On this day in 1975, Walt Disney Productions formally announced their plans to develop Walt Disney’s EPCOT City into a series of parks. Ultimately, these plans converged upon EPCOT Center, as it opened in 1982. These posts highlight the individual components of the first EPCOT Center parks and discuss the design and corporate process that lead to their creation. Enjoy!
Tale of Two EPCOTs: Part II – EPCOT Internationalism and the Walt Disney World Showcase
Although the ideas and plans surrounding EPCOT in its formative states deal holistically in futurism, technology, and industry, the project was equally peppered with an international flair and a driving cultural theme. From the earliest concepts of Walt Disney’s EPCOT City, areas of the complex were to be dedicated to international shopping and cuisine. This was an inclusion of Walt’s own choosing, as various attempts to make Disneyland support an international venue to exhibit and showcase had faltered. Walt Disney always had an eye toward international fellowship in his productions, both the product of an optimistic message that his studio fostered, but also as a reaction to the calamitous 20th century itself. From an ethos of a peaceful future in the earliest iterations of Tomorrowland, to the “prayer for peace” that is “it’s a small world”, the idea of any EPCOT entity bearing a home for international culture and learning comes from what Walt Disney set out to do with themed entertainment.
As early as 1956, Disney planned for the areas off to the side of Main Street USA to feature a series of alleyways and streets to be themed to exotic and international environments. Formally billed as a coming attraction, “International Street” had a sign erected off to the side of the Town Square where a arcade would have lead to the area. In 1957, “The Complete Guide to Disneyland” exhibited that International Street had become International Land, and had settled on an empty plot of land between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. The Matterhorn sits in this location, now. Meanwhile the area adjacent to Main Street would shift its intensions to house Edison Square and Liberty Street, both concepts that were also abandoned for Disneyland but grew into Walt Disney World’s Liberty Square and the New York World’s Fair’s Progressland Pavilion. In much of the same spirit, the ideas and wishes for an international venue would once again fly east to Disney World and undergo a long and storied transformation, there.
This transformation, of course, is the change of EPCOT City into EPCOT Center and all of the dichotomies in policy and concept in between. When I last wrote of EPCOT’s prehistory, I focused on the Future World side of operations and how that concept grew out of the basic intent and Walt’s hope for what EPCOT would accomplish. Along the way, and as city became park, technology was separated from the planned international and cultural attractions to serve as the main focal point of the EPCOT satellite programs. Ideas for a world showplace would not be forgotten, though, and, in fact, would be a stepping-stone for Walt Disney Productions in creating their new vision for EPCOT. What follows is the evolution of Disney’s internationalism and how it settled to be part of the EPCOT program and almost a separate entity in the Vacation Kingdom of the World.
Formally announced in 1974, and truly gathering momentum in 1975, The Showcase would have looked beyond the scientific and technological aspects of EPCOT and focused on the advancement of international cooperation and understanding. As much as the EPCOT Theme Center was to be a meeting place for representatives from different governments, industries, and corporations, World Showcase would have served as the same forum for culture. Much in the same way it operates today, the World Showcase of 1974 and 1975 would have been a showplace and culture, history and tourism. The real differences revolve around the execution of the project and it’s separation from the Future World side of the EPCOT Theme Center.
Planned for a debut in 1979, The World Showcase would have not been open for nonprofit exhibition as the EPCOT Theme Center would have been. It would have also opened before the Theme Center and perhaps helped offset the cost. Encompassing an area similar in size to the Magic Kingdom, The World Showcase would have been composed of two imposing and sleek structures, semi circular in shape, facing each other to form a “Courtyard of Nations”, complete with flag park, theater, observation tower, and amphitheater for parades, pageants, and special events staged by entertainers from participating nations. A Disney PeopleMover would link the complex, with a new system designed by the Community Transport Services Division arm of WED Enterprises. The entire project would be housed just south of the Magic Kingdom’s Transportation and Ticket facilities, in a prime location to the rest of the Vacation Kingdom’s amenities and future ventures with the other EPCOT Satellites.
The individual national pavilions would all be housed inside the complex, and vary in size, though each would receive an equal amount of façade exposure. The afore mentioned PeopleMover would also give guests a preview tour of the World Showcase in its entirety. Each pavilion was planned to house facilities for permanent exhibition and a meeting place for visiting foreign dignitaries. In the same manner that the EPCOT Theme Center was to be focused on providing a forum for futuristic industry and imagination, the World Showcase was designed to almost emulate the United Nations, if just for meeting and even trade. The World Showcase, according to Card Walker in his 1975 annual shareholders report, was also to be totally run and staffed by cultural representatives from each nation portrayed in the forthcoming exhibits. Out of all of the plans for the World Showcase, this one has remained a constant, not only in the creative process, but in the actual completion of what would become EPCOT Center.
Card Walker spelled out a vision of cooperative fellowship that would allow Disney to grant visas and passports so that “young future leaders” could operate the shows, restaurants, exhibits, and meeting facilities of the conceptualized showplace. Walker hoped that the enterprise would attract young people with the potential of being versed in a wide variety of fields… not only for a showcase of diversity, but also to better the other half of EPCOT: The Future World Theme Center. Walker details that he desires those skilled in medicine, science, business, and education to come to the World Showcase for a period of one year to begin work on the monumental task of allowing EPCOT to work and flourish, not only as an idea, but a working system.
This “working system” of EPCOT relied on one of its oldest ideas and precepts: Housing! Though, not the slick and streamlined urban environment that Walt Disney hoped for, WED did design a housing complex for their incoming international cast.
International Village, as it came to be known, would have been centrally located to both the EPCOT Theme Center and the World Showcase and featured a relaxed atmosphere in contrast to the stark presentational and exhibition driven aspects of the showcase complex. International Village, while also housing he dormitories and living spaces for the cast would have also featured restaurants and shopping venues for Vacation Kingdom guests. Essentially, this would have provided the “experience center” of the World Showcase while the main structure existed only for pure exhibition and showmanship. Card Walker explains this separation for the reasoning dwelling in Disney’s desire to actually charge for admission to World Showcase, as in contrast to the not-for-profit EPCOT Future World Theme Center. The Village itself would have been similar to World Showcase, as it exists today. An open air complex, linked by swaths of promenades and open walkways, dining and shopping would have been the main attraction, for both guests and cast members, allowing for what Mr. Walker expected out of this “people to people exchange”. Most interestingly about this entire part of The World Showcase project is the fact that each nation was expected to provide capital for this part of the venture, while Disney would be tasked with designing the pavilion’s entertainment and rides. This idea of “land leasing” out the World Showcase was said to ensure the cost of maintenance for at least 10 years.
The matter of stimulating the financing and involvement of the nations in question was a venture totally removed from the operations of Walt Disney World itself, meanwhile. Setting up shop in Washington DC, Walt Disney Productions embarked on an ambassadorial voyage to entice and interest and sign nations to participating in The (new) EPCOT Project. In all, 31 nations would eventually come to Disney’s outpost in the capitol to see plans and models for the World Showcase. The office was staffed by C Langhorne Washborne, formerly the Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Tourism, who joined the Disney organization specifically to work on this venture of international fellowship. Enthusiastic support also came from other legislative officials in the United States. Florida Governor Ruben Askew made frequent visits to Disney’s DC office and often attended information conferences at Walt Disney World to ensure international participation in EPCOT. Governors Goodwin (VA) and Busbee (GA) also were often on hand to lend their support to persuading nations to join in on the World Showcase. Even Secretary of State Henry Kissinger traveled to the Walt Disney World Showcase office in Washington DC and pledged his assistance in securing success for international participation. In the end, Secretary Kissinger arranged for Disney’s marketing team to have access to meetings in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Brussels, and Paris.
Furthermore, Kissinger even went so far as to summon Disney executives to hold a presentation on EPCOT and World Showcase concepts before members of congress so as to allow congressmen to help in the effort of recruiting nations for Disney World’s international venue. On December 12th, WED and delegations from both Florida and California presented World Showcase to the legislative branch of the US government in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill.
And thus, it is not hard to imagine that national representatives came pouring in to Disney’s Washington DC outpost ready to sign onto the forthcoming World Showcase satellite to EPCOT. From 1974 to 1976, WED was a powerhouse of creativity and dreamed up unique and lavish concepts for almost all of the 31 nations that were interested. While 9 would only be built in 1982 for what would become EPCOT Center, each national pavilion plan was detailed and essentially ready for execution. Each plan was meticulous and detailed, every one offering a differentiated experience similar to how today’s World Showcase actually works.
Mexico, one of the earliest pavilions planned, and one that actually came to fruition would have boasted an entryway with a grand fountain with carvings speaking to the mystical heritage of the indigenous peoples of Central America, while a boat excursion to Lake Xochimilco was planned for the interior, not unlike the final version of El Rio Del Tiempo.
Japan would have boasted a simulated bullet train through the countryside, after passing through a courtyard with an amalgamation of Japanese landmarks. This courtyard might have also housed an Omnimover attraction, as pictured below that detailed the narrative of Japanese history. It is highly possible that this concept evolved into “Meet the World”, a carousel theater show that was planned for both EPCOT Center and Tokyo Disneyland, but was only built in the former. The Japaneze pavilion was also designed to include a indoor pond for a kabuki dinner show, and the Ginza district of Tokyo.
Venezuela was also planned at this early stage and would have sported an areal tram through the rainforest, in addition to a greenhouse Audio Animatronic show.
France’s concept is relatively unchanged, when compared to what was actually built in 1982. In 1975, WED developed a series of Parisian streets, all leading toward a central movie theater for a travelogue about the sprit and beauty of France.
West Germany and her industry was captivated by Jack Lindquist, a marketing expert of Disney’s who ended up signing most of the nations in World Showcase, so much that they signed on to exhibit and sell German made toys, glassware, beer, wine, and also the “Rhine River Cruise”, a storybook journey into the fairytales of German ancestry.
A bevy of Arabian nations were also in talks to unveil a collaborative pavilion at the World Showcase: Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt planned on showing off a “magic carpet trip through the wonders of the Arab world….a journey through time and space, guided by a genie who shows guests the Arab contributions of astronomy, navigation, mathematics, chemistry, and the wonder of the world’s first library.”
…..and the list goes on and on, though these are the most fascinating and the most detailed. Comfortably familiar to the roster of pavilions that would open in 1982, once the EPCOT Center concept had coalesced around both Future World and World Showcase, the earliest World Showcase concepts are seen as not stagnant, but simply stalwart in the sense that they represented the true essence of what the EPCOT project intended to do: Show “people to people” systems that involved the exchange of ideas, concepts, and goodwill. The execution only being different in terms of all the pavilions being linked in one central structure notwithstanding, the sentiment of international fellowship is a realization of one of the earliest ideas of Walt’s EPCOT City, though vastly expanded from an international shopping district to a place that would allow guests to interact with and learn about culture.
In closing, the Walt Disney World Showcase is as vital to understanding the EPCOT concept as the Future World Theme Center is. Both are equal parts of one idea, though they were planned separately from each other for most of EPCOT Center’s conceptual history. Though the Future World Theme Center is more closely related to the ideas of an urban cityscape of untold innovation and optimism, the World Showcase concept besets the rudimental ethos of how EPCOT actually worked: fellowship, understanding, and a shared use of knowledge.
Above: Marty Sklar, Claude Coats, and John Hench survey their handiwork for building the World Showcase in the Vacation Kingdom of the World.
This article is a “sequel” of sorts to a piece I wrote a year ago on the conceptual history of EPCOT Center as a theme park. Having evolved out of Walt Disney’s concept for a futuristic city, the “Future World Theme Center” or “EPCOT Theme Center” was treated as a separate entity, or “satellite” as the World Showcase project went forward. That piece may be found here ( http://bit.ly/VCfkDY ) along with a companion essay to that article which details a model used by Walt Disney Productions to explain the task and process by which EPCOT would be built. (http://bit.ly/ZawQ2Q)
As it always is with a piece of this magnitude, this writing took quite a few weeks, quite a bit of research, and the support of all of my readers and friends. Thanks, as always, and I hope you enjoy.