Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Vanishing Walt Disney World, #3

Because I slightly miscalculated the timing of the start of the Haunted Mansion series and its' intended duration vis the actual end of the month, and because the last part needs a lot of work before it is 'publishable', I'm taking a short break from the article series to post a few comments about the Mansion not exactly diagetic to my current endeavors.

A lot of ink has been spilled over the past few weeks over the Haunted Mansion's 2007 refurbishment, which has the remarkable qualities - minus a few unfortunate lapses in taste - of being respectful, tasteful, artistic, and better judged than the already pretty tactful 2006 reworkings of Pirates of the Caribbean - on either coast (!). A lot is new, a lot is different, and, remarkably, a lot is not. Weather that snazzy new Haunted Steps scene suffers the same fate as the warped mirrors removed in 2007 from El Rio del Tiempo remains to be seen, but I digress.

There are a few nice details (that aren't grossly overvalued remains of exit gates) that were lost in the refurbishment that are original to Walt Disney World which haven't been spoken of yet online in much detail, and as minor as these are, they do have historical value.

Back in 1969, the Mansion design team had a custom-printed, custom-flocked wallpaper pattern printed up for the Disneyland Mansion's entrance parlor, and they unsurprisingly did not fail to repeat the wallpaper pattern when they built the bigger sister version in Florida. Disneyland removed this wallpaper in 1995 when a lot of work was put into that version of the attraction (and in favor of a less appropriate modernist pattern), but Walt Disney World's Mansion retained the original wallpaper for many years. Pictured right is a frame still from Disneyland Showtime, the totally groovy 1970 television debut of the Haunted Mansion, and the same wallpaper pattern in Orlando's mansion over thirty years later.

One aspect of the attraction which has been lost over time is the fact that Liberty Square swoops seamlessly up to the attraction; with the addition of the new front gate in 1990 a discrete "property", accented by the later addition of a fountain, pet cemetery, and other clutter, was created. Originally the northward path in Liberty Square led inevitably to the Mansion's turnstiles, and the transition was accomplished through a series of two planters with nice, shaded seats under spreading oaks, as well as through the transition from Liberty Square's colonial style lantern posts to the Victorian, flickering gas lamps which line the entryway to the turnstiles.

The loss of this transition is also the loss of the breathing space between Liberty Square proper and the Haunted Mansion; the boundaries of the aesthetic style of the attraction has spilled out a hundred feet so now the Haunted Mansion, effectively, is rubbing right up against the visually unrelated Yankee Trader and Keelboat buildings. Those twelve feet of greenery and trees between meant that the Haunted Mansion was truly isolated, truly alone in ways it cannot be allowed to be today.

But a vestige of the original entryway was found in those flickering street lamps lining the 1973 green queue canopy, and the widening and lengthening of that canopy this year meant doom for those wonderful glass enclosures. Apparently an oversight in the design; they were sawed off to accommodate the new canopy, and topped with little decorative caps to confuse future generations of Walt Disney World fans. Perhaps a myth about them being the wedding rings of the bride's husbands is not far behind?

Finally, one of the better touches in the early parts of the show was this little table, chair, lamp and book on the other side of the doombuggies in the load hall, currently MIA. I've heard from friends that this little scene was once in the black space between Unload and Load, and the tableau fired my young imagination whenever I saw it. Hardly a crucial absence, but a lamented one.

Photos of updated elements courtesy of Kronos.


UPDATED RED ALERT ITEMS: Things I need photos of, recently deceased.

TRAGIC DEVELOPMENT!! Monorail Loading Platform, Contemporary Resort, 1971 - 2007
Disney has just removed the awesomely uncool 1970's clay tile planter full of faux plants which separated the escalator up and escalator down for 36 faithful years, and what's there in its' place is a whole lot of minimalistic nothing. This was one of the final holdouts of the Concourse's original southwest theme, and as more and more of the resort becomes minimal and vaugley Japanese styled, as it is today, the less and less sense that Mary Blair mural makes. I wonder when that'll be taken apart, smashed up and sold on pins, too.

Robinson Crusoe's
Captain Cook's Food Court
News From Civilization, Polynesian Resort, 1971 - 2005
Robinson Crusoe's was a significant final holdout of the Polynesian Village of 1971 and primarily offered overpriced mens' wear in its' final years. It was located in what is now the arcade. Across the way, where there are currently spacious bathrooms, was a children's clothing store. Both were open air and remarkably untouched for 34 years. The 2005 opening of the large new BouTiki shop in the lobby made both of these outposts of the original Polynesian superfluous; Captain Cook's, originally a bar and then a food court, expanded and swallowed both up. Photo documentation of the last few years of all three of these locations desired.

GENERAL ALERT ITEMS: Probably lost to the sands of time?

Interior photos of The Golden Galleon or Princessa de Cristal, Magic Kingdom Caribbean Plaza

Interior photos of the Tricornered Hat Shoppe, Magic Kingdom Liberty Square

Interior photos any pre-1996 Disney Village Marketplace establishment - the older the better!

Have something you're looking for? Ask and I'll add it to the list!


Grumpwurst (Ray) said...

Another excellent example of posts that I find informative and enthralling (much like EPCOT...haha).

It's odd that I'm paid to be detail oriented in real life, but when I go to Disney, I seem to skip all the details and mainly wander the parks as an emotional guest.

Stated differently, I have more of an emotional recollection of the parks than a visual snapshot recollection.

Such details as you pointed out would've just slipped by me and I would've never noticed them gone unless someone pointed it out or I happened to be comparing photographs and noticed something amiss.

Either you have a photographic memory or you go to the parks A LOT because you write in such great detail about the subtleties that make up the whole picture.

As I said before, truly mind blowing

FoxxFur said...


I oftentimes think that I'm not the one who deserves credit on these posts; it's readers like you who have to slog through my psuedo-academic prattling. =)

Writing this way is honestly second nature to me; being a theory-based filmmaker, I'm used to reading the most inaccessible arguments and having to fight them to get anything out of it. I hope I don't write that way here, because with a couple of exceptions (jump back to March and April and read "Dialectical Montage and Disneyland" and "Towards a Workable Concept" for the thickest pea-soup like dissertations I've yet posted here) I try to write in as plain English as is honestly possible for me. But then again I sometimes write in Iambic Pantameter for fun, for take that for what it's worth! =)

What I'm really trying to encourage is a new way of thinking about the parks. It does come with frequent exposure but then again I was starting to really think this way around 2002 before I even moved to Orlando. Mike Lee's understanding of themed design at "Widen Your World" was my biggest stepping stone; a lot of my approach is spun off from the consciousness of themic space which his site forces you to have.

Not like there's anything wrong with enjoying Disney for what she is! If it didn't work, there'd be no reason to talk about it, right?

And it's not like there isn't perceptive pieces on your Blog either, Ray: the "Theme Park Footprint" issue you raised is the biggest problem I think people have at WDW; that and not paying attention to where they're going.

So I guess although I do go to the parks pretty frequently, it all depends on my point of view. My mate and I will wander around shopping plazas and critique their poor design and traffic flow, or comment on the faux "themed" space big box stores are trying to build these days, or eat out and talk about how the interior design is affecting our dining expierence. I can't go to Disneyland every month but I have so much of her in my memory that I can think about her critically and come up with new stuff. It's just another way of looking and thinking, and if my blog invites you or others to start to use such an outlook; then that's honestly the best thing I can offer this world!

Biblioadonis aka George said...

Great article and great response to Ray!

Nice choice of words: psuedo-academic prattling

I have an embarrassing shot of myself at Chef Mickey's in 1994. I know it is on my flickr account...

Thanks for bringing up the bride's ring. We have the same brides' rings at my library located where we used to have two bookdrops. Interesting how that works!

I've always thought the pictures of the Mansion looked much better without the extension of the canopy.

Keep up the excellent posts, I know there is a PhD for you somewhere!

gennawey said...

I have really been enjoying this site and find it unlike any other site focused on the Disney theme parks. Good for you.

You seem to approach the physical design from a filmakers lens. If you want to try and do the same analysis from a environmental design point of view you should read and apply "A Pattern Language" by Christopher Alexander. His 253 patterns of the built environment reflect 5,000 years of building and will reveal the subtle patterns that make the parks work (or not).

FoxxFur said...

Well I'm a filmmaker; it's not surprising that's my bedrock. ;) Definatley checking out that volume however; thanks!

Benjamin Esham said...

I have a photo of part of the plant box in the Contemporary… it's more of an “artsy” shot than an informative shot, but if you’d like it, foxxfur, send me an e-mail!

omniluxe said...

Thank you for, among many other things, making a distinct case for the Mansion's original forecourt configuration. Moving the gate apparatus forward must have seemed a necessity in the mid-1990s, but I can't reason why beyond the function of better controlling foot traffic bound for the exit corridor. The decapitation of the lightposts is an unfortunate reminder that even the most well-intentioned renovators seem to have little aptitude with the intricacies that comprise the whole of the experience. The establishment of place prior to the actual attraction contributed nicely, if not essentially, to the total sum.

Disneyana World said...

I really enjoyed this post. I find it fascinating to pick out items that have been in place since the 1970s at Disney World.

I can appreciate your attention to the details that would otherwise, go unnoticed.

I have picture(s) requests. Any photos of Frontierland before 'Splash' and 'Big Thunder."

rjm said...

I am loving your blog.

As this post is a few years old I do not know if you will see this, but I was wondering if you knew where the Mansion plaques were originally located? If so, do you know their placement? There are two brick pillars for the entrance and exit and the plaques are located on the two interior ones. Has this always been the configuration?

Thanks again for a great blog! I'm really enjoying reading it.