Saturday, September 27, 2014

Walt Disney World in Late 1978: Part Two

Boxes of old slides can be full of surprises. I tend to decide to purchase if the seller happens to scan an unusual view, but even the least ambitious amateur photographers of the 70s tended to take a few weird ones. Almost everyone at some point was compelled to break the flash photography rule or take some blurry photos from the train.

So I was pleased to find mixed into the 1978 slides a good number of photos of the Walt Disney World Village. Amateur photos of the Village are exceptionally rare; and while some of the most beautiful professional photos Disney ever published are of the Village, it's valuable to see another view of the place.

Each shop outside the Village had a beautiful handmade sign, and maybe the most distinctive was for Sir Edward's Haberdasher.

Behind the sign, incidentally, we can see sections of the original densely wooded parking lot. Sir Edward's was a menswear store in a very conservative style:

Here's the Empress Lilly from the boat marina. Captain Jack's sits off to the right. This photo, besides affording a glimpse of the Village Marina's old craftwork lanterns, shows how very different the effect of the Lilly once was. Situated where it is, surrounded by trees with nothing but a vast Florida waterway stretching out ahead of it, the effect is beautifully romantic. This was lost in 1989 when all of those trees were taken down for Pleasure Island.

The original winding, pastoral walk to the Lilly. Not even the waterwheel remains today.

Our lady friend returns from last week, less artfully composed. She's standing in front of the Pottery Chalet, which was a sort of housewares super store. The front area as well as a rear interior courtyard was all pots and plants. In the 80s it because the Christmas Chalet and was levelled in the 1990s. World of Disney stands there now.

Entering the Village from the Parking Lot. This appears to be the back of Sir Edwards's, meaning that's the bathrooms on the right. Originally, many of the buildings in the Village were connected by airy verandas and covered walkways like those seen here, allowing products displays to spill outside the confines of the store. The design of the Village was executed by a young team inside WED and is little heralded, but I think the architecture and emphasis on natural colors works beautifully well in the natural Florida environment.

Walt Disney World, and the Village in particular, was instrumental in shaping a stronger sense of food culture and sophistication in Orlando. In the late 60s, just about the best you could get in Orlando was Maison et Jardin in Altamonte Springs and the Columbia downtown. Orlando was a takeout-and-deli town.

Disney, simply by showing up and opening things like gulf coast-inspired continental dining rooms, the Gourmet Pantry where one could buy Kobe beef, and French-Colonial dinner palaces with floor shows changed the local food culture forever. Even today, Orlando boasts an amazing variety of food experiences. Whatever you want, you can get it, and usually in very high quality.

This is probably, more than anything, the thing that may not have happened in quite the same way had Walt Disney lived. Walt liked good food, but his limited palette and eating habits always embarrassed his cronies like Card Walker and Donn Tatum. Those guys were the fine dining mavens and they are the ones who brought that expectation with them from Los Angeles.

The Village opened the first serious wine shop in Orlando: the Vintage Cellar, where Art of Disney is now. They imported the best and brightest available to a swamp, no matter the cost. It was part of the show to the Disney people; to a nascent Orlando food scene it was a gift from God. The demand for wine at this store was so great that Disney began to offer case discounts. They hired an in-house wine expert to give weekend lectures and tastings, and they sent out monthly fliers to the "Cellar Dwellers" club, announcing new shipments and vintages - with quantity limits.

All of these things come rushing to me when I see photos like this of the Village. It's just one example of many. It's not easy to remember that Orlando was once a sleepy town like Ocala is today - incidentally, another place Disney was interested in moving to in the 60s. It was a cow town with an urban center. People liked it that way. Disney's arrival could not have been more disastrous to old Orlando had it been an asteroid.

Walt Disney World may be a cultural juggernaut and a base commercial operation, but it had ambition and beauty, and it changed people's lives. Disney may have abandoned EPCOT, but they did shape a city with projects like the Contemporary, the Village, and World Showcase. I wish Disney had those ambitions today.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Walt Disney World in Late 1978: Part One

Searching through old Disney photos and slides and home movies is often more disheartening than it is fun. Just as the average tourist often returns today with little to show than some shots of the castle, a flash photo of their group's row in a dark ride, and twenty bad photos of fireworks taken on a smartphone camera, so too were the tourists in the early days of Disney fairly uninspired.

Fathers hampered with the limitations of slow lenses and expensive film often shot only the reliable photos, which often meant a view down Main Street, maybe something on the Jungle Cruise, a monorail, and possibly one of the Magic Kingdom's many bands. You expect to get those; everything else is velvet.

What I have to share today is a rare thing: shots from an ambitious, possibly even professional photographer, with a good camera, in the Magic Kingdom in November of 1978. Not every shot is promotional-photo-worthy perfect, but it's rare to simply even see vintage WDW photography of this caliber. Our photographer had a good eye for composition and an interest in architecture, making for much more interesting viewing than your typical vacation snaps. There were too many slides to share everything, but here's a sample of the best and brightest of a remarkable, unusual document.

Let's begin with a batch of images from the Jungle Cruise.

The Gorilla Camp hasn't changed too much in the past 44 years, although there is something to be said for the stark simplicity of the scene's original propping, the simple green crates reflecting an era before the "vintage" theme was applied to the attraction. The mother/baby gorilla figure in the back left of the scene is out for repairs, giving us a clear view of the "WED SAFARI" stencil on the crate. Many of these boxes are still in the scene, now painted to look like vintage wooden crates, and of course the rear box got changed to read "WDI SAFARI".

This is much the same as it is today and, hopefully, as it always will be.

The Sunshine Pavilion with her original authentic thatch - the thatch currently on the building is dye-cute metal. It looked a bit more massive back then before the trees grew to their full height. Note some sort of refurbishment work occuring near the entrance.

I'd also like to point out the worn paint on the handrails in the foreground; visible wear and tear is not a phenomenon exclusive to the last 20 years at Walt Disney World.

The Magic Carpet in Adventureland was a tiny back alley of a shop offering Middle East goods. This was inside the "inner courtyard" of the circle of shops which made up Tropic Toppers, Traders of Timbuktu, Oriental Imports, and the Tropic Shop. In later years, Oriental Imports, The Magic Carpet, and Tropic Shop would be combined into one long store, called Elephant Tales. This store later closed to become a stock room in the early 2000s when Traders of Timbuktu was removed and the space in front of the shop become Argabah Bazaar.

This drop dead gorgeous facade, by the way, is still at Magic Kingdom, but like a lot of things at Disney today it has a giant cartoon tent in front of it.

Again, a view almost unchanged today. Notice the giant patch of fill concrete in the foreground - I bet there was once a funny story about that.

The Ancients fife and drum corp march past the original "walk inside" version of Sleepy Hollow Refreshments, back when its main claim to fame was cold sandwiches and cookies.

The Ancients doing their thing in what now seems to be an amazing number of trees. Splash Mountain would dominate the horizon of the top photo today. WDW has re-engineered the planters in this portion of Liberty Square at least three times to relieve guest flow during parades.

Two especially nice close-ups of graves outside the Haunted Mansion's original family plot. By the time I was going to Walt Disney World, these had been painted in a much more realistic stone wash and subject to enough Florida weather abuse to genuinely shock me, upon working the attraction, that they were actually hollow fiberglass.

As you can see, the 1971 originals looked less than convincing. The new set of gravestones outside the house as part of the controversial interactive queue, by the way, are all genuine stone.

Our only real view of Fantasyland today, but it's a dilly. In the background we can see how throughly forested the area was before the mass removal of trees in the late 90s. This angle also gives us excellent views of the original, much superior color schemes for the Small World tent facades in the 70s, before everything began to drift pink and purple in the 1980s.

Most interesting to me in a clear view of the cobblestone paths that used to zig zag through Fantasyland. The area is a giant sea of red concrete now and the results are unfortunate.

A terrific view of the Flower Market, Bicycle Shop, Hallmark Shop, and Chinese Laundry on Center Street. These guys are usually called the "Fantasyland Pearly Band" in company literature, but the unknown photographer here wrote their name on the slide as the "Jambayala Jazz Band".

This one is usual: it's a view of the spreading trees of the Hub from inside the planter. I'm not sure exactly what the photographer was going for here, but it's sufficiently unusual enough to share.

Our photographer took a few candid park guest photos, including one of a young lady in a hijab, and this is the most interesting to me... grandpa standing by his nephew's stroller wearing the "Youth" size Mickey ears. It's both universal and uniquely Disney.

And early morning view of Main Street, followed by....

...a gorgeous early evening view looking the other way. This framing strongly recalls early Disney promotional photos, enough to suggest that our photographer saw it on a postcard in the Emporium and rushed out to replicate it. I love the sense of the waning Florida evening light and the unstaged boy in the corner sipping a Coke.

Come back next week for a visit to the Walt Disney World Village through the lens of the same photographer!