Monday, May 26, 2008

Park Mysteries #6

Sometimes it pays off to study old Disney publications as feverently as I do (mostly it just means I notice that the paving patterns in the park are different), as I sometimes get answers to nagging questions I've had with little to no legwork (research). The other day I was pouring over my '73 edition of The Story of Walt Disney World - the big book shaped like a big silly capital D - and stopped over a rather famous but still noteworthy image of The Magic Kingdom circa 1969 or so. The image is famous because there in the corner of the image is the model for Davis' Western River Expedition complex, but it offers a bounty of other insights to anyone with enough paitence to squint at 70's dot-matrix printed photographs.

Left: "I want the Gulf Hospitality House here!" // Right: two relevant details

First of all, let's assume here that for the purposes of this photograph the WED staff bothered to get this model in as orderly a shape as possible , ie, Marty Sklar's hilarious joke of the previous night where he put the Swiss Family Treehouse in Tomorrowland has been corrected. Let's assume that the buildings which have been completed are placed in their proper spots. What do we see? Well, for one, the gun stockade which divides Liberty Square from Frontierland is placed on the opposite side of the street from where it was finally built. This makes perfect sense if this is what was intended, as it would make much more concrete the rather diaphanous transition point from the American east to the American west, as well as create a stronger sense of entering the West via a stockade, an original Disneyland element which Walt Disney World is poorer without.

We can also see what could be intended to be the liberty tree in front of the Riverboat landing, which frankly makes a much more logical boundary / visual climax to Liberty Square than the steam boat is now. But that isn't really the purpose of this post, rather, what's directly behind it: a building that was never built. Take a close look at the photo above and, for further proof, I offer this WDW resort map which once hung in every hotel room on property. It offers other unbuilt locations like the Asian and Persian resorts, and this strange little building right at the point where Liberty Square bends southwardly, spiritually and literally.

When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, this little building had gone the way of the dodo, and where it would have stood was a sedate little seating area. Why the building was removed or what it was supposed to be will never, I suspect, actually be resolved. It could have been a shop or snack stand, and it's worth noting that the Utilidor would've run right underneath it, making either a possibility. But the important thing is that such a structure would've made the central area of the land - the square of the title - feel more like a square and less like an open street, which is more like it really is now. Furthermore, with the original Liberty Square green between the Columbia Harbour House and the side of the Hall of Presidents in place, the original designers probably saw no need for more open space at this bend of the river. I suspect the reasons were because the building was too costly, would have been redundant in an area already rich in shops and eateries (wouldn't that be a relieving viewpoint in today's company?), or was simply removed for logistical reasons of traffic flow and such.

"I was told to stand here and tell you that I also disapprove of
the lack of a building here."

In 1989 Disney installed a replica of the original liberty bell in the little seating area, and later refurbished the Liberty Square bridge and moved its' court of flags of the thirteen colonies here as well, so at least now the area appears to serve a concrete purpose, even if the flags do disrupt sightlines. Still, what we can see is that the construction of a building on this spot would have benefited the look and feel of Disney's colonial America in ways we can only imagine today. What would have been inside it will probably remain a mystery.

Be sure to click on the "Park Mysteries" label for more Magic Kingdom oddities, including some "Park Solutions"!