Sunday, November 27, 2011

The First Decade in Maps

Once upon a time, a strange place called Walt Disney World opened, and Walt Disney World had everything: rides, shows, rodents, plants, tikis, duck confit and folk singers. But there was one thing that Walt Disney World did not have, and it took her a surprisingly long time to get it: a damn map to get around.

Now, long time blog readers will of course recognize the gentleman to the right, Genius Guy. Besides his smokin' brylanteened hair, he's holding a map of the Magic Kingdom. It's not a map you or I would use today. It's about four feet wide and three feet tall. It is a wall map, the date is sometime in September of 1971, and Genius Guy is likely a contractee of the Buena Vista Construction Company enjoying the Magic Kingdom on a preview day. He's not using a souvenir wall map as a park guide for our amusement, it's because there was actually no general Magic Kingdom guide available and the very first one would not appear for another eight months or so.... in mid 1972.

I have no idea why this happened. Disneyland had had park guides for years at this point. It couldn't have been pretty from a guest service point of view and is the sort of thing you would think Disney would foresee... as a 1972 "Toy Review" article about Walt Disney World memorably describes:
"Mom said, "Don't you think we need a map?" "Of course," Dad replied, "Now that you mention it I see that everyone is looking at a map, where do you suppose they are giving them out?" As he spoke I saw dozens of people in front of us, each bending over a map in their own funny ways. Grandma asked, "I wonder why they didn't give us one when we bought our tickets?" Ten minutes later Mom came back. "They are giving them out nowhere - they sell the 'official' maps there for 50 cents.""
This article was written from the imagined perspective of a child traveling with family to Walt Disney World, but the author was clearly so peeved at the map situation they made sure to write it into their trip report. 50 cents is the equivalent of $2.50 today, by the way, so while that's not prohibitively expensive it is more than one would like to spend for something she should be given for free.

One publication which did have a map of the Magic Kingdom was Walt Disney World News, which featured a two-page spread at the center of early issues:

And it's a pretty good one. Things are clearly labeled although you'll see that those elements in a state of flux - like where If You Had Wings was being built - were pretty vague. That said it's hardly too artistically admirable - effective, yes, but not too pleasant.

In order to really get into the history of early Walt Disney World maps in all their lurid glory, we have to go back to before the place was even open, such as this glorious 1969/1970 "Fun Map" by Paul Hartley:

Because this represents a look at a park very much in a state of becoming, it's worthwhile to point out a few details of this map worth noting in special detail.

One can see for herself that the Indian Village has no inhabitants at all, which is just as the park opened in 1971, with the "population" added later in 1972 and 1973. Also, Marc Davis' "Tree Snag Reef" scene originally featured dangerous floating limbs as depicted in his concept art and on this map. As of September 1971 these show props were in place in the river, but shortly vanished. Whether this happened during the Rivers of America's first big refurbishment in 1973 is unknown, but for over thirty years now visitors on the Riverboats have had to supply their own dangerous waters between the Indian Burial Grounds and the Pirates Cave show scenes. One can hope these will return someday... but this seems unlikely.

There's alternative names, such as The Diamond Horseshoe with its unique Florida facade but painted yellow and gilded, like her Disneyland sister. Or the Liberty Square Tavern, which is a far less interesting name. What intrigues me is the label "Pinocchio's Village", which can accurately describe the entire Fantasyland West corridor and was applied to this area on the blueprints but never in any guest map as far as I know.

Have you noticed how unbelievably accurate this map actually is? Down to minor architectural details such as whether a window has shutters or not? And yet it lets It's A Small World go totally unlabeled?

Of course the general WED Enterprises indecision as to what to do with Tomorowland is reflected in Hartley's drawing here - it's just a jumbled mass of  space age buildings totally lacking in the type of detail seen elsewhere in his effort. Based on the evidence of this and other maps I would guess that Adventureland was the first area to hit the finish line and Tomorrowland was, as always, the last.

More confirmation that the Jungle Cruise queue was meant to go upstairs at some point. Hartley was probably working directly off the elevation blueprints for most of this stuff, which explains the charmingly flat style.

That cluster of three huts just above the Jungle Cruise boathouse represents the Adventureland Ticket Booth, by the way.

Later to become the Gulf Hospitality House, Disneyana Collectibles, Exposition Hall, and the Town Square Theater. But it's designed to be a hotel front, and it is an exceptionally gorgeous one - it's easy to imagine it nestled amidst rolling hills in upstate New York surrounded by a huge lawn.

Once a Hotel idea was nixed before opening day Disney had no idea what to do with that beautiful Redmond facade, so it was basically just a false front with enough room for a lobby and a restaurant. The Walt Disney Story attraction was built onto the back of the existing facade in 1972.

And two old favorites of this blog, the Liberty Square Market and Nantucket Harbour House, which would debut in May 1972 with a different, and inferior, name.

Paul Hartley's illustration is best known in its beautiful revised version which hung in Walt Disney world hotel rooms for the first decade of the resort:

This map circulates in two versions, and this one appears to be a work in progress - note Hartley's penciled in road which accidentally bisects the Walt Disney World STOLport - but offers I think much more spectacular and beautiful colors. The labels have been removed and a number of the finer details evident in his earlier piece not included, but this is one of the finest pieces of art ever created for any Disney property.

And, of course, there's the simple but wonderfully stylized rendering included in the Preview Edition guidebooks sold at the Walt Disney World Preview Center:

This one is beautiful, even if it shows some hesitation as to what the park will actually be - notice the vague Tomorrowland structures, Disneyland-style castle, and somewhat misplaced Small World - but is very memorable and provided the basic style for the 50 cent "official map" (which was far uglier), as well as a 1970's Walt Disney World lunchbox.

Sadly beautiful art was not what was found in the first GAF "Your Complete Guide to Walt Disney World" booklets when they appeared in 1972, handed out with guest tickets:

The detailed maps within were actually even worse, and hardly functional. To be fair, this was consistent with the style of the Disneyland maps at the time, such as this example from a 1971 INA "Your Souvenir Guide to Disneyland":

That's functional, yes, but sort of rough. A bit of relief from austere featureless blocks of color, "whimsical" fonts and suspect geography could be found on the centerfold page of the Walt Disney World GAF guides:

Follow the GAF photo trail!

This was nothing but a smaller and less garishly colored version of the "official map", by the way, and it repeated many of that product's mistakes, such as including the Disneyland Tom Sawyer Island, Frontierland train station, and Tomorrowland train station, which is in the right spot but would never get built. Oh, and that boomerang on stilts over the top of the Grand Prix Raceway.

Thankfully, the tradition of beautiful Walt Disney World maps lived on... in Vacationland Magazine!

Very much in the style of the "Preview Edition" map, this one elects to focus on the entire property rather than just the Magic Kingdom. Oh, and I have to feature this one detail from this map, because it's still hilarious.

Shut up and pay the duck, will ya???
Things did improve for Walt Disney World maps pretty quickly. By Christmas 1974 a greatly improved and much more useful for navigation map was circulation, not in the GAF guides but in separate fliers handed out for special events. This one was from a holiday season pamphlet:

This one really does have it all - it's pleasant to look at, combines the top-down view of the 1971 and 1972 maps with some pictorial embellishments, and introduces a clever color coding system that cuts down on clutter. Unlike earlier Magic Kingdom maps, you can actually navigate pretty quickly and easily through the park using this map.

But it wouldn't be for another few years that this version would be streamlined into an even better incarnation. This is it: in my opinion, probably the best Disney theme park map ever devised for clarity, ease of navigation, and simple aesthetic charm:

I doubt that will ever be topped. This map brought Walt Disney World out of her first decade, and in 1982 all of the maps were altered. Magic Kingdom maps in particular began to get cartoonish and distorted again, while EPCOT Center inherited the simple austere beauty of this style of map because, you know, EPCOT Center was supposed to be less fun. But for pure variety, beauty and interest, no era of Florida property maps have ever topped those first few, fleeting years.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Other Kingdoms to Conquer

The theme park scene in Orlando sure is competitive, isn't it? Whether it be attraction wars, bragging rights or the thrice-annual price hikes, Universal, Disney and Sea World are all necking for the front of the race trying to squeeze the others out.

But it wasn't always like that. Yes, competition may have always been the name of the game, but rather than the rather open hostility between the various travel destinations, back in the 70s there was at least an aura of shared destiny about all of this. Prior to Eisner arriving on the scene, declaring "war" on Universal Studios and attempting to vacuum up every last tourist dollar in Florida, there was a rather cooperative atmosphere about the whole business. Today it's rather strange to see the footage of the Disney Florida press conference and watching the owners of Busch Gardens Tampa and Cypress Gardens praising Disney's arrival, because history tells us that Disney would alter their history forever.

Walt Disney World even shifted traffic patterns for hundreds of miles around. Prior to the opening of Walt Disney World, US 192 was hardly a cow road and most tourist traffic followed along US 27, a north-south strip passing through a number of major southern cities and connecting Indiana to Miami. The Bok Tower, Citrus Tower, and Cypress Gardens, three hugely important early Central Florida tourist attractions, are located off US 27 , and today it's littered with the skeletal remains of hundreds of fruit stands and motels meant to capitalize on the wagon train of tourists headed north and south along a trail that's been dead for decades now.

So Walt Disney World's early relationship with other tourist destinations was always sort of strange. There were buses to Cypress Gardens and Kennedy Space Center leaving every day from the Transportation and Ticket Center. This alone indicated Disney's position as just one component of a huge ecology of Central Florida tourist, an ecology they could all benefit from and which seems quite strange to us today. This was the era of the family road trip, and indeed it was a very big deal that Walt Disney World was once engineered so the vacationing family could leave their car behind for an entire week or more. But car trips outside the "Kingdom" were indeed expected in those early days when Disney's empire was still limited, and so Walt Disney World Vacationland enters the fray to help tourists decide what to do and when.

Vacationland was a regional magazine descended from its Disneyland cousin, which was distributed everywhere within a one day drive of Disneyland. It describes itself this way on the inside cover:

Vacationland is a service-feature magazine published three times yearly by the Walt Disney World Co. Personally distributed through numerous hotels, motels, chambers of commerce, AAA clubs, and leading tourist attractions and carriers, Vacationland is the only publication specifically directed to the vacationer and travelers in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

Of course there were plenty of articles about Walt Disney World, but they featured in each issue a nearby Florida attraction such as Ybor City or the Everglades, where Vacationland editors gave us such gems to savor as this:

For the motor-bound tourist, Vacationlands are chock-a-block with delicious, delirious advertisements, which have already been highlighted on this blog here and here. But these advertising missives from three generations ago today are strange, beautiful and sometimes frightening. So let's take a brief look outside the 'Vacation Kingdom' at the Vacationland, a world that seems very different from our own of multi-day tickets, LEGOlands, Magical Expresses and theme park fortifications. A world found today only in... Disney publications of the past.

This eye-poppingly gorgeous ad from 1972 highlights a famous and historical chain of Florida restaurants. I'm pretty sure the Columbia on Lake Eola is gone, but there is one along the lake in Disney's own Celebration, Florida.

More great mid-century typefaces!

Vacationland could always be counted on to deliver advertisements for Walt Disney World sponsors. GAF was Walt Disney World's photography sponsor until 1977, when Polaroid signed on until the rise of Kodak in 1982.

Kal-Kan sponsored the Walt Disney World Kennel, which if you believe what old Vacationlands tell you, was more like a private club where Goofy and B'rer Fox would regularly cavort. If you believe what you read in old Vacationlands, that is.

Circus World never quite grew past its' "Showcase" - read: preview center - although it did last until right around the opening of EPCOT Center, eking out a rather sad eight year existence. It's now a strip mall.

Now we're cooking! The very first Red Lobster opened in 1968 in Lakeland, Florida - about thirty minutes from Walt Disney World and a true Florida original. If you think the vaguely-unappetizing plate of fried shrimp is a little off putting, here's your month's supply:

This. This is terrifying in so many ways, from his eerie expression to those fried... shrimp, or sausages, or something, to the ghoulish supernatural void from whence this image is emerging. Imagine that popping out of a trunk in the attic of the Haunted Manson. We're waiting for you!

Did I mention you can click on these for a higher resolution version? Huh?

This one is fantastic, minimalist, and all about Lake Buena Vista, so you know I couldn't resist.

Probably the most handsome of Sea World's many Vacationland advertisements throughout the first half of the 70s.

Okay, Sambo's. Having grown up in the North and in the middle of nowhere, I had no idea what a Sambo's was until I started collecting these Vacationland magazines. We had a few Burger Kings, a Denny's, and a Bob's Big Boy. But you know what? I'm totally sold. There is one Sambo's left - in California. One day I will eat there and tell the staff that I'm here to eat because I saw them advertising in a Florida magazine from 1974.

I'm sure this will make me the most popular gal in the restaurant.

I love this one. It's absolutely pitch-perfect in my book, from the appealing squiggly people, the happy sun, the copy text - they don't make them like this anymore. All the coffee I can drink for just a dime!! I'm there.

Look at that. A bowl full of strawberries and walnuts. It's simple, sure, but don't tell me that spread doesn't raise your spirits.

These are only a handful of the advertising riches found in these all-too-scarce volumes. From restaurants to bars to antique malls, the pages of Vacationland are like an index of places and things you can't do or see any longer. Yes, there are happy endings amidst all that, but they're few and far between, and not every Florida tourist attraction could afford a full page ad in a Disney-published magazine slick.

For every Sea World or Weeki Wachee there's dozens of Movieland Wax Museums, Mystery Fun Houses, Circus Worlds and Marco Polo Parks. Orlando tourism is a gold rush business, where places spring up and dry out as quickly as money can be lost. I don't know about you, but I think maybe a little more cooperation between the tourist attractions and a little less competition could go a long way in the long run.