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Sneaking a peek at theme parks that might have been

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Sneaking a peek at theme parks that might have been

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Alias273 writes to say:

Movieline is reporting that Pixar has a direct-to-video sequel to “Cars” n the works. Is this true?

Yep. I actually heard this “Cars” spin-off three or four months back. But my source on this story then swore me to secrecy. Saying – in essence – that if I wrote about “Planes” before the Company was ready to talk about this project, someone might then lose their job.

This is one of the more problematic aspects of running a site like JHM. When someone will tell you something truly juicy (Which is what happened back in December. When I was made aware that Disney was in talks with Angelina Jolie about possibly starring in a live-action Maleficent movie. But then I was told that I couldn’t write anything about this proposed Tim Burton film because so few folks at the Company [at this point, anyway] knew that this project was in the works). And you then have to sit on that info because you don’t want to burn your source.

But you know what’s equally frustrating? To know where some truly amazing Disney-related stories are being kept and then not being able to get at them. Not yet, anyway.

I’m talking – of course – about Harrison “Buzz” Price’s personal & professional papers. Which are currently being held in University of Central Florida's Rosen School of Hospitality Management in their special Special Collections & University Archives department.

Copyright Los Angeles Examiner collection. All rights reserved

For those of you who don’t know: Price worked for the Stanford Research Institute in the early 1950s. And SRI was the firm that Walt Disney hired when he was looking for just the right place for Disneyland.

And given that Buzz did such a terrific job with picking out the perfect spot for The Happiest Place on Earth, the world then beat a path to his door. Seeking Price’s input when it came to all sorts of themed entertainment projects.

Which is why – in 1958 – Buzz founded Economic Research Associates (ERA), a consulting company that, during the 1960s, helped locate the proper construction site for Walt Disney World as well as did the first feasibility studies on the Universal Studios tour back in 1964.

In short, this is a guy who had a hand in virtually every theme park that was built from the mid-1960s through the mid-1990s. Or should I say didn’t get built? Given that – among the papers that Price donated to the Rosen School back in 2003 are:

Copyright 1970 Walt Disney Productions. All rights reserved

  • Disney Potentials in Australia: An Overview; Outlook for Attraction Development in Australia: Conference at The Walt Disney Company. Report Number: 202. 202B. 23-Apr-1998; 24-Jun-1998.
  • Texposition: Disney Enterprise Initial Feasibility Study. Dallas, Texas. Walt Disney Productions. Report Number: 1089. 1989.
  • The Walt Disney Company. Preliminary Feasibility Evaluation of the Disney Traveling Show. Report Number: 202C. Jun-1993.

And it isn’t just Disney that you’d be able to learn about as you could burrow through these 71 boxes of material. There are the folks at Children’s Television Workshop / Sesame Workshop who sought Buzz’s input on never-built projects like:

Sesame Street Workshop characters
Copyright Sesame Workshop. All rights reserved.
Copyright SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. All rights reserved

  • Children's Television Workshop/Jim Henson Productions. Memorandum Report: Evaluation of the Presentation Papers for Open Sesame!, A Proposed Theme Attraction in Ontario, California. Ontario, California. Report Number: 140A. Sep-1993; revised 20-Sep-1993.
  • Concept and Feasibility Analysis for Sesame Street Studio Tour in New York City. New York City, New York. Report Number: 172. 27-Jul-1995.
  • Children's Television Workshop. Jim Henson Restaurant. New York City, New York, U.S.A. 1997.

Or all the ambitious plans that Knott’s Berry Farm once had when it came to national & international expansion:

Copyright Cedar Fair Entertainment Company.
Peanuts characters copyright USF, Inc. All rights reserved

  • Knott's International and Mr. C. C. Chen. A Redevelopment Program for Formosa Wonderworld. Taipei, Taiwan. Report Number: 405A. 30-Apr-1989.
  • Preliminary Feasibility Analysis for a Knott's Attraction in the National Capital Region of the Philippines. Manila, Philippines. Report Number: 396. 10-Feb-1993.
  • Knott's Berry Farm. Branson Meadows. Branson, Missouri, U.S.A. 1994.
  • Knott's Berry Farm. Knott's Myrtle Beach. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, U.S.A. 1995.
  • Knott's Berry Farm. Knott's Tokyo. Tokyo, Japan. 1995.
  • Knott's Landing in Sacramento: Preliminary Planning Parameters. Sacramento, California. Report Number: 404. 19-Feb-1996.

There are true bits of Disney history to be found deep down inside some of these boxes. Like the two reports that Walt had ERA do when he was trying to decide whether or not to go forward with Disney World:

Copyright Walt Disney Productions. All rights reserved

  • Walt Disney Productions. Preliminary Investigation of Available Acreage for Project Winter. Orlando, Florida. Economic Research Associates. Report Number: 1079. 16-Jan-1964.
  • An Economic Master Plan for Project Future. Anaheim, California. Economic Research Associates. Report Number: 1078. 13-Oct-1965.

Not to mention the projects that actually predated Walt Disney World (i.e. the theme park / resort that the Company almost built in Palm Beach, FL in the early 1960s. As well as the themed entertainment complex that Walt Disney Productions considered building on the U.S. side of Niagara Falls.

  • Palm Beach County Land Use: Oral Preliminary Presentation. Anaheim, California. Economic Research Associates. Report Number: 1081. 11-Jan-1960
  • Disney.Niagara Falls, Canada. Burbank Correspondence.

Copyright Archives of Ontario. All rights reserved

As you burrow through the listing of the contents of these boxes, you then get a sense of how early on Walt was toying with the idea of building outside of the berm. Expanding the size & scope of the Disneyland Resort:

  • Disneyland, Inc. A Study of Land Use Alternatives for Disneyland Periphery Property. Anaheim, California. Economic Research Associates. Report Number: 1019. 16-Sep-1960.

Or – for that matter – when the post-Walt management team finally got serious about the idea of building a second theme park in Anaheim:

  • Disney: Second Gated Attraction. Anaheim, California. 20-Jan-1984.

Plus there’s so much other stuff in these boxes that just sounds fascinating (at least to me). Never built projects like:

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

  • LucasArts. Market and Financial Sections for New World in Hawaii. Oahu, Hawaii. Report Number: 459. 23-Jan-1990, Jun-1990.
  • The Bob Hope Center for Comedy and Entertainment. Burbank, California. Report Number: 329. Oct-1998.
  • Huck's Landing, Inc. : Attendance Potential and Parking Requirements for a Family Recreation Complex in Las Vegas, Nevada. Las Vegas, Nevada. Report Number: 339. Jan-1982.
  • Warner Brothers Studio and Tour in Rome. Rome, Italy. Report Number: 841. 17-Aug-1989.

“So why hasn’t news about any of these projects ever leaked out to the Web?,” you ask. Simple. Because Buzz Price – when he donated his papers to the Rosen School in 2003 – placed certain restrictions on these materials. Which means that there are some boxes in this UCF Special Collection are available for viewing right now. While still other boxes were restricted for nine years. Meaning that their contents won’t actually be available for viewing ‘til September 15, 2012.

Harrison "Buzz" Price
Harrison "Buzz" Price

And then there’s the stuff that Buzz said needs to be kept locked away until two years after he and his wife have passed away. Which (unfortunately) is the restriction that’s been placed on much of the more spectacular Disney-related material that’s included in this Special Collection.Which is why a lot of us Disney history buffs have been quietly counting down the days 'til September 15, 2012. Which is when we’ll finally be able to get our hands on that second set of boxes.

Mind you, if you’re just not willing to wait ‘til then and/or have no interest in going to the Rosen School to check out this Special Collection, you can always check out the Harrison Price Digital Collection. Where you’ll then be able to view resort development reports for Disney’s Mineral King project as well as read ERA’s thoughts on what sort of economic impact Port Disney might have had on the Long Beach area. Better yet, you can pick up a copy of "Walt's Revolution!: By the Numbers" (Ripley Entertainment, May 2004). Where Buzz himself takes a look back on many of these projects and then comments on what might have been.

But trust me, folks. There’s a real treasure trove of Disney / theme park history to be found in these 71 boxes. All thanks to Harrison “Buzz” Price’s incredible generous & thoughtful gesture. And you know what they say: Good things come to those who wait. So let’s see what we all find out about once September 15, 2012 finally rolls around.

Okay. That's it for this week. Remember, if you want to see your own question answered as part of a future Why For column, please send that query along to [email protected]

Have a great weekend, okay?

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  • some of the material Jim Hill mentions is also published in "Walt's Revolution! By the Numbers," a book by Harrison "Buzz" Price. Buzz displays a great deal of wit and offers a few good stories about working with Walt, Roy and others in this book. It'll be interesting to learn more about his lifetime of "roller coaster math" when the research papers are made available by UCF's Rosen School.

  • I will be at UCF for my third year when the papers come out. I will definintely be making a trip to the Rosen School then, and I will have to check them out once I start this fall.

  • Thanks Jim!

  • Do you know where it would have been built in Niagara Falls?  I've been there, and the immediate area around the US, there is not a lot of room until you get a few miles away.  Or would it have been located closer to Buffalo, ~20 miles away from Niagara?

  • What ever happened to this?  It''s past September 2012 yet no new news...

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