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"Walt and the Promise of Progress City" covers an awful lot of Disney-related real estate

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"Walt and the Promise of Progress City" covers an awful lot of Disney-related real estate

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"You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen ..."

Well, if you're a Disney history buff, then you must already know about Walt's land searches of the early 1950s. As Disney tried to find just the right spot in Southern California for his family fun park.

Likewise if you're a fan of the history of Walt Disney World, then you already know about the Old Mousetro's multi-year hunt for the proper place to build the East Coast version of Disneyland. Which took Walt from Niagara Falls all the way down to Miami Beach, FL.

Copyright Ayefour Publishing. All rights reserved

But as Sam Gennawey recounts in "Walt and the Promise of Progress City" (Ayefour Publishing, November 2011), there's far more to the Walt Disney real estate story than just the parks & resorts that the Company ultimately built in Anaheim and Orlando. There are all sorts of ambitious projects that never quite made it off of Disney's drawing board. The Mineral King ski area, for one. Plus Walt Disney's Riverboat Square, that indoor theme park which the Company toyed with building in St. Louis in the early 1960s.

Then - of course - there was Epcot-the-City. Which - truth be told - is the primary focus of "Walt and the Promise of Progress City." Thanks to the many trips that Sam made to the Happiest Places on Earth when he was just a kid, Gennawey has a crystal-clear memory of that " ... incredible 6,900-square foot model of Progress City" which used to serve as the finale of Disneyland's Carousel of Progress. That most Disney historians now consider to be Walt's first pass at knocking out a look & a layout for Epcot-the-City.

As Sam recounts in the preface of this thoroughly researched 374-page paperback:

The Progress City model from the Disneyland version of the Carousel of Progress.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Every childhood trip to Disneyland meant another spin inside of the Carousel of Progress. I knew the script by heart and would quietly sing along with the chorus. By the time we got to the final act, the one with the super-rich family celebrating Christmas, I would start to move to the edge of my seat. It would not be long before I could weave through the crowd and be one of the first to make my way to the Speedramp that would take me to the model of Progress City. That way, I could linger just a little while longer than the rest of the crowd and just soak it all in.

The Progress City model was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen, and it made a big impression on my young mind. Every chance I got, I would stop and stare at the 115-foot diorama for as long as I could. I would listen to the narration as it promised that living in Progress City would mean a great, big, beautiful tomorrow where we would all lead rich and rewarding lives. It sounded wonderful, and I wanted to know more. What would life be like in Progress City? Was the project even possible?

These are questions that Gennawey attempts to answer over the course of "Walt and the Promise of Progress City." And given that Sam eventually wound up working as an urban planner ... Well, I guess it's safe to say that Gennawey's in a better position than most to speak authoritatively about whether Epcot-the-City would have actually been a viable project.

Walt Disney Studios in Burbank under construction in 1939. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

One of the more interesting aspects of "The Promise of Progress City' is how Sam connects the dots. Take - for example - Walt's attention to detail when it came to designing his new animation production facility in the late 1930s.

In press releases, the Studio was described as "a self-sufficient, state-of-the-art production factory that provided all the essential facilities for the entire production process."

The Burbank studio was designed to provide the artists all the comforts of home. There was a snack bar, barber, cleaners, a buffet-style restaurant, and health club. Every part of the facility was air-conditioned by a custom-made General Electric system. This was very rare at the time; it not only ensured the artists' comfort, but it kept dust off the painted celluloid sheets as well.

The look of Harbor Boulevard in the 1960s is what drove Walt Disney to become a fan of
urban planning.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So to Gennawey's way of thinking, it's a fairly logical series of events that leads from Disney driving the design of his new animation studio in Burbank to him then coming up with a site plan for Disneyland. Then - using the urban sprawl that happened in & around Anaheim in the late 1950s / early 1960s as his inciting event - Walt begins exploring the idea of building a city of the future in Central Florida.

Which brings me back to my reindeer reference at the very start of today's article. If you're looking to purchase a Disney History primer for someone on your holiday shopping list ... Well, "Walt and the Promise of Progress City" does covers an awful lot of real estate in an entertaining & informative manner. This book takes its readers from Burbank to Anaheim & Orlando as well as all points inbetween. With Sam Gennawey then explaining the significance of each of these projects in relation to Epcot-the-City.

The only downside (that I can see, anyway) to "Walt and the Promise of Progress City" is that - after reading about all of the years of effort & thinking that went into the design of Epcot-the-City - the fact that we wound up with Epcot-the-theme-park instead kind of leaves a sour taste in your mouth. But that's through no fault of Sam's. The fact that Progress City failed to progress beyond that model on the top floor of Disneyland's theater-go-round building has mostly to do with Card Walker & Donn Tatum's inability to  turn Walt's last dream into a reality.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But as to why exactly the Epcot-the-City project actually stalled out in the late 1960s ... That's the sort of thing that you can learn a lot more about by picking up a copy of Sam Gennawey's "Walt and the Promise of Progress City."

Your thoughts?



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  • Thank you for the kind words. It was a wonderful project to work on.

    Sam Gennawey

  • Did you receive a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of this review? Or did you pay for your own copy? Thank you.

  • Henry --

    I was sent a review copy by Ayefour Publishing last month. And given that -- no -- I didn't pay for my copy of "Walt and the Promise of Progress City," I guess you could say that it was complimentary. But given that today's book review is hardly what you'd call a rave ... Well, I wouldn't exactly say that I've been complimentary.

    Why do you ask?

  • I think Harry is referring to the FTC guidelines that ask bloggers to disclose when they are reviewing something if they were given that something for free. The FTC doesn't think that getting something for free will necessarily sway a review, but they think it best to disclose that fact.


  • Joe --

    I figured as such. That's why I answered Henry's question first thing this morning.

    I have to admit that Nancy and I have been going 'round-and-'round when it comes to JHM & this whole FTC issue. If you really read down deep into the regs that cover blogs & bloggers, there is so much contradictory information in there. No clear cut policy in regards to what you absolutely have to reveal to your readers versus what information you should probably volunteer.

    I keep hoping that -- at some point -- the FTC is finally going to rewrite these regs and then get a bit more black & white about what needs to be said when. But until that happens ... Well, I figure that honesty is the best policy. So if someone like Henry asks, I answer.

    Which brings me to today's question: Do you think that JHM really needs to be more public & transparent about this issue? By that I mean: I came into blogging from the more traditional media world of magazines, newspapers and the like. And back then (We're talking the Internet equivalent of ancient history, people. The late 1980s / early 1990s), people sending you free review copies of books, CDs and such was kind of the norm. No one assumed that -- just because you had been sent an advance copy of Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park: The Lost World" to read -- that you were now automatically in Random House's pocket.

    Admittedly that was a different time. And in this age of Mommy Bloggers with their own YouTube channels who then tout whatever product the UPS truck just dropped off in their driveway ... I guess that the rules have changed. More to the point, that we're talking about a brand-new and frankly huge grey area.

    But is this something that JHM readers really feel strongly about? Would you genuinely prefer it if this site had a piece of boilerplate that listed exactly what JimHillMedia's policy was in regards to review copies? Or is it preferable that I respond to these things personally on an individual basis, just as I did with Henry's query earlier today?

    Your thoughts?

  • Jim, for what it is worth, I have always found it to be a bizarre notion that getting an item with a nominal cash value would somehow mean that the recipient could no longer be trusted to to provide (in the words of Dick Cheney in a different context) "unvarnished advice." I would vote that you continue to handle things as you have.  In the end, you either trust someone's opinion, or you don't, and I trust yours.

  • Regarding getting a complimentary book to review . . . That's a complete non-issue in my book (no pun intended).  I just assume the reviewer was sent a free copy, and I think most everybody else does, too.  If a publisher wants a review timed to the release of the book it pretty much HAS to be done that way.  Don't worry about it.

  • I don't think it hurts to add a "I received the book from the author [or publisher] for the purpose of this review." line.

    As you point out, the FTC is sort of in a pickle. They want to make clear guidelines for when Brand X is compensating blogger/spokesperson/model/actor Y to tout a product. But what constitutes compensation if they aren't paid in cash? Mommy Bloggers are a great instance where if they are getting a year's supply of diapers, well, that very well may change their opinion of that company.

    As for books, DVDs and such, I don't think the FTC actually had these items in mind, but they too get swept up in the broad guidelines, too. So I say, go ahead and tell us. It doesn't hurt, it's a throwaway line, and then it's very clear what happened.

  • Hi Jill,

    Im having problems tweeting this piece out :(

  • It looks like Sharethis is a little slow and that's the tool we're using to share articles. It eventually does create the Tweet for me, are you able to get it to work at all? Also make sure that you are logged in to your Twitter account before you try to Tweet it.

  • I'd go with acknowledging freebies as needed, Jim.  If the readers honestly thought that all it'd take to sway your opinion was a freebie or a press junket paid for on Disney's dime, I doubt they'd be here reading your articles.

    Although he said it about politicsand not about journalism, I think Jesse Unruh's statement about getting goodies from people says it all: "If you can't eat their food, drink their wine, and (make love to) their women and still vote against them, you have no business being here."  :)

  • How hard is it to simply add a little disclaimer? You spent more time defending your omission that it would have taken to footnote all of the articles where you receive a free book, trip, or admission ticket - which I believe is the reason you spent so much time defending yourself. You've clearly become a victim of a corporate lobby.

  • Are we taking ourselves to serious?  I read what Jim writes and I listen to what Jim says because I appreciate his insight.  It's up to me to determine if I take what he says for speculation, opinion, fact, ETC... I don't need him to tell me if he got a $25 book free for me to determine if I am good with it.   It's my choice to read what he has to say.  I hope we are not getting so sensitive that everytime someone has a thought we have to make sure it's quantified before we can accept it.  No disclaimer needed.

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