TIMEKEEPING: Walt Disney World 1974 – A Settlement and A Village (and The Beatles)
1974 began dead in the middle of the gas crisis. After the holidays, Walt Disney World laid off over 1,700 cast members. Though many of these were part-time or seasonal employees brought on to help with the busy holiday season, 700 were full time employees. Fiscal year 1974 saw attendance decline to 10,834,000. Future plans were scrapped or delayed. However, there were plenty of projects underway to be completed, and 1974 saw a few of them come to fruition.
The Magic Kingdom
While much of the Tomorrowland expansion was set to open in Summer 1974, much of it was put off until 1975. However, the Star Jets attraction and the Space Bar Restaurant opened for Thanksgiving on November 28. Earlier in the year, Magic Carpet Round the World replaced America the Beautiful temporarily as they were adding to the older film in preparation for the coming bicentennial celebration.
On the far side of the park, Caribbean Plaza opened sometime around April. While the attraction opened in December 1974, the rest of the area was delayed. The Caribbean Arcade was a shooting gallery in the section that separates the Pirates queue from the exit shop, until recently housing the Pirates League. The shops that opened were La Princesa de Cristal, The Golden Galleon, and The House of Treasure.
Pioneer Hall opened April 1 featuring Crockett’s Tavern, which took the entire space the tavern and Trail’s End currently take up. The hall featured the Star Spangled Washboard Band when it first opened, as its signature act wasn’t quite ready. The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue would debut June 14. Imagineering saw the hall as a more authentic, educational venue, so the creation of the show was put on the entertainment division. The show was not originally intended to be permanent, and was initially cast through an internship program, named the Disney Fine Arts Work Experience Program, which the company was running with CalArts. The show proved itself to be immensely popular, and continued well past the September end date of the internships, with very few changes throughout the years.
Treasure Island opened in April for the Easter season. Previously named Blackbeard’s Island, the new ticket attraction featured botanical gardens and rare birds and reptiles. The island could be accessed only via boat from one of the resorts on Bay Lake or the Magic Kingdom. This, of course, would later become Discovery Island. While the main draw was the animal exhibits, there was a pirate element to the island, including a reproduction of a shipwreck on the shore.
Around the rest of the Magic Kingdom area, more behind-the-scenes facilities were added. The Luau Cove area and kitchens at the Polynesian saw upgrades, and some décor changes happened to the rooms. Other improvements include a new telephone facility, an expansion of the Central Energy Plant, administrative buildings, and consuming. The yearly PGA Tournament became the Walt Disney World National Team Championship, where two-man teams competed instead of a traditional tournament.
The Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village
The gas crisis put the future of the Lake Buena Vista area in question, as several of Disney’s partners in the area began to reassess their involvement. Disney started marketing some of the villas for short-term rentals through The Walt Disney Travel Company. They also opened the Village, a shopping and dining district featuring 32 shops and restaurants. This area seemed to balance targeting locals and tourists. Many of the shops featured artisan handcrafted goods, but there was also a barber, a pharmacy, and a post office. Some of the known shops were Port of Entry, Pottery Chalet, the Chalet Candle Shop, and the Flower Garden. Captain Jack’s, which would last until the Disney Springs conversion, opened with the area, along with three other restaurants: the Village Restaurant, Lite Bite, and Heidelberger’s Deli. Guests could also take a launch over to the Club House at the golf course for a more upscale meal.
Perhaps one of the most historical moments of the year to happen at Walt Disney World wasn’t Disney-oriented at all. While John Lennon told The Beatles he was leaving the band in September of 1969, and Paul McCartney made it public in 1970, the dissolution wasn’t final until December 29, 1974 in a room at the Polynesian Village. Lennon was on vacation with May Pang, his secretary and lover. Having missed the meeting to sign the documents, an attorney flew to Florida and tracked Lennon down in room 1601 where he signed the papers. There is some debate if this is the actual room, as the resort would see building name changes over time, but this is the only room I have ever seen specifically cited.
Walt Disney World weathered the gas crisis that dominated the first half of the year, and came out of it changed, but with a plan for things to move forward. The modified end of the Phase 1 development was on the horizon, and the Magic Kingdom was set to match Disneyland’s ride capacity by the end of the next year. The next step was already underway, as the 1974 Annual Report showed, the company was beginning to shift focus to EPCOT as the concept of World Showcase was being highlighted. But first, 1975 would see a land completed to take the Magic Kingdom into tomorrow.