Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Vanishing Walt Disney World, #2

For better or for worse Walt Disney World has been consistently doing what it was built to do: change. Although the passing of a major attraction or show will these days be greeted with a flurry of photos and video, so that we can rest assured that future generations will have good quality copies of El Rio del Tiempo to puzzle over, each month more and more original, minor establishments are quietly closed or remodeled into something newish.

It is in the spirit of these fleeting locations, which are often the ones which we most wish for extensive documentation of, that I offer this new feature, attempting to capture at least passable representations of recent losses or eminent ones, as well as provide a forum for the pooling of resources among readers of this Blog.

Impending Fatality: Mexico Leather Shop

Probably one of the least likely to be mourned of locations currently on the chopping block is this unlikely and unmemorable little shop on the east interior wall of World Showcase's Mexico pavilion. If you don't remember it it's because it's been closed for years and only recently reopened with an assortment of jewelry and leather handbags.

And yet EPCOT's World Showcase has been getting a lot of work recently, especially those pavilions nearest the entrances, and the May refurbishment of El Rio del Tiempo into Gran Fiesta Tour was just the first of a reworking of the Mexico showcase into a higher capacity venue. One of these plans is to close this shop and reopen it as a limited seating.. Tequila bar.

Inside the doors you'll find a rectangular little shop done in pastel browns, yellows, and earth tones. It is, as you can see, small and functional without being very charming. The first picture is looking immediately to the right once inside the doors, then a detail of the rack display on the wall to your right, and finally looking back at the doors.

This shop was, like all the World Showcase shops, not without its' charms, such as this stencil detailing, but by and large rather bland. There was, in 1982 at EPCOT Center, for all of its' wonderful shops full of exotic and scientific wonders, a few which seemed rather plopped down in an unoccupied corner. If anybody here actually remembers Broccoli & Co. at The Land, they'll understand. Still, today I wish I had a few photos of that place too. I'm sure that in 1957 nobody would be especially impressed by extensive photo documentation of the Crane Bathroom of Tomorrow, either...


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

Robinson Crusoe's, Polynesian Resort, 1971 - 2005
Captain Cook's Food Court
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.

News From Civilization
Another lost Polynesian Hotel shop, which sold a lot of generic Island themed junk and some Lilo & Stitch stuff in its' last few years, is currently a Wyland Gallery. Much like Concourse Sundries & Spirits, it was a functional hotel shop.

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 Pecos Bill Cafe, pre 1998 refurbishment, Magic Kingdom Frontierland

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!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

A Retraction:

One of the things about trying to seriously study the parks is that, even after years and years of going to them, and going regularly, I'm still going through this material and these concepts by myself and thus much more slowly than other self-appointed "scholars" of other media: say, film or music. As such my relationships to things and ideas about them have no "check"; no external force with a differing opinion to show up and shove something I should've been seeing right up under my nose. Even now I look back at things I posted here a bit over a year ago and I'm embarrassed; I recently tried to pull something years old out of mothballs and I realized while proofing that it was literally impossible to make it meet even the low standards of blog publication.

Usually a concept comes to me with the writing out of an article; as such, I may have to write about something two or three times before I start to figure out its' intricacies. So here's my first full-on retraction on this blog.

Last December I posted the reasonably popular "Liberty Square: Successes and Failures", which I think is still a pretty good overview of what's wrong with Liberty Square. Back then I believed Adventureland to be the best land in the Magic Kingdom, and the essay reflects it. But over the past few months my relationship to Liberty Square has evolved and I'm starting to see more good than bad in it. But a few weeks ago I finally saw something that really tipped the scales for me. But first, here's the relevant passage of what I wrote in December:

There is furthermore no revised “weenie” at the end of the street; the location of Disneyland’s Riverboat landing has not been revised. But Orlando’s river is located several feet below pedestrian level. Since the riverboat unloads a full level lower than it loads for capacity purposes, it has lost a full ten feet of height from street level. Thus, it can’t loom over anything or impress anybody: it doesn’t look any larger than its’ loading platform!

Yeah, exactly.

Imagine my embarrassment when I realized that you're not supposed to see the Riverboat from Liberty Square proper - after all, the Hall of Presidents is dated 1787 and, per Magic Kingdom 'dated building rules', this is a pretty clear indication of the time period we're supposed to be in. Riverboats weren't really a big part of America until well into the 19th century, and so standing in front of an 18th or 17th century building and seeing a stern wheeler would be, if not intellectually, then emotionally false, regardless of its' value as a crowd draw. The Liberty Belle even has three levels, third decks not having been added to Riverboats in America until Texas joined the union. The third level is thus called the Texas Deck, and so the earliest possible date the Riverboat attraction may exist in is, historically, 1845.

And so the three level Riverboat is hidden by having the boat load on street level and unload well below street level. An appropriately sized building covers it from the Eastern side where it most needs it to be screened out, and a tall spire atop the landing structure integrates subtly to hide the smokestack protruding behind - and it hides it so well that when the boat is docked, it's pretty hard to tell the boat is there at a passing glance!

With and Without Riverboat.

This is pretty extensive effort just to hide a Riverboat in plain sight, but aside from the historical reasons noted, why bother to do it? The answer is in the buildings of Liberty Square herself. Liberty Square is foremost an area constructed of complex textures, and the tale it tells is one of America's westward expansion east of the Mississippi. Traveling from north to south, the first structure one encounters would be the Haunted Mansion, Columbia Harbor House and surrounding facilities, which are primarily stone and brick structures at ground level with above eye level wood embellishments and features.

Liberty Square: Stone with Wood Embellishments Left: Heritage House. Center: Sleepy Hollow Refreshments. Right: Columbia Harbour House.

But entering Liberty Square from Main Street the structures are very heavily stone and brick, with minor wood transitory facades interspersed to create a mild pattern of stone interrupted with wood. Once one gets near the Hall of Presidents, which is the tallest and most wholly brick building in the area, as was the custom of very old Eastern development, the back side of the old Silversmith shop gives way to a wood structure, and a definite pattern emerges: wood, stone, wood, stone, eventually becoming predominantly wood structures with minor linking stone embellishments by the time one gets around the front of the Liberty Tree Tavern.

Liberty Square: Wood with Stone Embellishments.
Left: From Silversmith to Liberty Tree Tavern: Stone, Wood, Stone, Wood
Center: Liberty Tree Tavern: Wood, Stone, Wood
Right: Liberty Tree Tavern to Diamond Horseshoe: Wood, Stone, Wood

So why is this crucial? Because by now spectators have moved downhill, the Riverboat landing has moved away from our perspective on the Riverboat, and the box hedges are starting to part to reveal the Liberty Belle and Aunt Polly's by the time we get to the Diamond Horseshoe area. This area is meant to recall a later time period, when St. Louis was the "gateway to the West", the Mississippi was a major line for Riverboats of all shapes and sizes, and it would no longer feel unnatural to have a Riverboat visible from this perspective. The boat even (intentionally?) covers the Haunted Mansion up until we're almost out of Liberty Square and into Frontierland, so prevalent have the clapboard structures become. Here, wood is the main element and stone foundations are little more than a minor architectural flourish. It is at this point that spectators leave behind St. Louis, cross a bridge over a little babbling brook tellingly called the Little Mississippi, and enter the predominantly timber structures of Frontierland's west.

The Mississippi Section

Even the fences have transformed from the austere wrought iron of the Haunted Mansion and Old World Antiques shops to the unpretentious, whitewashed beams which more accurately reflect the Midwest area this short stretch represents. In this sense we can posit that the half whitewashed fence and Harper's Mill on the far side of the river are the key transitional points to the old West narrative of Frontierland, just as the Liberty Tree Tavern with its' Old Virginny feel is on "our" side.

Furthermore the Riverboat and Keel Boats, which both originally loaded from Liberty Square, have always been Frontierland attractions in spirit. And so our view of them is being concealed until this very specific moment, the keelboats having been loaded from well below pedestrian level in northerly Liberty Square. You may have boarded them from Liberty Square proper, but they aren't even visible until you're into this "river traffic" part of the land.

Liberty Square from Frontierland.

I've spoken before of the idea of three dimensional montage, how moving from one area to the next creates a succession of linear impressions analogous to the succession of linear impressions achieved by complex montage. I've resisted the idea of this being applicable to non-attraction spaces such as Liberty Square due to the controlled interior space of something like Snow White's Adventures allowing for period of blackness, of "blank space", and thus increased control of the gaze.

But here is the one facet of something like this discipline I believe WED did perfect in open space: the reveal, just like the way the castle is first blocked by a railway station, then a tunnel, and then a Main Street USA. Here's a micro example to the castle's meta: examine closely the way that the offending Riverboat is screened out, examine carefully how it is only revealed to us at the exact moment it must be, and consider carefully the complex orchestration of elements of the Riverboat, the Haunted Mansion, and the Hall of Presidents, and only then will just one part of the staggering Walt Disney World design accomplishment crystallize.