Sunday, May 20, 2012

Echoes from October 1971

Disney historians are treasure hunters. When I was young, I had the idea that being a historian or expert on anything would be ninety-percent tedium; locked out of the official Disney record halls and vaults, most of the major history-interested folk are left to rummage through bins, binders, and stacks of old paper, furtively hoping to find some previously unheralded treasure: a strange photo, new factoid, some new piece of the puzzle. Sometimes we luck out.

What follows is a stack of 35mm slides I recently acquired. As luck would have it, they are stamped "November 1971", which could indicate that they are from October 71, if the photographers waited a bit before sending them off for development, but in any case they are a rare candid view into a Walt Disney World just starting to burst onto the cultural scene.

These folks stayed at the Polynesian Village! This is the original pool area. See all the torches? I've seen it reported online that the torches are a later addition to the Village, but here they are, scarcely a month after opening.  Way to put the lie to that. See that white blob way in the back off to the left? That is one of the original luxury Yachts parked in the Papette Bay Marina at the Polynesian. From an April 1972 Walt Disney World News we learn:
"COCKTAIL CRUISES depart nightly at 7:30 pm from the Polynesian Village marina. For an hour and a half complimentary cocktails are served on one of the Chris Craft yachts or Aqua Homes. The cost is $10 per person including drinks.

DINNER CRUISES leave from either resort-hotel marina at 7:30 pm nightly. Hostesses serve complimentary cocktails and a steak or shish kebab dinner during the 2 1/2 hour cruise. The cost is $30 per person, payable in advance at either hotel marina.

All the boats, yachts, and Aqua Homes are available for private charter. Touch "1" about hosting your own dinner cruise....treasure hunt....cocktail party....or family outing."
The Cocktail Cruise and Dinner Cruise would each respectively cost $51 and $154 today, by the way.
Those yachts were big ticket items.

Hey, Bob-A-Round Boats!

You can learn more about the Bob-a-Round boats here and here. An October 1971 Walt Disney World News, contemporary with the visit depicted here, has an impressive rundown on the watercraft available at Walt Disney World, including: Capri (14'), Sunfish, Sailing Outrigger, Bob-A-Round, Paddle Boat (2 seats), Paddle Wheeler (5 seats), Outrigger Excursion (Polynesian War Canoe), Trapper Canoe Excursion, High Speed Boat, Hobie Catamaran, Ski Boat, Aqua Cat, Super Dingies (!!!), and Sail Boats.

Here's a true obscurity. This view from the monorail shows the Polynesian Village putting green. This was later replaced with a picnic pavilion, and later a large, shield-shaped pool. The Polynesian Village would expand nearly continuously throughout the 70s and 80s, today this is the lush grounds surrounding the Tangaroa Terrace east of the Great Ceremonial House.

Disembarking at the Magic Kingdom; hey, see those cranes at the Contemporary? Construction would not halt at the Contemporary until November 1971, another hint that these photos could've been taken in October.

Dead ahead, by the way, past the Steamboat Dock, is a stretch of grass where the Ferryboat Landing would appear six months later.

Yikes, there's two of them!

If you look way in the back you can see a "America the Beautiful" poster hanging just to the left of the entrance tunnel. The attraction itself would not be ready for another month.

And just inside the tunnel to the right, an original "Tropical Serenade" poster. Also note the lack of a "Here you leave today..." plaque, Magic Kingdom went for over thirty years without one. I guess after making you drive through the entire property to get to the park, WED figured you had already gotten the hint.

Obligatory group photo! It's nice to know that that goofy Popcorn wagon inside the entrance on the left has been exactly the same for four decades now, isn't it?

Notice that the twin on the left is holding one of those huge fold-out "official maps of the Magic Kingdom". As I've previously established, there was no official GAF guide park map until mid 1972.

The Sunshine Pavilion, with Clyde and Claude. Notice the two resident goddesses, Pele and Hina, staged up on the outer wall of the Tiki Room. This is also how they are staged at Tokyo Disneyland and I had always suspected that Florida once arranged their preshow in this way but had been unable to prove it. Due to plant grown Hina moved down into the terraced pond in the 80s and Pele was finally repositioned for the new Tiki Birds show in 1998, the staging which reigns to this day.

Now that the Orange Bird, Citrus Swirl, and orange grove references have returned to the show, it'd be nice to see those plastic oranges return to the central planter below Clyde and Claude there; I'll wade out there myself if Imagineering doesn't want to.

Now this one is a fantastic view, showing the original arrangement of the Liberty Square bridge. It can be seen both how high this particular feature was in 1971, when it actually did look something like the Old North Bridge at Concord on which it was based, and corresponds closely to the Herb Ryman concept art for this area. It was rebuilt sometime in the first decade to accommodate either America on Parade or the Electrical Parade which decreased the hump you see here, and it was flattened totally a few years ago.

The original entrance was through a court of 13 flags which were eventually moved to surround the Liberty Bell replica at the back of thew land, itself installed in 1987. The entire area was rebuilt in the early 90s with brick walls and props, complete with a guardhouse. Silly People will tell you that the guardhouse used to be a ticket booth. This is why you don't believe things Silly People say.

Liberty Square again, from the interior of a Keelboat. If you enlarge this picture you'll see a huge throng of people swarming around the front of the Hall of Presidents. This is the line. From opening until essentially the late 70s this show was packed with people at all times of the day.

Continuing the Keelboat ride we pass the weirdly depopulated Indian Village. Dick Nunis absolutely hated the Florida train ride, which then and still does pass a lot of Florida nothing. By December 1972 figures began popping up in this scene, which actually required a good deal of shuffling about of scenic elements and the removal of live-flame gas campfires. In 1973, further embellishments were added alongside both the River and Railroad, although the cancellation of Western River Expedition put the kibosh on an Eastside version of the Grand Canyon Diorama. The problem never was and still is not fully solved.

The Contemporary Resort as seen from the Walt Disney World Railroad and another view of those cranes. Disney actually ended up buying out US Steel in 1971 to finish the work themselves. Also seen here: an original red parking tram, one of those ones that would famously overheat on their way under the water bridge.

The water retention pond in the foreground (it's a Florida thing...) would be totally reworked in 1974 to allow the construction of Space Mountain.

Okay, this one was a biggest find in the collection. On the right you can see the original location of the Fantasyland Portrait Artists, as well as a wooden shade structure on the front of their space which was shortly demolished. This is the only photo that I've seen of the artists in their original location, and I had to do a good deal of digital fiddling with this slide to make the artists totally clear.

This space was later used as the furthest reaches of the Peter Pan queue, at which point the artists got a dedicated new building on the other side of Fantasyland, across from the Mad Tea Party. That space became the Enchanted Grove juice bar in 1980 when Florida Citrus Growers renewed their sponsorship.

A lovely view of the Small World / Village Haus complex with those famous Skyway buckets overhead. Also in this photo: a great early view of our friend, the rooster-headed lamp, who I profiled not just a few months earlier in this article.

We end our spin around the Magic Kingdom in Fantasyland with a view of the attractive Royal Candy Shoppe facade, the Round Table soft-serve ice cream spot in the very back, and the small covered porch area between them which would shortly be converted into the Lancer Inn pizza window. I think these Tudor-style facades in their original colors and textures are quite charming, although later creative regimes have been less than kind. This sort of Fantasyland architectural treatment would provide the basis for the 1983 reboot at Disneyland.

What's maybe most remarkable in this set of slides is that there is not a single typical view anywhere in them. Generally, we can expect to find the same old photos people have been taking at Disney World for decades now, but this particular photographer saved his film, probably investing instead in the Disney-provided GAF Pana-Vue souvenir slides sold around property. His enormous good sense then has really paid off now: although Magic Kingdom has been, from its opening to now, perhaps a far more conservative institution that Disneyland, of which far less from its opening day is now recognizable, this odd little group of twin ladies and their friends captured some truly unique and invaluable, fleeting things on film on their vacation over forty years ago.