WestCot: The Anaheim Disney Park That Never Was

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

Previously, I wrote about the Walt Disney Company's plans to build a new themed vacation destination area in Long Beach, California called Port Disney Sea in 1991.

At the same time, the Disney Company was also planning to expand the Disneyland area in Anaheim by adding a second theme park and resort hotels.

In 1987, Disney executives, including Jack Lindquist, began talking about a second gated theme park in Anaheim based on elements of Epcot in Florida to create a West Coast version to be called WestCot or WestCot Center like Epcot's original name of Epcot Center.

The cost of the project was estimated at $3.1 billion dollars with construction to begin sometime in 1992 and an opening date of 1998. The hope was to make the Disneyland area a multiple-night vacation destination stay, like Walt Disney World, and to attract 25 million visitors a year. WestCot alone was projected to bring in at least 10 million guests annually its first year.

Lindquist mentioned an area north of the park with those offices moving to a new building Disney had purchased from Global Van Lines. He also mentioned the famous 40-acre strawberry farm across West Street. Lindquist assured the audience that the parking lot area was no longer a consideration. However, that was exactly the area finally chosen with the addition of some other acreage Disney owned.

The Master Plan for WestCot with a proposed budget was released to the public on May 8, 1991, but was already being downsized by 1992 (with the removal of things like a Hollywoodland section in the New World area of the proposed park), and by 1995, the project was completely dead.

Many factors were involved, including costing too much money; Anaheim not wanting to pay for some things, and make some other concessions; the possible need to relocate some Anaheim residents; community discontent, like light pollution; Disney wanting its own special assessment district, like its Reedy Creek Improvement District in Florida; and the failure of EuroDisney (now Disneyland Paris), draining financial resources from the Disney Company; among other factors.

CEO Michael Eisner announced that as part of the "Disney Decade" of the 1990s, Disney would build another theme park in Southern California. As previously mentioned, the company also explored the possibility of a nautically themed park called Port Disney in Long Beach where it was operating the Queen Mary and the Spruce Goose and WestCot in Anaheim.

Artist rendering of WestCot, featuring Ventureport (a Future World-inspired area) and World Showcase.

With typical Eisner tact, he told the public:"It depends a lot on which community wants us more." Obviously, Eisner hoped to leverage a competition so that each city would offer its best accommodations to gain the prize of a new Disney theme park.

Since such an entertainment venue was guaranteed to bring in millions in tax revenue, Eisner was expecting major concessions from whichever proposed city was chosen to help facilitate its construction, and for them to make major modifications to the existing infrastructure including road improvements because of the expected increased traffic.

Disney found too many challenges with the Long Beach project, including continuing battles with different city departments. So, in December 1991, it officially announced it was abandoning those plans and would be proceeding with WestCot in Anaheim.

While inspired by Epcot, and its core philosophy of technological innovation and international culture and borrowing some of its attractions, WestCot would be physically different, because of space limitations and the urban setting surrounding the park.

WestCot would have been divided into two sections: Ventureport (the hub for this version of Epcot's Future World) and World Showcase, similar in tone to Epcot's version, but with only four pavilions representing a larger range of international cultures rather than pavilions devoted to just a single country.

The entrance to WestCot featured a 300-foot golden sphere called SpaceStation Earth on a lush green island and featured a new omnimover attraction inside called Cosmic Journeys, a combination of film, simulation technology and 3-D. The silver Spaceship Earth on the other side of the country was a mere 180 feet high. For WestCot, Imagineer Tony Baxter said, "We wanted an icon that symbolizes hope and is attractive in that it lures you toward it."

To reach the sphere required crossing over a bridge and walking under a cascading waterfall, to enter a huge lobby where guests could then ride the attraction or proceed to Ventureport's three pavilions. Just beyond this icon would be "a futuristic gateway from which guests embark on magical journeys to the Wonders of WestCot themed pavilions."

The three Ventureport pavilions included the Wonders of Living, Wonders of Earth, and Wonders of Space. They would all be enclosed so that Disney could control the entire experience.

Baxter said, "It will be indoors so it will be very theatrical. I think making it a stage set rather than reality out in the sunshine lets it be a little bit more dream-like and futuristic than if you're stuck dealing with stucco that gets chipped a lot and starts staining and looking old"

"This way we can change it a lot because it's all set up much like on a studio soundstage," he said. "As a new element comes in we change it out. We hope that when you come away from those experiences you will have less fear and apprehension about becoming a part of that world."

Surrounding the perimeter would be the four additional pavilions in the World Showcase not representing individual countries, but geographical regions known here as The Four Corners of the World: Asia, Europe, The Americas, and Africa.

All together the pavilions of Ventureport and World Showcase were called "The Seven Wonders of WestCot."

The Wonders of Earth pavilion would allow guests to be immersed in exotic environments, such as a humid jungle, the hot desert, underwater, or the frozen world of the Arctic where guests could actually play with ice. It would also include an attraction based on Charles and Ray Eames' Powers of Ten film.

The Wonders of Living pavilion would be focused on the human mind and body and feature versions of the Epcot attractions Body Wars, Cranium Command, The Making of Me, and a significantly different version of the Journey Into Imagination attraction but still featuring Dreamfinder and Figment.

The Wonders of Space pavilion would feature "a journey through the Cosmos," utilizing ideas for a proposed but never built Space pavilion at Epcot.

The Four Corners of the World would have had the New World (the Americas) with a turn-of-the-century U.S. Main Street in the spirit of the Centennial Fair in Philadelphia to mirror Disneyland's Main Street U.S.A.; an updated version of Epcot's American Adventure attraction; a Native American spirit lodge show (representing Canada); and a Mexican fiesta show and restaurant, along with another spirit and legends show, reflecting the Inca and Aztec cultures.

The Old World (Europe) would have the CircleVision 360 film from Disneyland Paris called Timekeeper; a Greek amphitheater; a Tivoli Gardens that would integrate a playground and rides for children; and a James Bond-style chase aboard the Trans-European Express railroad featuring famous European buildings zooming past outside the windows. Eventually, there were plans to incorporate a Russian attraction based on a show that had been developed for the proposed-but-never-built Russia pavilion at Epcot.

The World of Asia would have the thrill ride called Ride the Dragon, a roller coaster that followed along the Great Wall of China into the Dragon's Teeth Mountain. The trains would be designed to look like a Chinese Lion-Dragon that is often seen in parades.

At its peak lift, guests would have been prevented from seeing outside the park by billowing red and gold silks that engulfed the moving cars. Architectural details from Japan, China, and India would be blended together in this land.

For smaller children there would have been a carousel, but instead of horses, it would be composed of mythical Asian animals from all the cultures represented. A white marble Indian palace would have housed a dining and entertainment area.

Also proposed for this area were a copy of Tokyo Disneyland's Meet the World show and a Three Great Religions of the World show.

As Baxter explained, "One of the shows we had was The Three Great Religions of the World. Michael Eisner said 'I want you to do a show that everyone will enjoy and will find perfectly in concert with their particular religion'. So we had settled on depicting the seven days of creation and avoiding all of the problems between the Muslim and the Jewish and Christian versions of that."

"And we were getting very excited because we were starting to deal with seven of the great artists of the world and trying to have them depict each of the single days that they had been given," he said. "Maybe that will happen later. The Three Religions would be a little olive garden piece and you would step into the pre-show and go into the main area."

The World of Africa included a white water raft ride down the fictional Congobezi River, African drummers performing outside, a farming culture exhibit, and plans when the park expanded to include an Egyptian palace. The Story Teller Tree Show would present stories of African history told beneath the tree with a live narrator and the Tishman African Art Exhibit placed nearby.

The World Showcase area would have been home to the World Cruise also known as "The River of Time,&quto; which would have been the longest Disney ride ever at forty-five minutes long. There were five ports of call roughly nine minutes apart from each other. In some ways, it was similar in concept to the Disneyland Railroad serving not just as transportation but to give an overview of the area.

During the cruise around the World Showcase there were scenes under each pavilion depicting Audio Animatronics recreations of moments like Leonardo da Vinci working on the Mona Lisa, the burning of Rome, and Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel, among other key tableaus, much like the ones in Epcot's Spaceship Earth.

The scenes would tell the story of the cultures of each pavilion and the evolution of world civilization. Each of the five stations would support the scenes just witnessed as guests could disembark at any station to explore the pavilion.

The buildings of World Showcase would have been built as six-story structures with the first three floors housing attractions, retail shops, shows, and restaurants, but with the top three floors featuring hotel guest rooms. It would be the first Disney resort hotel within one of its theme parks and the program was called "The Live the Dream Program".

From the Los Angeles Times May 9, 1991: "Also proposed for the 470-acre Disneyland Resort are three new hotels, a seven-acre public plaza and a collection of retail, dining and entertainment facilities called Disneyland Center to be built around a six-acre lake."

The Public Esplanade between Disneyland and WestCot would feature the Disneyland Center (shopping, dining, entertainment, much like the later Downtown Disney, but with fountains and extensive elaborate landscaping), the Disneyland Bowl (a 5,000 seat live entertainment amphitheater, much like the Universal Amphitheater and would be located between the main plaza and the Harbor Boulevard entrance to the park), and the Disneyland Plaza (transportation hub).

There would be three huge parking structures around the perimeter of the resort (one on the northwest side near Ball Road and a pair of others on the east side near the Melodyland Church) that featured moving sidewalks that would go to a PeopleMover system that would shuttle up to 8,000 tourists an hour from the parking structures to the parks and hotels. Disney wanted new off-ramps from Interstate 5 that would directly feed into the project's parking structures and expected Anaheim to foot that bill.

The Disneyland Hotel would undergo an extensive renovation and expansion as well, with the addition of a 300-room tower. There would also be the upscale and pricey New Disneyland Resort Hotel, inspired by the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, with only 800 rooms. The 1,800-room WestCot Lake Resort would wrap around a six-acre lake with shops and restaurants. Pedestrian bridges would connect the hotel to a monorail station at the water's edge.

Before the official announcement, Disney quietly began acquiring additional tracts of land on the perimeter of Disneyland, primarily purchasing several low-rise motels that had sprung up when Disneyland first opened at an estimated cost of ten of thousands of dollars per room.

Disney also planned on renaming West Street between Katella Avenue and Ball Road as Disneyland Drive transforming it into a gently curving, tree-lined boulevard and home to the three new hotels.

Bruce E. Thorp, a Philadelphia-based Disney analyst with Provident National Bank, told the Los Angeles Times that the Epcot theme has "shown itself to have tremendous lasting power that lends itself to the development in Southern California. There is nothing in their plans that disappoints me or surprises me.

"I would be more concerned if Disney went off on a tangent they had not done before. This addition could keep visitors on Disney property for up to a week."

That, of course, was the major goal for this expansion.

At the 1994 NFFC convention, Imagineer Tony Baxter talked about how WestCot would be a different Disney park experience. First, it was designed to be a more participatory and immersive environment so that the guests truly became part of the story Disney was attempting to tell. Second, it would be the first Disney theme park where guests could spend the night inside the park.

When WestCot was cancelled, CEO Michael Eisner held a three-day executive retreat in Aspen, Colorado, to come up with a new idea to use that area of land. At that meeting of over 30 executives came the idea for a California-based themed park that became Disney's California Adventure, which opened in 2001 on the same property that would have featured WestCot.