plans for this project.

What follows is one of the "baby steps" in this creative process. An EPCOT "Progress Report" that was printed in Walt Disney Productions' 1974 annual report. Where (as you can see by reading this excerpt for that report) this WDW expansion project remained ambitious ... but also unwieldy.

In the years that lay ahead, the wizards of WED would continue to whittle away at the scope of this project. As the Imagineers tried to get EPCOT down to a size where construction of the project wouldn't bankrupt the Walt Disney Company.

As you can see, some pretty ambitious plans for new pavilions and attractions got cut out as the project moved through the development process Which is how we ended up with the Epcot that we have today.
Which - to my way of thinking, anyway - is kind of underwhelming. Particularly when you look back at the Epcots that we should have got.

You don't believe that we really missed out on something special, do you? Then here - read about the version of EPCOT that Walt Disney Productions promised its shareholders back in the mid-1970s:

Ten years ago, on November 15, 1965, when Walt and Roy Disney held a press conference in Orlando, Florida, to announce the purchase of 27,400 acres. Yet those of us who worked closely with Walt knew that he had far more in mind than just the site for another theme park. And having achieved the necessary financial strength, we are ready to move forward with confidence to the realization of Walt Disney's greatest dream.

Consumed by the need to find solutions to the problems of our cities, Walt devoted the last years of his life to developing his initial concepts for EPCOT "... a community that would never be completed, but would always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials and system" ... "a showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise" ... "a living blueprint of the future."

Now, a decade later, having demonstrated the potential of Central Florida as a vacation destination and having achieved the necessary financial strength, we are ready to move forward with confidence to the realization of Walt Disney's greatest dream.

At WED Enterprises, our own creative research and development center in Glendale, California, a dynamic and achievable approach to EPCOT is rapidly coming into focus. We believe that in order to attain Walt Disney's goals for EPCOT, we must avoid building a huge, traditional "brick and mortar" community which might possibly become obsolete, in EPCOT terms, as soon as it is completed. We believe we must develop 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.

EPCOT's purpose, therefore, will be to respond to the needs of people by providing a Disney-designed and Disney-managed forum where creative men and women of science, industry, universities, government and the arts - from around the world - can develop, demonstrate and communicate prototype concepts and new technologies, which can help mankind to achieve better ways of living.

At this writing, we think it will involve three specific areas of activity:

The EPCOT Institute -- an independent organization which will provide the administrative structure necessary to facilitate participation in EPCOT and its "satellite" research activities by all interested parties. Its goal will be to guarantee that the maximum benefits from EPCOT-related research will flow to both the sponsors of EPCOT activities and the public, and to establish the technical credibility of projects undertaken through a series of expert advisory boards.

The EPCOT "Satellites" or activity centers, which will be engaged in researching, testing and demonstrating prototype products and systems in such fields as energy, agriculture, education, medicine an communications, in locations best suited for the particular program. These "Satellites" may be located at the Walt Disney World site, (as in the case of a specific solar energy project or solid waste recycling system) or off-site, and will undertake projects funded by one sponsor or joint programs funded by industry, government, foundations and universities.

The EPCOT Future World Theme Center -- a high-capacity visitor facility which will employ advanced communications techniques, including motion pictures, models, multi-media exhibits and ride-through experiences, to inform millions of people each year about what is being done in the creative centers of science and industry around the world. Most importantly, it will demonstrate how these new technologies and ideas can be applied in a practical way to improving the environment for living in existing communities throughout America and the world.

Here are some of the elements now under consideration for the EPCOT Future World theme center:

A Communications Corridor, or "Communicore" -- where visitors will be exposed to a series of entertaining and informative exhibits and communications techniques. These might include:

  • The EPCOT Overview Circle-Vision Theaters -- where guests would learn of Walt Disney's goals for EPCOT and how this unique community functions, and where they would receive an overview of what is happening in the EPCOT "Satellites" on the day of their visit.

  • The World City Model -- which would combine advanced entertainment techniques - miniaturization, video projection, animation and computer-driven simulations and display - to trace the evolution of the mofor cities of the world, and to portray a model community of the future in the process of growth and adaptation, and ...

  • The Information Gallery -- a sort of "Information Main Street" where leading world communications companies would join in a major exposition to demonstrate their latest information systems and products, and where guests could subscribe to the EPCOT Information Network, a wide variety of information media which will make available for school, professional and home use the creative output of the EPCOT "Satellite" activities.

  • Surrounding the Communicore will be three major Theme Center Pavilions, where American corporations, industry associations or consortiums, foundations and government will be invited to sponsor major Disney-designed and operated showcase attractions.

    • The Science and Technology pavilion will present the future world of energy, transportation, agriculture and food production, oceanography, and outer space.

    • The Community Pavilion will present future concepts in education, health and medicine, and the various and vital components of a community - economics, planning and design, and government services for people.

    • The Communication and The Arts Pavilion will simulate and demonstrate the future world of information an communications, and the role of all the arts - performing, visual, design - in our global environment.

These Pavilions will communicate not only the most modern systems and technologies, but futuristic concepts now evolving through research - ideas which could one day help improve the quality of life for all mankind.

Throughout the planning and construction of the first phase of Walt Disney World, we adopted many new technologies and programs on environmental protection, which eventually could be showcased as part of the "satellite" activities of EPCOT. This policy will continue.

I am pleased that the former Astronaut L. Gordon Cooper has joined WED Enterprises as Vice President - Research and Development for EPCOT. Under his guidance, we have already begun the analysis and selection of a number of Epcot-oriented research and development projects for possible application within Walt Disney World. Among them are the following:

  • The production and utilization of both alcohol and hydrogen as efficient, pollution-free fuels for automobiles, buses and other vehicles (WDW vehicles have already been converted to natural gas, but with a shortage of that fuel, now developing, the first WDW tram has now been adapted to burn alcohol, which creates even less pollutants than natural gas.)

  • The use of water hyacinth as a living filter to purify treated waste water. (Harvested water hyacinth is an excellent source for creating alcolol through pyrolysis, a virtually pollution-free process of hearting waste materials to high temperatures in the absence of oxygen, causing the materials to break down into burnable gases and oils.)

We believe that the implementation of projects like these within Epcot and WDW will not only demonstrate the worldwide potential of these technologies, but will provide new opportunities for corporate growth and diversification as well.

We envision the EPCOT Future World Theme Center as a long-range, non-profit project, whose pavilions and exhibits will be financed by interested governmental agencies, corporations and foundation. Which will contribute whatever land is necessary and make the Theme Center available to WDW guests free of charge.

We believe that the theme center will directly benefit our company by focusing world?wide attention on and attracting new audiences, including major convention groups, to WDW. It will result in an increased length of stay for our guests, stimulate a demand for new housing and other services at the sire, and indirectly, will create new business opportunities for our Florida project.

The World Showcase

Beyond the scientific and technological aspects of Epcot, the project holds great promise for the advancement of international cooperation and understanding. The World Showcase, planned for opening in late 1979, will be devoted to this goal. An ongoing international exposition, for which an admission will be charged, the World Showcase will communicate the culture, heritage, history, technology, trade, tourism and future goals of the participating nations.

It will consist of a coordinated series of national pavilions housed side-by-side in two dramatic, semi-circular structures.

These dynamic structures will face each other across a Courtyard of Nations, where there will be an outdoor theater for performances by international celebrities and entertainment groups, and where parades, pageants and special events will be staged by entertainers from the participating nations.

Although these national pavilions may vary in size, each will enjoy equal fa├žade exposure to the guest. The entire complex will be tied together by a Disney people-moving system that will offer visitors a preview look into each attraction.

Unlike a world's fair, it will offer participating countries a permanent installation for such features as themed restaurants and shops, product exhibits, industrial displays, cultural presentations, a trade center, and even special facilities for business meetings. A major part of each pavilion will be a Disney-designed ride or attraction which will give guests a foretaste of an actual visit to the country. National musical groups or other performing artists could present special entertainment on a continuing basis.

To be located on a 100-acre tract of WDW property between the present Transportation -Ticket Center and Florida Highway 192, the World Showcase will be linked by Monorail with the EPCOT Future World Theme Center and the Magic Kingdom's main parking area.

Although the World Showcase will offer every participant a unique outlet for the development of tourism, trade and other promotional opportunities, its most paramount objective will be increased international understanding. For this reason, it is our plan that each participating nation will send its young future leaders to operate its own attractions, shows, restaurants and exhibits. We would hope that these young people would be selected for their potential in a wide variety of fields - medicine, science, business, education and international relations. Working in their national pavilions for a specified period, perhaps one year ...

International Village

True family of man spirit, sharing cultures, people to people exchange, each nation provides capital to cover costs of designing, developing, and constructing pavilion, attractions etc, also funding for housing employees in International Village, ten year lease.

The Disney organization will be responsible for area development, including the construction of transportation systems and utilities. We will also build and operate the internal people-moving system, the Courtyard of Nations and central theater facility.

We plan a one-price admission charge to the WS, but entrance to each individual pavilion will be free. Participant operated restaurant and merchandising activities consistent with the character and custom of each nation will be encouraged, and will extend to each nation such existing WDW services as security and fire protection, warehousing, maintenance and wardrobe facilities.

As of this writing, am ambassadorial-level officials from some 31 nations have met with us to discuss WS, and we have been extremely encouraged by their response. Major presentations were made at WDW in July and October, and since last June, additional meetings have been held in various nations and in our WS office in Washington, DC.

That office is being staffed by C. Langhorne Washburn, who resigned his position as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Tourism to join the Disney organization as WS VP.

Through the enthusiastic support of Florida's Governor Reuben Askew, we were able to expose out concepts for Epcot to governmental leaders attending the Southern Governors' Conference at WDW in September.

After our presentation, Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr. of Virginia was quoted as saying "The depth of planning and the vision that went into the concept, I am certain, will assure its success."

Georgia's Gov. George D. Busbee: "It is a concept that I feel certain will do a great deal for our own country and for the course of world peace."

Sec of state Henry Kissinger, who addressed the conference, graciously made time to view our presentation. He immediately grasped the potentials of the International Village, recalling his days at Princeton when he participated in similar people-to-people foreign exchanges.

Upon his return to Washington, he assigned two of his top aides to view our presentation there, and the State Department assisted in arranging follow-up meetings for our marketing team in Amsterdam, Athens, Copenhagen, Brussels and Paris.

As of this writing, we have arranged to preview our EPCOT World Showcase concepts before the members of Congress. The presentation, to be hosted by the members of the California and Florida Congressional delegations, will take place on December 12th in the theater of the Rayburn House Office Building.

It is my firm conviction that the need for EPCOT and the World Showcase has never been greater, that the timing is right, and that, in Florida, we have the right location. I am hopeful that by the time we celebrate our Bicentennial on July 4, 1976, we will be confident of enough foreign participation in the World Showcase to make the decision to proceed. If we do, it will become the focal point of our second phase of development at WDW.

Well ... as you probably already know, this particular version of the EPCOT project never actually made it out of committee. Why for? Well, this EPCOT plan was supposedly too ambitious for its own good as well as being a betrayal of the futuristic city that Walt had wanted to build out there in the swamps of Central Florida.

Still, I can't help but wonder if the Walt Disney Company might be a very different place today ... if the Imagineers had just been able to persuade Mouse House managers that it would be okay to go forward with the three part version of WED's plans.

Anywho ... that's it for this week. I'll be back on Monday with news at ASIFA-Hollywood's "Lion King" 10th anniversary as well as the latest on VES 2004: A festival of Visual Effects.

Have a great weekend, everybody!


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