This is a reprint from the first print issue of WDWNT: The Magazine
Delving into the D.O.R.K.
Project Florida: A Whole New Disney World
Discovering the world of Disney books, documents, and ephemera
By Jackie Steele
Most Disney fans are very familiar with Walt Disney’s “EPCOT Film,” in which he outlines plans for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow that he was hoping to build in central Florida. The movie, which was filmed on Walt’s last day in front of the camera before his death, premiered to an invitation-only audience at the Wometco Park Theaters in Winter Park, Florida in February of 1967. The first audience was primarily dignitaries and politicians, but it would later be shown to industries, lawmakers, and the general public over the coming months as Walt Disney Productions pushed for the various elements needed to make Project Florida a success. It’s a safe bet to say that most Disney fans have seen the film and probably can recite a few of the more-memorable lines from the script. What many Disney fans may not realize, however, is that along with the EPCOT Film there was also an EPCOT book:
Project Florida: A Whole New Disney World, released in 1967. It essentially serves as a “companion guide” to the film, touching on many of the same concepts that Walt discussed on camera. It’s a thin book, only about 20 pages long, but is relatively large in stature, measuring about 11 inches x 11 inches. It’s probably even a bit of a cheat to call it a “book,” as “booklet” probably best describes it. But this isn’t a cheap pamphlet; each page is printed in full color on sturdy cardstock.
The book begins with a half-page flap featuring the words of Walt Disney:
“With the technical know-how of American Industry and the creative imagination of the Disney Organization, I’m confident we can build a living showcase that more people will talk about and come to look at than any other area in the world.”
Lifting this flap reveals a photo of Roy O. Disney on the overleaf, alongside an introductory letter which had been obscured by Walt’s quote. This serves, incidentally, as a poignant reminder that Roy was the “flip side” of his brother’s creative genius, always working quietly in the background to help make Walt’s dreams into reality. And now that the era of Walt had passed, Roy would be the one to take the forefront. Roy’s letter promises a proposed development that will, “make a present reality of a community of the future – a community which will be as unique in the year 2,000 as it is
The language used in this book is definitely intended to be as persuasive as it is informative. Many times, we read the words “proposed” and “proposal;” nothing is accepted as a given, and the plans are never presumed to be concrete. Much like the EPCOT Film, it is presumed that everything may change time and time again. And we often see mentions what the Disney organization will need from Florida officials and industries in order for the plans to come to fruition.
Much like the EPCOT film, one of the first things we see in Project Florida is a discussion of Disneyland. The book recaps the early achievements of
the park in California. More importantly to this book’s intended audience, it also recaps the economic impact that Disneyland had on Anaheim. The book includes a quote (also highlighted in the EPCOT Film) from James W. Rouse, who told an audience at a 1963 urban design conference that, “the greatest piece of urban design in the United States today is Disneyland.” This and other supporting evidence was doubtless included to help persuade lawmakers and Florida citizens that Disney knew what it was doing and was more than capable of planning a city.
It’s not until eight pages into this 20-page book that we get our first glimpse of what is being planned for Project Florida. Again, the focus is on what the development can do for central Florida’s tourism and economic interests:
“Disney World begins with the same economic stimulant that is the foundation of the booming Disneyland-California area: a major, new
Disney family entertainment center, With this attraction as the proven, popular tourist magnet, Disney World will include recreational, industrial
and transportation complexes to serve both the permanent residents and the 20 million Florida tourists expected annually by the 1970’s.”
The next two pages focus on a series of overhead maps of the amusement park, seven themed resorts, and recreation facilities. It’s interesting to note
that with the exception of a proposed “South Sea Island” hotel and an “early American themed resort,” the themed resorts would be clustered in groups of three in land-locked areas near the front and left of the park. Early plans did not include the Disney-created Seven Seas Lagoon, and the hotels would have been close enough to be served by the WEDWay Peoplemover network rather than by monorail.
By page 11, we start to see the focus turn toward plans for phase II, the full EPCOT development. Much like what we see in the EPCOT Film, we get a
look at the early plans for the entire EPCOT complex, including numerous diagrams of the radial city plan, the industrial areas, and a side-elevation
diagram of the city center, including an 800-room hotel and multi-level transportation center.
The text echoes the dialogue of the EPCOT Film, with assurances that the pedestrian “will be king” at EPCOT, with ease of transportation whilst
keeping vehicular traffic separate from living areas. Even more altruistically, the book states that EPCOT aspires to be the first “accident free, noise free, pollution free city center in America.”
The next few pages outline the various living and recreational areas in EPCOT, much as we see in the film. There are several pieces of concept art
included to help the reader visualize what must have seemed absolutely impossible in the late 1960s.
The book concludes with another push toward lawmakers, industries, and the general public, highlighting the expected economic impact of the
development and citing evidence that the Disney organization is not only competent to handle the project, but also has a history of being a “good host.” If there’s any doubt that the book was designed to influence opinion as much as it was designed to be informative, those doubts are erased with its final words, a plea from Walt Disney himself.
Jackie Steele is a bit of an anomaly in the Disney fan universe, in that his love of the parks came later in life. With the exception of a half-day visit to the Magic Kingdom in high school, he didn’t set foot in a Disney theme park until 2003. But the love was instant and soon evolved into a quest to know more about where the Disney parks came from and what made them work. He has amassed a collection of more than 450 (and growing) Disney and World’s Fair books, documents, and ephemera, which he lovingly refers to as the D.O.R.K. (Disney Origins Research Knowledgebase). You
can browse through the titles in his collection online at http://brkgne.ws/dork