Friday, June 10, 2016

Lake Buena Vista and Shaping Orlando

"Disney is nearer to what people really want than anything architects have ever given them." - Robert Venturi, 1972
Historians don't like question marks. Mysteries are reserved for literature, and send the factually minded chasing down clues and pursuing phantoms, chasing scraps of evidence forever hoping to stumble across that moment where uncertainties are erased.

But no matter what, Walt Disney's E.P.C.O.T. city will forever be the un-answerable question sitting at the center of discussions not just of Walt Disney World, but Walt Disney's entire life. Walt Disney was a man who coaxed art out of unpromising material - cartoons, amusement piers, episodic children's books, rotating furniture galleries - by posing open questions to his devoted league of designers and hashing out the final product from their best ideas. EPCOT didn't get very far from the question of "What would a future city look like?" before Walt Disney died.

Walt Disney's inheritors were absolutely right in their conviction that only Walt could have actually produced EPCOT - partially because there were few men left in the world of his means and conviction, and partially because nobody but him knew what the hell it was going to be. The famous "Progress City" pie-shaped suburb and covered urban center is very much a work in progress - ambitious, perhaps, but also not real.

One need only to look at the problems a later Disney regime faced in trying to launch Celebration to immediately realize that Walt never solved the problem of actually having people living in this place. Riding glass enclosed Peoplemovers and going home to steel and glass houses to be gawked at by tourists and constantly hassled by corporations who want to replace your dishwasher is not everyone's American dream. Everyone who lived in EPCOT would've had to have loved it as much as Walt for any of his goals to actually work.



So in their own way Disney was right to fulfill the specifications if not the spirit of their pact with Florida in creating EPCOT Center. And yet in other ways, the apple of urban design has never fallen far from Disney's tree. Through a combination of accident and design, Walt Disney World actually is a city with a population of tens of thousands - a city of fantasy, not science fiction.

On this blog I've always tried hard to raise awareness about the key role of Lake Buena Vista both in the creation of Walt Disney World and the evolution of Disney's urban planning, but I feel that now is the right time to raise the question again.

The problem is that tracing Lake Buena Vista from conception to present day has always been a failure story - an unrealized planned community that gave way to a patchwork quilt of chaos called Downtown Disney. But times have changed, and Disney has spent the last several years entirely, experimentally and painfully rebuilding the shell of Lake Buena Vista into Disney Springs, and that changes the story.

We'll get there. But before we do, for new readers of this blog as well as for maximum clarity, it's necessary to backtrack. So first let's introduce what Lake Buena Vista was and what it was supposed to be for Disney, and how Lake Buena Vista's development is the key to unlocking the secret history of Walt's EPCOT city.

Lake Buena Vista - Where The Peacocks Roam

The usual way of thinking about the EPCOT City is that it qualifies as an abandoned project by Disney; they simply give up and built a theme park, a betrayal of Walt's final project. This is not quite true. In reality an entire phalanx of complexities and setbacks saw the EPCOT city concept gradually pushed deeper and deeper into the grave. It's a long story, one that sees Disney scaling back and scaling back ambitious plans in the face of an uncertain economy and indifferent housing market.

The Magic Kingdom was not yet open when the foundations began to be poured for Lake Buena Vista. The October 1971 issue of Walt Disney World News includes this surprising headline near the back of the magazine:
"Lake Buena Vista - City of Tomorrow 
The city of Lake Buena Vista, located on 3,800 acres of lush Florida lake country adjacent to Walt Disney World, represents a new concept in urban development. 
A testing ground for modern building and living ideas, the city is rapidly emerging as a new kind of recreation-oriented community. Residential homes, condominiums, motor inns, apartment complex, an 18-hole golf course and commercial development are all part of the new community concept."

Anybody reading that in 1971 could come to the conclusion that this was the start of construction for Epcot, which of course is exactly what Disney was betting on. The 1971 Walt Disney Productions Annual Report included an entire section on LBV, and made the claim explicit:

"A prime consideration of Walt Disney in purchasing 27,500 acres of land in central Florida as the future site for Walt Disney World was his desire to give direction to the surrounding development which would emerge as a natural consequence of his new destination vacation resort. 
Walt Disney's ultimate goal for the Florida project was always the development of EPCOT, an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, a living environment, 25 years ahead of its time, which would always be introducing, testing and demonstrating new systems and technologies. 
To gain practical experience in this new field of real estate development, and to provide careful and balanced management planning for the entire Florida property in keeping with Walt Disney's initial objectives, the Company created a wholly-owned subsidiary, the Buena Vista Land Company."
In June 1972, Architectural Forum published an extensive overview of the entire Walt Disney World complex, saving special space for the Lake Buena Vista project as it stood at that time, and they had this to say about it:
"The nearest thing in WDW to a real town is the residential community of Lake Buena Vista, a development of high and low-rise structures that will, eventually, cover 4,000 acres and house 16,500 full or part-time residents, and employ 4,000 outsiders. It's not nearly as adventurous as the late Walt Disney's dreams of an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT; but, unlike EPCOT, the community of Buena Vista is both practical, in todays terms; and it is, in fact, under construction. 
An initial development, called the Golf Course Community, has started construction with 27 clustered, neatly planned and designed row houses (some of which may be operated, experimentally, on dry cell batteries that are a product of the Space program at Cape Kennedy, 100 miles to the east). 150 additional, clustered row house will be built almost immediately; and, eventually there will be 2,500 housing units. 
Preliminary plans for commercial development include two kinds of retail areas. The first will be on the water and consist of small-scale souvenir, craft and convenience shops. The second center is planned as a regional shopping district and as it grows will probably become the ultimate in multi-level, all-enclosed extravaganzas."


Architectural Forum published this early master plan for LBV, including the Townhouse that were actually built, with an unrecognizable modern complex where the Village would shortly be:



The "Hospital" seen in the top right off SR-535 still exists today as a CentraCare; before the construction of Celebration Hospital, this is where all injured WDW guests were cared for. Disney put up a new sign off 535 announcing the entrance to Lake Buena Vista, directly across from what would one day become the Crossroads Shopping Plaza:


However, even the sunny Architectural Forum article suggested some of the problems Disney was already encountering in terms of actually getting their planned community off the ground:
"Unless policy changes, Buena Vista will be a recreational community, its houses owned cooperatively by individuals or corporations that want to get their executives to relax, occasionally. There may be no schools in the conventional sense, although there will be commercial and office buildings, if the demand materializes."
The trouble with EPCOT had always been that a city required citizens, and citizens would demand a variety of rights, including voting rights. Disney, of course, would not want to extend private citizens voting rights over the property they had fought so hard to have total control over. The situation was never fully resolved. To this day, Disney does have full time citizens who live on their property... carefully selected citizens, who have been encouraged or otherwise persuaded to vote as the Mouse tells them to.


Disney's first effort to solve this problem was to start the population of its City of Tomorrow with corporate sponsors. Shortly after October 1971, the Walt Disney World Preview Center was closed, and made over into the Lake Buena Vista Preview Center. Disney offered sponsors and other businesses the opportunity to buy a two-level shed-style condo on Disney property and offered interior design services to reflect each individual owner's preferences. Disney went to the extraordinary step of bringing over Disney Studio designer Emile Kuri to establish an interior design firm just for this purpose - Buena Vista Interiors. And early promotional brochure from 1972 explained the program this way:
"Lake Buena Vista is a private community of residences designed for leisure-living in the Florida outdoors. Looking out onto a lake, a forest or a waterway, residences vary: Family detached “second homes” and vacation sites, homes for business executives and corporations, cluster homes and townhouses. 
Disney security, landscape, maintenance and other important services are part of the reason this community is “different” from other leisure-time concepts. 
Residential Hostessing is not a new idea. But at Lake Buena Vista’s Townhouses, the concept has proved especially popular with America’s corporate officers and their guests … because Lake Buena Vista has met its promise. 
In the Townhouse community, where Residential Hostessing is offered, conveniences and life’s pleasures are anticipated. Businessmen meet in park-like settings to discuss business affairs, dine on gourmet-catered luncheons, then tee-off at one of three 18-hole golf courses in Walt Disney World. 
The Residential Hostess has arranged it all – tickets to the Magic Kingdom for wives and children, cocktails at six, dinner at eight, catered at your Townhouse or at Walt Disney World’s exciting hotel supper clubs. 
Flowers, champagne, a note of welcome, arrangements made and followed, service … these are the calling cards of the Residential Hostesses in the Townhouse community at Lake Buena Vista."
LBV Circa early 1972. "Buena Vista Land" is the old Preview Center.
Inside the first cluster of LBV Townhouses, 1971

One of the only, and thus the primary, source for insight into these early days of Lake Buena Vista is an early 1972 issue of Orlando-land Magazine. John Tassos, head of sales for the division, met with editor Edward Prizer and Prizer had this to say:
"Another uncommon aspect of Lake Buena Vista is the emphasis on second homes. Some people have interpreted this to mean that Disney is appealing only to buyers with a certain level of affluence. Possibly the fact that the first group of townhouses have all been leased to business firms has added to this impression. 
I asked John Tassos whether their planning would mean that the average one-family home would be excluded. 
"Our prime motive is a second-home community, but we are not limiting it," he said. "Anyone will be welcomed at our marketing center. We will eventually have year-round residents. We'll be careful about what kind of people can help the community but we see no reason to eliminate qualified buyers." 
Disney has indicated that there may be home sold for as low as $28,000. Plans include provision for schools and churches - a necessity if there are to be permanent residents."

It isn't hard to read between those lines to see that Disney still hadn't come up with a plan for offering residence for citizens - and Tassos went on to hint at the true direction Lake Buena Vista was heading.
"John Tassos mentioned the fact that there was an urgent need among companies associated with Walt Disney World to have a place to put people. "With our hotels at 98 percent occupancy, accommodations just haven't been readily available."
The Townhouses failed to make much of an impact. Today, it's easy to see such an offer being wildly successful, but it's important to remember that in the early 70s there was literally nothing anywhere around WDW - it sat in the center of pasture land and orange groves until well into the 90s. Meanwhile, just up the road, Walt Disney World hotels were filled to constant capacity. While Disney moved ahead with construction of the promised golf course and clubhouse - now called The Lake Buena Vista Club - on-site liscencees for hotels were building a TravelPort, Dutch Inn, Royal Inn, and Howard Johnson's as quickly as cement could be poured. With few other options, Disney furnished the remaining Townhouses and began to offer them as deluxe vacation rentals for tourists.

A Village Rises in 1974
The Shopping Village in 1976

Little changed at Lake Buena Vista for several years until Spring 1975, when the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village opened amidst a swirl of champagne and Glenn Miller by starlight. A cluster of a dozen chalet-style structures positioned around a man-made lagoon, Lake Buena Vista was designed to evoke a sophisticated adult milieu of wood tones, overflowing planters, and classic Mediterranean statuary. It appealed as much to locals as to tourists looking for an extra day of fun. The Shopping Village brought fine wines, high end fashions, and gourmet food to the sleepy little hamlet of Orlando - the kind of place where the best meal in town circa 1974 was at a restaurant called "The Beef and Bottle". Disney's extravagances paved the road for Orlando's sophisticated modern dining scene.


All of this was by design, of course. Despite lackluster sales of the Townhouses, Disney began construction on a series of somewhat similar Treehouse Villas, intended to sleep a large family, and like the Townhouses before them complete with kitchen and laundry. Residents at the Townhouses or Treehouses could have food delivered from the Gourmet Pantry at the Village, while Village Spirits provided wine. The Lake Buena Vista Club, a modern low rise restaurant "where you are already a member" offered one of Central Florida's most exclusive meals, only a short boat ride away. Disney established the Village's bona fides by holding an annual art fair in November, what eventually became the Festival of the Masters.

The Shopping Village was designed to be Lake Buena Vista's downtown - a bustling master planned urban center with high end restaurants and eateries. It was then easy to brush off Disney's claims they they are establishing a city - especially since we, looking back from 2016 know what happened afterwards - but a remarkable series of documents from 1975 hint that their ambitions had not scaled back yet.


This 1975 map shows a series of office buildings directly across from the completed Village, terminating in what Disney describes as a "Multi-Modal Station". The Station was intended to service bus, taxis, automobiles, people movers (indicated in pink in the map above), and monorails (blue on the map above). The planning documents state:
"A major element of making this public transportation system best meet Lake Buena Vista’s needs will be the multi-modal terminal on the downtown Peoplemover system. Guests and Employees will be able to arrive at the city via public transportation and then ride the Peoplemover to their destination – a journey completely void of private automobiles. 
Another very important service Lake Buena Vista multi-modal terminal will provide is a gateway to Walt Disney World for people arriving via public transit. Lake Buena Vista and the downtown Peoplemover will be exposed to millions of these Walt Disney World guests. 
The downtown Lake Buena Vista multi-modal transportation terminal includes intra-urban, inter-urban, and inter-state facilities which provide the critical “location” and “link” to the achievement of a viable regional public transportation system. 
According to the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council recent study estimates, by 1990, the public transit system will provide daily trips to 34,610 Orlando area transit passengers, with 24,570 of these trips going to/from Walt Disney World. For these visitors, the multi-modal terminal at downtown Lake Buena Vista will be the “showcasing” stop while on their way to Walt Disney World."
In other words, the station was to be positioned directly off I-4 because it was expected to interface with trains and other forms of public transportation throughout the Central Florida area.


This is very much in line with Disney's ethos of the 1970s. Disneyland, the Vacation Kingdom, Lake Buena Vista and even planned but abandoned projects like Mineral King emphasized the concept of isolated parking - part of the utopian feeling of Disney's theme parks is that their roads are reserved entirely for foot traffic, unlike modern urban cities where roads make walking slow and dangerous. It's easy to see Disney here calculating the benefits of encouraging and hooking themselves into a mass transit solution - pointedly, they did the same thing in 2012 when high-speed rail lines were proposed linking Daytona Beach to Tampa.

Fascinatingly, the Peoplemover system intended for Lake Buena Vista in 1975 was going to be radically different from the ones at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom: it was going to have vehicles shuttling in and off a main line with stops at each hotel and destination along way way. And, perhaps most interestingly, Disney expected to charge a nominal fee for their use.
"It is envisioned that Lake Buena Vista’s Peoplemover will operate as a “horizontal elevator”. Passengers will be moved from one facility to another just as an elevator moves from one floor to another, but, with one important difference: the Peoplemover will take each party directly to their destination without intervening stops. 
Passengers will use the system by first depressing a vehicle call button near the vehicle entry “elevator” door. The door to the waiting vehicle will open, permitting entry. After selecting the desired location on a control panel inside the vehicle, passengers will be dispatched to their destination without intervening stops at other stations. Each station will have sufficient loading positions to meet passenger demands with a minimum of wait time. 
A reserve supply of units will be capable of “feeding” an empty load position unless another vehicle will be arriving momentarily. Conversely, if a station is filled with empty, dormant vehicles, they will be shuttled to the spur track to make room for loaded vehicles arriving from other stations."

Walt Disney World Village: The Dream Contracts

Building communities? Inter-urban transit stations? World Showcase? Epcot Satellites? The mid-70s was a crazy era for Disney's brand of speculative futurism.

And yet 1975 is also the year that marks, in a way, the end of Lake Buena Vista's potential as a real community. In January 1975, Space Mountain opened at Magic Kingdom, and Donn Tatum announced that Phase One of Walt Disney World was complete. The company would now be lavishing all of it attention and resources on EPCOT - and it was expected to be a theme park, not a city.

Treehouse Villa Kitchen
Up till now the Townhouses and Treehouses had been designed as much for gracious entertaining as vacationing, but a shift was underway. Disney broke ground in 1976 on a new development nestled amongst the holes of the Lake Buena Vista Course, and called them the Fairway Villas. These were smaller energy efficient dwellings with long sloping roofs, with limited kitchenettes instead of full kitchens and bedrooms, intended more for vacationers than full time living. Promotional descriptions from the time hint at the shift:
“The Villas, expected to yield energy savings of 50 percent with their unique design, each have a 720-square-foot living, dining, and kitchen area and two bedrooms, one of which can be combined with the adjoining Villa. Designed for family vacations, meetings, seminars, and executive conferences, the Villa units will be arranged so that as many as four bedrooms can be rented by one tenant.”
As perhaps one final, last-ditch attempt, Disney actually built four full-size houses nearby. If they were ever offered for real sale, I've never seen any evidence of it. Rented out for corporate functions and large families, Number 301, 302, 303 and 304 Lake Buena Vista, FL were the only true residence houses constructed on the site. In later years they were rented under the title "Grand Vista Suites", and Steve Birnbaum diplomatically described them as "model homes for a development project that has been abandoned for the moment".

Across the street from the Village, what Disney advertised as the first of their planned office complexes as part of the Lake Buena Vista Commercial District opened. A square, glass-walled structure housing a SunBank on the bottom floor and Disney administrative offices above, it was the sole structure built. It still exists today and is known as the SunTrust Building.


1977 also saw the expansion of the Shopping Village with the addition of the Empress Lilly riverboat restaurant. Actually a network of seven interconnected restaurants and lounges positioned in a full sized New Orleans riverboat, the Lilly was an attempt to introduce a visual element of fantasy to Lake Buena Vista, to add some more "Disney" to the experience. The same year, the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village was rechristened The Walt Disney World Village. Buena Vista Interiors was quietly disbanded, becoming a furniture show room in the Village.


In this iteration, with the Village, Riverboat, and Villas for guest rental, Lake Buena Vista trundled along for over a decade with no real change. Shops came and went every so often. A series of vacation rentals called the Club Lake Villas opened in 1979, attached to the new Lake Buena Vista Conference Center - conventions having quietly become one of the company's core profit centers.



The Rise of Downtown Disney

Lake Buena Vista Conference Center Lobby
EPCOT Center rose while Lake Buena Vista slumbered. Corporations and deals were hatched, earth was moved, Spaceship Earth was assembled. And in the end EPCOT Center opened in a bum economy and a hostile corporate environment. Even with the largest participation of corporate America in any theme park in history, EPCOT Center cost so, so, so much money, it threatened to capsize Disney. And then the movers and shakers behind Disney were out, and Frank Wells and his chosen CEO Michael Eisner were in. And still Lake Buena Vista slept while the old ways of thinking at Disney that gave birth to it were uprooted and discarded.

By 1989, Eisner, Wells, and Jeffrey Katzenberg had turned around the floundering Disney studio with a succession of inexpensive comedies and dramas, and the animation unit was showing signs of rebounding. The time for expansiveness had come, and Eisner sought to add an additional full day to vacationers' trips with The Disney/MGM Studios, Typhoon Lagoon, and Pleasure Island. Each of these attractions was intended to directly challenge a local competitor for vacationer's money - Universal Studios Florida, Wet and Wild, and Church Street Station, respectively. The entire area behind the Empress Lilly - an area first envisioned for a New Orleans area - became a rediscovered industrial center.

Michael Eisner had some unusual taste in architecture. Growing up in a wealthy family in New York, and having served successful and controversial stints as both a television and motion picture executive, Eisner's taste was perhaps never in line with the largely heartland, middle class audience Disney had courted since the 1950s. Through the 1980s, one of the largest trends in fashionable coastal cities was adaptive reuse - repurposing old industrial buildings into new civic and entertainment centers. Pleasure Island was themed to an old Florida industrial district that had been destroyed by a hurricane and then adapted by Disney into a nightclub district.


Concurrent with the opening of Pleasure Island, Disney totally revamped the Village, renaming it the Disney Village Marketplace. Gone was the conceit of a seaside hamlet. All of the decorative statues and graceful contemporary touches were suppressed. The concept now was for a lively outdoor festival atmosphere with topiaries, splashing fountains, and twinkling lights. Shops which were intended to be darkened and elegant were made over into bright, kid-friendly spaces. The Verandah Restaurant became Minnie Mia's Pizzeria. The Village Restaurant became Chef Mickey's. The emphasis was on bright, family friendly fun.

On the far side of Pleasure Island, a huge AMC megaplex opened, and was joined by a colossal floating planet in 1994 - the then-hot themed restaurant Planet Hollywood. Just one year later, one of the Village's most distinctive shops - the Christmas Chalet - was demolished and the gigantic World of Disney store was built where it once was. Just past World of Disney, Minnie Mia's Pizzeria was done over into a flagship LEGO store (with LEGO dragon poking out of Village Lake), and just past that, Disney's newest corporate partner - McDonald's - opened a bizarre "Ronald McDonald's Playhouse" location. Chef Mickey's was moved - in name only - to the Contemporary Resort, and its space became a Rainforest Cafe. The Empress Lilly was gutted, its paddle and smokestacks removed, painted grey and turned into Fulton's Crab House.

Across the lake, changes were underway at the Lake Buena Vista Villas. These clusters of buildings, once intended as second homes for residents, had largely been eclipsed by brand new moderate hotels throughout Walt Disney World aimed at the same mid-price vacationers who had used these villas through the 80s. Disney hotels like Caribbean Beach and Dixie Landings had rendered them irrelevant, and the lack of distinct theming of the Villas had been a disappointment to some.

The solution was to rebrand the Villas as The Disney Institute, a resort which offered opportunities for classes in activities as diverse as cooking, rock climbing, and animation. Taking advantage of the relaxed, adult atmosphere of the Villas, the golf course, and the waterways, Disney expanded the Lake Buena Vista Club into a full lobby and spa, with a theater, bandstand, and classrooms.

The Disney Institute is, along with Disney's America, perhaps Michael Eisner's largest stumble in terms of brand name in his tenure at Disney. Many guests were not certain if they could book rooms at the Institute without also attending classes, and the term "Institute" repelled those traveling with children even more than the term "Villas" had. Eisner, with his love of massive corporate edifices, factories, and production plants, saw a romance in the name "Institute" which few others did. However, those who did give the Institute a chance, often found a charming, relaxed atmosphere there - one last remnant of the Lake Buena Vista days.


While Marketplace/Village were original concepts, the West Side development which began construction in 1997 was a stark imitation of Universal Hollywood's City Walk, a highly profitable outdoor mall complex which opened in 1993. With oversize signs, post-modernist architecture, and playful shapes, City Walk is only distinct from West Side in that it has dated remarkably well, at least in its original home in Hollywood, while West Side has not. The West Side's opening meant that the entire complex was rebranded as "Downtown Disney", which made the imitation of the "City Walk" brand even more obvious.

In 2000, Disney's tourism market was already declining, and following the terror attacks in 2001, the bottom totally fell out. Hotel facilities at Walt Disney World, built up so much through the 90s, were simply shuttered to save costs of running them. Dixie Landings and Disney Institute were placed under "refurbishment". Dixie Landings would eventually reopen as Port Orleans Riverside, but Disney opted to demolish the old Lake Buena Vista Villas to make way for a new DVC resort: Saratoga Springs. The lobby, pool, and surrounding facilities built for the Institute in 1994 were retained. Today, only the southmost section of the lobby structure - housing the Turf Club Restaurant, Lounge, Golf Pro Shop, lockers, and tennis courts remains of Disney's 1971 adventure into planned communities.

The Fall of Pleasure Island and Everything Else

By 2005, Downtown Disney had become impossible to continue operating in its current form. Pleasure Island was still a gated attraction, which meant that only paying guests could traverse the island. Anybody visiting and wishing to see both the Marketplace/Village and West Side would have to walk alongside busy parking lots and bus stops to reach a bridge which ducked underneath the entrance bridge to Pleasure Island. Walkways were jammed with tourists while meanwhile attendance at the Pleasure Island nightclubs was faltering. Disney had failed to invest in updating the bulk of the clubs, and 2005 audiences were not interested in night clubs from the 80s and 90s. Only the Comedy Warehouse and Adventurer's Club had managed to attract a loyal following, and those fans went directly to those two clubs and bypassed the rest.


The solution to the crowded walkways and abandoned clubs was to open Pleasure Island to foot traffic, and charge individual admission to each club, which is what Disney did in 2006. The concert stages facing the walkways through Pleasure Island were now free to all, and the free entertainment and parking began to attract an undesirable element. Pipe bombs were tossed in dumpsters fairly regularly. Local news agencies began to report robberies and holdups in the congested parking lots. Drug dealers were often seen at West Side. The most popular thing on Pleasure Island was the Irish pub Raglan Road, which was leased space and not owned or operated by Disney.

The experiment, which required millions of dollars of construction to re-route the foot traffic, ended just two years later. Disney shuttered all of the remaining nightclubs in September 2008. Signs were removed, nightclub entrances locked, and decals painted over. Then something funny happened - nothing. Two years later, in 2010 Disney announced the replacement for Pleasure Island - Hyperion Wharf. A press release trumpeted:
"The district will come to life with a nostalgic yet modern take on an early 20th century port city and amusement pier. By day, stylish boutiques and innovative restaurants will draw you in and by night, thousands of lights will transform the area into an electric wonderland. 
Taking its name from Hyperion, the Greek god of light, as well as the street on which Walt Disney built his first major animation studio, the wharf district will also feature a relaxing lakeside park and enhanced pedestrian walkways. And its diverse eateries will expand dining availability at Downtown Disney by more than 25 percent."


And, indeed, things did begin to change. Several buildings on Pleasure Island were leveled, a new boat dock was built, and the area in front of Fulton's Crab House was refurbished.

Yet no tenants were ever announced, and as time went on, it was clearer and clearer that work on Pleasure Island had stopped. 2013, the announced year of competition for Hyperion Wharf, came with no real progress, until the announcement of Disney Springs later that year. Disney Springs opened last month, with more projects to complete the shift from Downtown Disney to Disney Springs expected to extend into 2017.

EPCOT: A Second Look

Here's my question, and it's a question Disney fans don't like to hear. Would Walt's EPCOT city have actually been any good?

The fact is that Walt Disney died at exactly the moment that a man like him would have to have changed. He had already changed a lot through the 50s, personally and politically. The kids who he had running around in coonskin caps and watching Disneyland on TV were now wearing beads and turning on, dropping out.

Consider, for a moment, that Walt Disney ate at the Tam O'Shanter and held meetings about Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln while, somewhere nearby, kids were playing 45s of "Blowin' in the Wind". Walt lay dying planning his sterile metropolis and only six months later the Summer of Love put Haight-Ashbury under a permanent cloud of opiate. After he died, the Vietnam conflict escalated, his good friend Richard Nixon became president, and the United States entered a period of heightened political awareness that lasted, in fits and starts, for another ten years.

How would Walt have responded to kids burning American flags? To drug culture? To Vietnam? To Watergate? These questions swirl around inside the story of EPCOT and cannot be separated. After he was gone, his inheritors looked at his ideas and thought they could use some of them but changed others to better reflect the culture they would be selling to. If the political strife, urban decay, and white flight of the 60s and 70s made the model of constructing a sanitized urban city forever impossible, Disney was also too early to another movement to really ride its wave: New Urbanism.

That's basically what Lake Buena Vista was supposed to be, but it came way before any famous examples were actually built. Seaside, FL is often considered the touchstone of the New Urbanist movement, but that didn't even get started until 1979 - long after Disney had pretty much abandoned Lake Buena Vista.

The thing is, Lake Buena Vista is still, almost 50 years later, basically appealing. We still long for escapes from and solutions to urban congestion. Biking paths, walking trails, boat launches, Peoplemovers and Monorails are still awesome, and a charming, walkable Downtown is a goal which has often been imitated and rarely bettered than the Shopping Village.


Would Walt have changed his plans for EPCOT had he lived? Probably. Would it have been the sort of wild success it needed to be? We will never know. Would it have managed to keep up with the times to avoid falling into neglect and disrepair? Would Walt have managed to steer it through a turbulent, violent and wrenching social transformation that rewrote popular taste entirely? Probably not.

And it's not as if Disney's taste for urban design has gone away, it's just transformed. Just as Lake Buena Vista begat Downtown Disney - which spread to California, Paris, Tokyo and now Shanghai - Disney is still mucking around with moving people - through theme parks, shopping complexes, and hotels. Shanghai Disneyland will be the most fully developed resort complex they will have built since Disneyland Paris, back in 1992. And this frenzy of activity has extended back to its source in Florida, which has been engulfed in construction for almost eight years now. Disney Springs has become Disney's version of the Big Dig: seemingly endless.

Now that we are oriented in the history of our subject, next time we'll take a deep dive into Disney Springs and the not always unambiguous questions it raises about Disney, urban design, and cities overall.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Music of Liberty Square, 1980 - Now

Welcome back to the music of Liberty Square, where this time, it's personal!

This week, we'll be wrapping up our look at the music history of Liberty Square, and taking a deep dive into my personal favorite background loop of all time: the Liberty Square music that played from 1980-2010, which is close to my heart.

Liberty Square isn't an easy area to create music for. The obvious choice is Fife and Drum music, but the aggressive, militaristic aspects of a march don't match the pastoral quality that WED achieved in this area. Imagineering must have considered all of this carefully, because in the build up to open EPCOT, they recorded a loop for Liberty Square instead of asking Jack Wagner to put one together, as they had in 1971.

Establishing the Date

Establishing the date of very old pieces of music isn't always easy. Due to a kinship with an EPCOT Center track that will be discussed below, for many years the Liberty Square loop was assumed to have been installed in 1982, which is to say concurrent with its EPCOT counterpart. But the Liberty Square music can also be heard in numerous early Disney home videos from 1981, which means it predated EPCOT - but not by a heck of a lot. Enough to still have a firm connection to EPCOT.

But my thinking about the loop changed dramatically when Retro Disney World posted one of their restored home videos in late 2014. It's from 1980, it has sound, and at 12:58 in the video, you can hear it - the classic Liberty Square loop.


This changed things a bit. A year in advance of EPCOT Center I could accept as a matter of convenience, but this new video brought us all the way back at least to October 1980 for the loop in question, and to me changed the way we should think of it.

Establishing the Tracks

This was an extremely difficult loop to establish an actual track listing for. To begin with, by far the bulk of the songs in this loop are marching tunes, but played at the leisurely pace of the eighteenth-century drawing room. This means it can be very tough to distinguish the songs by ear.

Further complicating matters is the fact that in the era most of these tunes most readily fit into, it was common and accepted practice to write "parodies" of other songs, fitting new lyrics to established tunes. This was often used for political purposes, so that the Yankee "The Liberty Song" is sung to the British Royal Navy anthem "Heart of Oak", or "Free America" is sung to the tune of "British Grenadiers". Such political profanity even gave rise to our national anthem: the English club song "The Anacreontic Song" is combined with Francis Scott Key's "Defence of Fort M'Henry" to become "The Star Spangled Banner".

Adding yet more complications, certain Disney tracks are interpolated into the mix. By far the most vexing is the first track, which could be heard behind the opening scenes of the 1971 "Hall of Presidents" film:


Buddy Baker's score for The Hall of Presidents is an elaboration of his brilliant score for Great Moments With Mr Lincoln. The Lincoln score itself is rooted in themes originally written for the Walt Disney Productions television film Johnny Shiloh. I've watched both Johnny Shiloh and the George Bruns-scored Johnny Tremain trying to ferret out connections to this first mystery track, all in vain. The song does somewhat resemble a slowed-down version of Bruns' "Johnny Tremain" theme, but not enough to lead me to believe that it was intended to be the same song.

Similar Baker material was recycled into the soundtrack for "America the Beautiful" in 1967, and Walt Disney World Forever listed the 1994 Hall of Presidents cues as "America the Beautiful", apparently in error. For lack of anything better, I've called the track "Constitutional Convention", it's name on the original LP.

If there are any specialists of the music of the late-eighteenth and early nineteeth century out there and you recognize something I've mislabeled, please speak up - I'm only working with my own ears here. I've included some dates for the authentic music here to show how careful Baker was in selecting songs of the appropriate time period for Liberty Square.

Liberty Square BGM 1980 - 2010
Buddy Baker/WDP, Arranged by Walter Sheets

01) Constitutional Convention - Buddy Baker?, 1971
02) The Liberty Song - John Dickinson, 1768
03) Chester - William Billings, 1770
04) Unknown A
05) Unknown B
06) Yankee Doodle - Traditional; circa 1755
07) Molly Malone - Traditional; circa 1830
08) Free America - Dr. Joseph Warren, 1774
09) Unknown C
10) The Liberty Tree - George Bruns, 1957
11) The Girl I Left Behind Me - Traditional; circa 1812
12) Hail Columbia - Philip Phile, 1798
13) Unknown B
14) Yankee Doodle - Traditional; circa 1755


This version of the loop is compiled from a new induction recording of the American Adventure BGM and secondary sources provided by Chris Lyndon and is presented in the highest quality possible. Most other online presentations of the loop cut tracks 13 and 14, which simply repeat tracks 5 and 6, but this is indeed part of the proper loop and they are retained here.

Download the Liberty Square loop here (MP3 and FLAC).

Background Information

To understand this loop we also have to understand its kin: the area music for the American Adventure at EPCOT Center, opening in 1982. Buddy Baker was music director for the whole of the EPCOT Center project, and the hour-long compilation of American classics which plays outside the pavilion, and the score of the show inside, can be thought of as his "last word" on the subject of the Americana music he had been excelling at for two decades.

The American Adventure loop includes ten of the Liberty Square loop's twelve songs; not present at EPCOT are the repeated tracks Unknown B and Yankee Doodle. The main theater in the American Adventure uses an alternate take of "Hail Columbia" in a slightly more upbeat tempo, probably recorded in the same session. The American Adventure loop also contains about 30 more minutes of post-Civil War songs dating into the 20th century, such as "When Johnny Comes Marching Home", "Sidewalks of New York", and "Summertime".

What this means is that there is definitely a relationship between the Liberty Square music, the American Adventure area music, and the American Adventure show music. The same harpsichord which plays in the Liberty Square tracks kicks off the American Adventure soundtrack, for example. For years it's been assumed that the 1980 Liberty Square track is just a cut down version of the American Adventure track. Is this true?

Listen to the Liberty Square tracks. What you're hearing is a harpsichord, sometimes a flute and horn, and usually a few bowed instruments - salon music, in other words. Now listen to the music recorded for the American Adventure:


The American Adventure tracks include wind instruments, harmonicas, drums, and other features missing from the Liberty Square tracks - even on songs like "Carry Me Back To Old Virginny", which would seem to lend themselves to similar treatment. In other words, they were probably recorded in a separate session, with a distinct group of instruments.

The American Adventure had been under development in one way or another since the mid-70s. It had been worked on long enough ago that Marc Davis, who left WED in 1978, had developed a version of the show called "America Speaks". Davis seems to have been the one who hit on the idea of teaming up Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, and Robert Benchley (later Will Rogers) to host the show. So if recording music for EPCOT's America pavilion in 1980 seems extraordinarily early, it isn't really, even if the final form of the show was still very much an ongoing question. Along with World of Motion and Universe of Energy, it was one of the few shows for EPCOT Center that had been progressing through the WED pipeline unchanged since the 1970s.

I think the Liberty Square tracks sound different because they were intended to be different - and, more pointedly, they were recorded specifically with Liberty Square in mind. The meandering, rolling quality of the "American Adventure" tracks - in line with the easy-listening vibe of World Showcase - are brought together with the sprightly salon music of Liberty Square to form the American Adventure BGM, one of the few loops in World Showcase to have a split personality.

If this split alone doesn't silently suggest that the tracks were recorded with Liberty Square in mind, then the inclusion of two significant pieces of Baker's score for the Hall of Presidents - under the direction of Buddy Baker himself - should seal the deal.

The Part Time Loop

That's pretty much how things stayed for 30 years. It may even have been longer; everyone I've ever talked to says they remember that Buddy Baker loop since forever ago. Then, following a major refurbishment of the Hall of Presidents in 2009, the Liberty Square music changed in early 2010.
Liberty Square - Area BGM (2010 - Present) 
01. Stars and Stripes Forever [6]
02. King Cotton [6]
03. Washington Post March [6]
04. The Royal Welsh Fusiliers [6]
05. El Capitan [6]
06. The Gridiron Club [6]
07. I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy (Four Cohen Songs) [Edited] [1]
08. Invincible Eagle [6]
09. Gallant Seventh [6]
10. The Liberty Bell March [5]
11. Comrades of the Legion [5]
12. Hail to the Spirit of Liberty [5]
13. You're a Grand Old Flag [7]
14. Stars and Stripes Forever [5]
15. Semper Fidelis [4]
16. The Gunners [4]
17. Radetzky March [4]
18. Ancient Honorable Artillery Company [3]
19. George Washington Bicentennial [3]
20. The Chimes of Liberty [2]
21. National Emblem [2]

[1] Esprit de Corps by the United States Air Force Concert Band (CreateSpace)
[2] Forward March! Great American Marches by the US Army Band (Altissimo Records)
[3] A Grand Sousa Concert by the Nonpareil Wind Band (Angel Records)
[4] Marching to Glory by Various Artists (Pickwick PWK050)
[5] Sousa Spectacular by the Eastman Wind Ensemble (Phoenix)
[6] Sousa's Greatest Hits by the United States Marine Band (Altissimo Records)
[7] West Point on the March by the United States Military Academy Band (Altissimo Records)

Notes: Playlist based on a 2010 induction recording by Horizons and compiled by Horizons and wedroy1923.  Additional information by wedroy1923.  Thanks to Horizons on 04/04/2013 for finishing this playlist.
If fife and drum music made Liberty Square seem too militaristic, then the Sousa and Cohan extravaganza represented by this loop is just as incongruous. Absolutely nothing about this loop is appropriate to Liberty Square in tone or in time period. Even more bizarrely, perhaps as a compromise, the 1980 Liberty Square music - the real Liberty Square music - plays in November and December as "Christmas Music". Even a brief glimpse at its track listing above will tell you that the songs have nothing to do with Christmas.

Interestingly, perhaps aware that there is a major disconnect between the Liberty Square music and Liberty Square itself, Imagineering has reduced its footprint over the years. They've begun playing the Columbia Harbour House music around the exterior of that building, and a muted organ version of Grim Grinning Ghosts near the Haunted Mansion, splitting Liberty Square up into three zones, with the Sousa banished to the area immediately around the Hall of Presidents. But time hasn't made this any more appropriate than it was in 2010. Some new BGM tracks, like the Caribbean Plaza Pirates movie soundtrack music or the "contemporary Japan" music played in World Showcase seem weird at first before synthesizing into the whole, but the 2010 Liberty Square track still stands out. It's just a bad choice.

Of course Sousa marches don't fit with Liberty Square - everything about the architecture and sense of space that WED achieved in this, the richest area of Magic Kingdom, is oriented towards a homey, welcoming, peaceful atmosphere. Liberty Square may be a town on the brink of revolution, but it's also a place where the leisurely turning of a paddlewheel sets the tone and every American president agrees to get along - on stage at least.

If I'm right in my guesses above - and I'm willing to bet that I am - then the 1980 Liberty Square loop was entirely designed to reflect the atmosphere of the area as it was actually built. And it worked. It worked perfectly. Few integrations of music and themed design have ever been as snugly, and as tightly woven. As a transition from Main Street into Frontierland. Liberty Square was the pastoral, the slow movement of the symphony between the go-for-broke American optimism of Main Street and the rough and tumble Frontierland.

But the choice for or against a piece of music comes down to more than that, because more than almost any area music I can think of, the 1980 Liberty Square music - overseen and created by two Disney Legends, used in park for two generations without feeling dated - belongs to Liberty Square, just as surely as "Yo Ho" belongs to Pirates of the Caribbean. Six years of marching music in Magic Kingdom's best land is too long. It's time to bring back the 1980 Liberty Square music, for good. Some things just can't be improved on.

Ready for more? Visit the Passport to Dreams Theme Park Music Hub.
Or, hop a monorail to the past and spend a full "day" at the Walt Disney World of the 1970s by downloading Another Musical Souvenir of Walt Disney World.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Early Music of Liberty Square

Liberty Square remains the Magic Kingdom's most successful area beyond the upper edge of Main Street; it's as small and effortless as it is accomplished and rich. It's as intimate as Magic Kingdom gets, and anchors three of her best attractions. In terms of landmass, it's small, but in terms of artistry, it's large.

Which is why you really, really need the musical background here to be appropriate. I'd argue that Adventureland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland can support a wide variety of music styles because they're themed to attitudes and ideas, not places. 

But when you get to Main Street, Frontierland, and Liberty Square, you have to be very careful. People already have an idea of what those areas could feel and sound like, and the key is to meet these expectations while harmonizing with the architecture and the overall message of the area. It's trickier than you think.

Liberty Square is special to me, so for the next few weeks we'll be taking a close look at the music of Liberty Square.

The 1971 Music: A Fife and Drum Extravaganza

Anyone who collects park music has likely come across a scratchy piece of fife and drum music with odd fades in and out which purports to be the very original Liberty Square music. From most perspectives, this file is chock-a-block with problems. The music quality is poor, there's weird fades, and worst of all, it's only 12 minutes long. And this from a subset of the community which is no stranger to mislabeling, subterfuge, and just plain lying. No way this is authentic, right?

Wrong! The original Liberty Square music comes to us from the collection of Mike Cozart, who beat all of us to the punch by getting friendly with Jack Wagner before he died. Many of the early, difficult to verify music loops which circulate in the collector community, such as the original Adventureland Veranda and King Stefan's Banquet Hall loops, come from Mike, who got them direct from Jack.

Mike sent along a photograph of the original Master Copy reel from his collection:



Michael Sweeney has identified most of the tracks in the digital file version of this music reel as we have it today. Most of them come from a 1957 Eastman Wind Ensemble Record "Spirit of '76". Please note that the version which was used to create our music loop in question was the LP version. The same music is available most commonly today via a 1997 CD which compiles "Spirit of '76" as well as another Eastman Wind Ensemble record, "Ruffles and Flourishes". This CD version breaks up the running order of the tracks a bit and obscures some of the choices Jack made in 1971.

Tracks 11 - 13 in this list come from a as yet unknown source. Given the rest all come from a same LP - and appear basically in album order -  may seem rudimentary, but is characteristic of other very early Wagner-era music loops.

Liberty Square Area Music [ca. 1971 - ca. 1980] 
01. Yankee Doodle [1] 
02. Sergeant O'Leary [1] 
03. The Belle of Mohawk Vale [1]  
04. Garry Owen [Fades In] [1]  
05. Dixie [1]  
06. Sentry Box [1] 
07. The Breakfast Call [1]  
08. Rally 'Round the Flag [1]  
09. Bonnie Blue Flag [1]  
10. The White Cockade [1]  
11. Battle Cry of Freedom [Fades In]  
12. Yankee Doodle  
13. The Girl I Left Behind Me [Fades Out]

[1] The Spirit of '76 & Ruffles and Flourishes by the Eastman Wind Ensemble (Mercury Living Presence)





Okay, okay, I'd better say something before the more ardent BGM fans out there start throwing things at the computer screen: this list, and the photo provided of the reel above, don't match up. The reel clearly indicates a run time of 14:40. And then below the 14:40 on the identification sticker in Jack's handwriting, it says "19:10", which isn't correct either. This loop has three different run times, and none of them make any sense!!

Okay, relax, let's put on our detective cap here and go through this one problem at a time.

The Missing 2:40

The loop as we have it comes out to around an even twelve minutes. Thanks to Jack's notation on the reel above, we know that the full length was intended to be 14:40. So where did the missing 2 minutes and 40 seconds go to?

What is evident when you're looking at the original LP instead of the somewhat misleading CD version, is that Jack drew from a very specific set of tracks to create the loop. Each side of the Eastman Wind LP is divided into two suites. Side A includes "Traditional Marching Tunes for Fife and Drum" and "Camp Duty of the US Amy", and Side B contains "Traditional Music for Fife and Drums" and "Drum Solos". He uses the entirety of Side A's "Traditional Marching Tunes" and one Track from Side B's "Traditional Music for Fife and Drums". He doesn't use anything from "Camp Duty" or "Drum Solos". Why?


Rear of the Eastman Wind Ensemble LP
It could be that these suites are very, very heavy on, well, drumming. One reason why he may have added the fade into "Gary Owen" is to eliminate the long drum solo at the start of the recorded track. Based simply on what we have, he didn't seem interested at all in "Camp Duty" or "Drum Solos". In fact, when he needs more music for the loop, he goes over to Side B skipping "Camp Duty" entirely.

Therefore, if the missing 2:40 is from the Eastman Wind Ensemble LP at all - and I'm not saying it is, because we'll never know, but if it is - then it's probably from Side B of the record in the "Traditional Music for Fife and Drums" suite.


Tracks used are highlighted
And it just so happens that the next three tracks on the LP following "The Breakfast Call", which he used, happen to work out to about two minutes and 33 seconds - "The Dinner Call", "Wrecker's Daughter Quickstep", and "Hell on the Wabash".

This would fit in with his modus operandi elsewhere in the loop of simply working down the LP more or less in disc order. The final song in the "Fife and Drums" suite - Downfall of Paris - is a length which would require combination with either an edited track or more material of an unknown origin to hit the required 2 minute 40 second window, which of course is not outside the realm of possibility.

With Pauses?

An additional wrinkle on the Master Copy is Jack's handwritten note: "19:10 with Pauses". This means there was apparently sections of the BGM loop which had no music recorded in them!

As it happens, this 1971 loop used to circulate on the internet broken up into three files: what I've got listed above as Tracks 01-03 was once file one, Tracks 04-10 was file two, and Tracks 11-13 in a third. Sometimes they're presented in other orders, as on Utilidors' copy, but those three groupings remain consistent.


Notice that the first two groupings come from Eastman Wind Ensemble and the third from the as-of-yet unidentified second source.

It seems unlikely to me that whoever broke them into pieces did not do so for no reason. I think they broke them up into pieces to get rid of long gaps between the songs. In fact, I swear I remember downloading this piece of music online in the early 2000s and being baffled that it was filled with long pauses between the fife and drum music. I deleted it, convinced it was a mistake. Now I'm not so sure and I wish I had kept that copy.

So we know that the track is intended to have 14 minutes 40 seconds of music in a loop which is 19 minutes 10 seconds long, which is a difference of 4 minutes 30 seconds.

And if we combine this with my guesses above that the missing 2:40 comes from the Eastman Wind Ensemble LP, and that the missing Eastman tracks would have been all grouped together possibly in LP playlist order, we have a fourth "suite" of tracks which is missing from our version of the 1971 BGM.

That's four distinct "suites" of fife and drum music, three contributed by the same "Spirit of 76" LP, and one from an unknown source. I doubt Jack would have begun or ended any BGM loop with a long gap of silence, that leaves three spaces between "suites" where the silence would have been. 

These three gaps exactly correspond to how these files were broken up while they were circulating on the early internet. And, as it happens, 4 minutes and 30 seconds breaks up into three 90 second pauses exactly. So, one possible 1971 playlist could have been:
01. Yankee Doodle [1]
02. Sergeant O'Leary [1]
03. The Belle of Mohawk Vale [1]
    (90 seconds of silence)
04. Garry Owen [1]
05. Dixie [1]
06. Sentry Box [1]
07. The Breakfast Call [1]
08. Rally 'Round the Flag [1]
09. Bonnie Blue Flag [1]
10. The White Cockade [1]
    (90 seconds of silence)

11. Battle Cry of Freedom
12. Yankee Doodle
13. The Girl I Left Behind Me 
     (90 seconds of silence)
14. The Dinner Call [1]
15. Wrecker's Daughter Quick Step [1]
16. Hell on the Wabash [1]

[1] The Spirit of '76 & Ruffles and Flourishes by the Eastman Wind Ensemble (Mercury Living Presence)

Please remember, this is nothing but a pure guess.  But if I'm right, then the final group of three tracks could have been physically truncated off the reel at some point before Mike Cozart got it transferred to digital - such damage being more likely to occur at the end of the reel than the start or the middle - and then later on somebody else removed the long gaps of no music between the songs.

So why would there be gaps anyway, and what's with the strange fades? Why is this loop so weird?

I think that what Jack had in mind was a bit different from theme park BGM as we know it today. We're accustomed to a constant, gentle musical accompaniment inside theme parks, often in continual hour-long cycles. No such conventions could have informed Jack's choices in 1971 since he was inventing the style as he went. I think what he was going for here was the impression that a fife and drum band could be playing, perhaps just around the next corner. The fades in and out could represent the approach or retreat of another group of minute men.

Let's also not lose sight of the fact that just because Jack was paid to create this loop doesn't mean it was widely heard in the way theme park music is today. As demonstrated elsewhere on this blog, in the 70s the Magic Kingdom sound system was patchy, and wild. You probably couldn't hear most of the music in the park unless you were inside or right under a speaker. Perhaps this only played from a few speakers near the entrance of the land, or only immediately around the Hall of Presidents.

We'll probably never know for sure.  But, yes, we can confidently say that the 1971 Liberty Square music is authentic, even if it only survives today in weirdly incomplete form.

Ready for more? Visit the Passport to Dreams Theme Park Music Hub.

Or, hop a monorail to the past and spend a full "day" at the Walt Disney World of the 1970s by downloading Another Musical Souvenir of Walt Disney World.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Understanding the Adventureland Veranda

Late last year the Skipper Canteen opened at Magic Kingdom's Adventureland, a move which this author enthusiastically endorsed. Yet not everyone was as complimentary as I - almost immediately unfavorable comparisons to the Adventurer's Club of Pleasure Island began to emerge. In fact, 2015 was something of a bumper crop year for restaurants being unfavorably compared to the Adventurer's Club, starting with the new Trader Sam's in the Spring, proceeding through Jock Lindsay's Hangar Bar in the Fall, and climaxing with Skipper Canteen in the Winter. This is in spite of the fact that none of these restaurants - to a one - ever announced or attempted any ties to that loudly missed Pleasure Island institution.

Between Summer 1994 and Winter 2015, an entire generation has passed through Adventureland without stepping foot into the Adventureland Veranda. Pieces of the original layout have been truncated, altered, and removed over time - the shaded verandas which gave the food service location its name did not return, and the most extended seating porches out towards the Breezeway had long been swallowed up by Restrooms.

And so it is entirely reasonable to expect new visitors to not be fully in the know about exactly what the Adventureland Veranda and the Skipper Canteen represents and, in looking for answers, perhaps did not look to the right places to begin with.


Adventurer's Club belonged to some time long ago, where there could still theoretically be snooty butlers and French maids. The time period of both the Jungle Cruise and the Club are some ephemeral sense of "pre-World War II"; back then, when theoretically we could expect Indiana Jones,  Rick Blaine, or Groucho's Captain Spaulding persona to rub shoulders at the bar. A time that didn't really exist, but generations of passed on memories from Hollywood thrillers made us want to believe it could have.

And of course, the Jungle Navigation Company - the fictional proprietors of the Jungle Cruise - were explicitly connected to the Adventurer's Club. Many guests seemingly expected the Canteen to reflect either the Club, which was connected to the Jungle Cruise mythologically, or the Jungle Cruise queue area, connected to the Jungle Cruise physically. Instead, they were served up, in Skipper Canteen, a remade version of something else entirely.

And don't get me wrong; I applaud Magic Kingdom's decision to honor the original design of the Adventureland Veranda, one of the most richly evocative spaces ever created for a theme park. The trick is, it's been so long that most people aren't even sure what the Veranda was designed to evoke, so to show how retaining the interior makes both good historical and thematic sense, we need to grapple with what the Veranda is supposed to be at all.

Adventureland: Tracing the Colonial Narrative

As described in a previous post, Adventureland at Magic Kingdom does follow a specific progression and trace a unified concept, it's just one most observers will never attempt to unpack. We will have to, for the purposes of this essay.

There are basically four sections to Adventureland, and each structure can be tied to one or another. The Theme of Adventureland is of the encounter between the Western world and far-off places and peoples. This Theme is Visualized through the device of exotic architecture. The Thematic Heart of the area is the Jungle Cruise, the ride the area was designed to complement, where we (modern Americans) may travel into uncharted regions and confront various dangers.

The First Section is the Jungle. The Jungle represents the untamed wilderness which Adventureland encroaches on. Attractions that belong to the Jungle are the Jungle Cruise and the Swiss Family Treehouse, both representing the concept of "Survival Against the Odds". Both attractions are perched on the edge of the apparently boundless Jungle section. The Thematic Heart of the Jungle Section is the Cambodian Ruins, which represents the notion that all cultures will fail to conquer the wilds of the Jungle and establishes the dominance of this threat.

The Second Section is the Colonial Area. The Colonists represent the intrusion of Western cultures into forgein lands. The Thematic Heart of the Colonial Section is the Adventureland Veranda. Notice how, when entering from the Hub, that the Colonial Section is directly juxtaposed with the Jungle across the way, an early indication of the main conflict of the area - and setting up the nearby Jungle Cruise.

The Third Section is what I call the Native Section. The transition occurs at the Adventureland Breezeway where the bathrooms are located, where the architecture switches to rougher earthen walls and strong Moorish influences. This is the civilization which existed in Adventureland before the Colonists arrived, and it appropriately is positioned further in the area, allowing the Victorian touches of the Colonial section and Main Street U.S.A. to transition smoothly. The Thematic Heart of the Native Section is the Balinese Temple that the Enchanted Tiki Room occurs in.

Let's dwell for a moment on the altered significance of the Tiki Room at Magic Kingdom. At Disneyland, the Tiki Room is designed to reflect a midcentury American tiki restaurant, the likes of which had proliferated across Southern California since the end of the war. That's why it's supposed to be a surprise when the stuffed birds inside come to life. At Magic Kingdom, the Tiki Room is inside a Balinese Temple, an actual house of the Gods. We are told in the pre-show area that the Birds inside can talk as an effect of the "Magical Sunshine Pavilion", i.e. they can speak because they have been blessed by the power of the Gods. Therefore, when the Tiki Gods end the showing of American pop culture by bringing in a storm, it's an actual reflection of their power. In other words, we're lucky they didn't get even angrier. The Colonists don't stand a chance. Or, as Uhoah said, "When you mess with Polynesia, the Tiki Gods will squeeze ya!"

The Fourth Section is Caribbean Plaza, which comprises Pirates of the Caribbean. The Thematic Heart of the Plaza is the Castillo del Morro, the fortress the pirates attack and overrun in the ride. But the Pirates are intruders as much as the Colonizing Spaniards are, don't forget. Although Pirates of the Caribbean does not dramatize Adventureland's key theme - it's a morality play and thus best paired with The Haunted Mansion - the fact that Caribbean Plaza is executed in Spanish Colonial style, and bookends the Native section of Adventureland with yet another village built by conquerors, both means it feels perfectly at home in Adventureland and allows for a smooth transition into a representation of another area overrun by greedy white men: Latin America and the American Southwest.

Here's a map of the main area with everything color coded to dramatize the clash of values in Adventureland.



The Adventureland Veranda: What Is It?

Okay, now that we know how the Veranda fits into the narrative conveyed by Adventureland's architecture, let's dig into what the darn thing actually is, and we can begin by taking a quick tour of what's represented architecturally here.

Facing the Hub, we see immediately tile-lined roofs and elaborately shaped details.


Yes, tile-lined roofs do evoke the Caribbean, and it's an easy leap to make given the elaborately tiled roofs just down the way in Caribbean Plaza, but let's not forget that tile roofs are also traditional in Asia, which helps visually tie the roofline in with this elaborately realized pagoda-esque tower:


The elaborate scrollwork of the Veranda is unmistakably Victorian in design. We know this because only the Victorians did things like nail intricately scrolled wood on their houses, and they did it because it was brand spanking new and novel. The Scroll Saw that made the production of these pieces possible was not created until the Industrial Revolution, which meant you could now cheaply produce things which once would've required a skilled artisan. The Victorians loved that stuff, which is why we can instantly recognize the intricate but mass produced "gingerbread" of Main Street USA as Victorian.

We also see elaborately designed railings...


..intricate woodwork...


...promenading balconies and painted steel or tin roofs. Corrugated steel, again, being a product of the Industrial Revolution, making it possible to date our structure definitively to late in the 19th century.


So now the trick is to narrow down what sort of tropical architecture has all of these features. One easy place to search for inspiration is Hawaii, which had effectively been annexed by the United States for decades before it was made an official part of the union following World War II. It's easy to see the similarities to structures built in Hawaii to house workers and owners on sugar plantations:


But it's easy and tempting to conflate the merely tropical with a direct source. The tin roof, peaked architecture, bright colors and charming porch recall the Veranda closely, but what of the Asian elements? The same historical location in Hawaii, the Plantation Village in Waipahu, has a temple built for Chinese laborers that looks like even more of a smoking gun:


But let's keep looking before we jump to any conclusions. It gets into tricky territory if you want to claim that Hawaii was ever "colonized" - issues that a Disney blog and this unlearned author would be best to avoid. We are in the "Colonial Section", and if the more Asian the designs get the closer we seem to the Veranda, then we need to question which European powers maintain colonies in Asia. And when we ask that, the range narrows considerably: Britain and France.

How about India? The entrance to the Veranda has this highly atmospheric punkah, redolent of tropical climes and the Indian subcontinent.


Punkahs spread with the English out of British East India during their colonial era, spreading west to Europe.


But there isn't much else you can point to in the Veranda that seems especially British or Indian in design. Punkah became especially popular in the American South among the richest landowners, and those who operated punkah is where we still derive our pejorative "coolie". Dixie Landings/Port Orleans Riverside's lobby has two very visible punkah:


Keep in mind this connection, but next we have to look to French Indochina, and once we do that, things start to look familiar indeed.


French Colonial architecture begins to more strongly resemble the almost hallucinatory refinement we see in Adventureland. The rambling balcony on this house would look at home dispensing Dole Whips.

Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, was the center of the French Indochina Empire and in an old section of town we can see native building materials and tile roofs juxtaposed directly with the kind of elaborate railings and open balconies found at Magic Kingdom:


France was so proud of Hanoi that they actually staged a Expo there in 1902. Intended to ride the coat-tails of the era's love of World's Fairs, to Magic Kingdom fans the architecture is startlingly familiar:


If the Adventureland Veranda's corrugated roofs and shutters strike Americans as redolent of Key West or the Caribbean, well, the reason is because the French stopped off there too. Notice the similarities to this 1911 plantation house in St Lucia:


If we stop off at Caribbean islands which still evoke a Gallic influence, we come across architecture which would look right at home in Adventureland. Port-au-Prince, in Haiti, still has some astonishingly beautiful French Colonial vernacular architecture:


In fact, if the whole thing seems redolent of the American South and Jazz, remember just who it was whom we bought the Louisiana Purchase from. I've heard more than one guest describe the Veranda as reminding them of New Orleans, and they're right, because don't forget that we in the States still have French Colonial architecture too:


We call our concentrated area of French Colonial architecture the French Quarter, but in New Orleans you can also hear it called the "Vieux Carre", which was what the French called it - it means "The Old Square". That's exactly what the Vietnamese call their concentrated area of French Colonial architecture - "The Old Square". This is not a coincidence. In fact, once you lock in on French Colonial as the architectural style, the pieces fall into place: tall rooms designed to circulate air:


Sliding or opening shutters:


Airy verandas, just as in the Old South... wait, the clue was actually in the name all along! Turns out the name "Adventureland Veranda" doesn't just describe the actual Verandas which lined the east side of the structure facing the Hub, but were meant to evoke the function of the space as a great house, a location of manners and refinement, a cool escape from the oppressive heat beyond.

The Adventureland Veranda represents a French Colonial Plantation Home of the Victorian era. Now, notice that in its original state, the Veranda was heavily dressed with bamboo, wind chimes, and other South Pacific textures and patterns:


This not only makes the interior more strange and exotic, helping differentiate it from Main Street, but looks forward to the totally rustic look of the "Native Village" deeper in Adventureland, typified by the Tiki stylings of the Sunshine Pavilion and the Jungle Cruise.

It's a testament to the design talents of WED Enterprises that generations of guests detected this without really being able to put their finger exactly on what it was they were seeing. French Colonial architecture is at once familiar and exotic, an appropriate overture to the area to come. It can look European, American, Caribbean, Indian and Asian all at once, and has been quietly confounding description for decades.

The Design of the Adventureland Veranda

Once I had gathered the above sets of influences, I was able to start drilling down my search for material on the design of the Adventureland Veranda, and thanks to a fortuitous series of "finds", I'm able to present a fairly clear picture for the first time. So, it's time to meet Disney Legend Dorothea Redmond.

Mrs. Redmond has been mentioned here before, but it's fair to say that if the design of Magic Kingdom had an "MVP", I'd place Dorothea at the top of the list. This may seem silly, until I start listing the locations based directly on her designs: The Crystal Palace, King Stephan's Banquet Hall, Liberty Tree Tavern, Plaza Restaurant, Tony's Town Square, Columbia Harbour House... need I go on?

Dorothea's first job out of art school was working under legendary designer William Cameron Menzies.... on Gone With The Wind, David O Selznick's colossal production. Much of the feel of Redmond's production art of Tara was transferred to the screen through elaborate special effects shots:


Redmond kept working for Selznick, including later productions like Rebecca and Notorious, with Alfred Hitchcock. Her art must have caught Hitch's eye, because he brought her over to Universal, where she did design interiors and storyboards on Shadow of a Doubt:


Perhaps it was her work on Gone With The Wind that suggested her, but Walt Disney brought her onboard at WED Enterprises, where she contributed to New Orleans Square:


I've been able to gather up a number of Redmond's pieces relating to Magic Kingdom's Adventureland, which if I had to guess, based on what I have, she designed the common areas in totality.


That's something like what the Sunshine Pavilion looked like in 1968 - it compares tolerably well to the layout seen in this 1968 Magic Kingdom site plan, provided by Mike Lee at Widen Your World:


Sharp eyed viewers will notice that the basic shape of the Adventureland Veranda is pretty much in place by then. Which is why I'm comfortable saying that this blueprint matches an elevation recently put up for sale by Van Eaton Galleries:


Don't worry, we'll get closer to pull it apart presently. I was, in fact, going to pass on this unremarked when I noticed that Redmond had left barely legible source citations at the bottom of her art, and this find was too remarkable to pass up on. Although there were undoubtably other sources, I'm pleased to present two books which are direct sources for Magic Kingdom's Adventureland: The West Indies by Life World library, 1967, and Shadows From India by Roderick Cameron, 1958.


Shadows From India is hard to find today - it seems to have been published only in Europe - and strikes me as the more interesting source so we will begin there. Although in the final park their placement was flipped, on the Redmond piece what is identifiably Aloha Isle is present:


The final design was much reduced and had no visible structural decay, but that is definitely the building where Dole Whips were dispensed for three decades. Redmond's notation here directs us to Shadows From India page 135, which turns out is a fairly unenlightening reference for the windows seen here.

However, if we look carefully, we can find more obvious sources, like these long slatted shades between columns on a British Colonial townhouse on page 142:


These seem to have been copied pretty much directly:


Elsewhere in Shadows From India, it's possible to find echoes of Adventureland:




This British Colonial houseboat seems especially close to the mark:


Going back to Redmond's art, we can see that originally, the very first structure inside Adventureland to the right -- was going to be a Shooting Gallery! Notice the crossed pistols on the mural top the left of the shooting gallery counter:


Her citations direct us this time to page 105 in The West Indies, where she has reproduced a building sitting behind The Queen's Park in Trinidad pretty much exactly:


The park is still there, but all evidence suggests that this fascinating Victorian is long gone. The final version came out a bit differently while retaining the overhanging eaves:


One real life building that strikes me as even closer to the final Veranda design is the Boissiere House in Port-au-Prince:


The central section of the Veranda facade here, what Redmond has labeled "6" and "7", would seem to be total fantasy. The glass gazebo, once called the South Seas Terrace (now the entrance to the Skipper Canteen), only has a notation indicating how the corrugated steel roof should be applied:


But if we follow the paper trail to The West Indies, on page 85 we come across a startling discovery:



It turns out this memorable building is actually a pretty direct copy of a house in Port-au-Prince, which at least as of 1967 was still standing. I've searched online and it no longer seems to exist - much of Port-au-Prince's Victorian architecture was either torn down or finally destroyed by the 2010 earthquake. But here's one, rarely bestowed form of immortality!

As for the interior? I have only vestiges - scans from a Food Service planning packet dated 1970 on file at the Orlando Public Library - but enough to show how faithfully realized Redmond's designs were:




A Club By Any Other Name

Let's go back to the Adventurer's Club for a moment here.

Here's the thing, even allowing for the inexact nature of farce, is that Adventurer's Club was always supposed to be a Gentleman's Club, heavily British East Indian in style. Supposedly the idea germinated from a theme party held by Joe Rhode in the late 80s called "The Last Days of the Raj". In other words the Adventurer's Club was a place you came back to to tell your stories and show off your treasures. The Adventureland Veranda is a plantation, meaning it has the feeling not only of being away from everything, but of domesticity.

Now the Jungle Cruise is unavoidably British Colonial in theme, even if it's staffed with wisecracking yanks in the fashion of Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen. Thus it makes sense that the Jungle Cruise and Adventurer's Club would be bedfellows. So how does the Jungle Cruise fit into the Veranda?

I'd argue that there is a backdoor here through the colonialism theme. And since it would be egregious to keep the distinctive exterior of the Veranda structure but gut the interior to resemble something it is not, then either the whole thing must be torn down and rebuilt into an entirely new stretch of architecture or the Jungle Cruise theme must be adapted to the new space.

The key is that the Skipper Canteen must then by definition not be a social space in the style of the private club represented by the Adventurer's Club, but a private space, and that is just what Imagineering has done. They've made the Canteen into a converted home, even turning one of the side rooms into a family dining room with a fireplace and cabinets of fine china.

Instead of making the connection between the Jungle Cruise and the Adventuer's Club and being disappointed that the Canteen does not follow suit, I'd like to propose a more appropriate lens to view the new restaurant through, one that actually works with both the Jungle Cruise and the Veranda:


The Explorer's Club, also known as Colonel Hathi's Pizza Outpost at Disneyland Paris, is another space which is at once exotic and evokes domesticity, with soaring ceilings and shaded verandas.


I'd rather have it that way, too. The approach is simple and matches the tone of what's there in the park already.


One of the distinctive things about Disneyland and The Magic Kingdom, I feel, is that in many areas the theming is actually dead simple. There's nothing inherently fabulously elaborate about the Columbia Harbour House or the French Market, but they're persuasively alive in the ways that some more modern Disney themed establishments feel more cluttered up with stuff than actually carefully themed.

And that's why I applaud what Imagineering did with the Skipper Canteen. It isn't just about reopening a space and keeping it true to its original intentions, it's about knowing when to stop. It's a problem that pops up more and more these days, as Walt Disney World sees more and more visitors and more and more projects put through the sausage factory.


It's reassuring that the designers of the Canteen saw the value in the intended design, and knew that sometimes that was enough. And that a brilliant, historically valid original Magic Kingdom interior was repurposed and reopened to the general public is even more cause to celebrate.