The Magic Kingdom That Never Was

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

We are in the middle of a 50th anniversary celebration for the Magic Kingdom that opened October 1971. Today, I am going to talk about some of the things that were planned for the Magic Kingdom in 1971 that never materialized.

When Disneyland opened in 1955 and proved to be a financial and popular success, Walt got flooded with requests to build another Disneyland. "Walt had been asked, I'm sure begged, by people all over the world to repeat Disneyland in any number of different places," said Imagineer Marvin Davis. "He always steadfastly refused to do another Disneyland because he said he had done the best park he knew how to do and why would he want to repeat himself?"

Walt actually disappointed Florida residents when at a press conference he wouldn't state firmly that he was building Disneyland East but a vaguely similar and comparable entertainment venue. His main focus was on the experimental prototype community of tomorrow where new technology would be showcased that other cities could incorporate and where there was a greater understanding and appreciation of other cultures.

Walt approved concept art for the Cosmopolitan Hotel that would be the centerpiece of Epcot. The word "cosmopolitan" refers to having an international perspective. In a vernacular sense, the word to refer to places where people of various ethnic, cultural and/or religious backgrounds live nearby and interact with each other. A totally climate-controlled city center, built around the 30-story Cosmopolitan Hotel and convention center was the centerpiece of his hub and spoke design. The area would be pedestrian-centric and contain an international shopping district that would later inspire elements in Epcot's World Showcase.

The Walt Disney's Epcot '66 film describes it: "Among its major features will be a cosmopolitan hotel and convention center, towering 30 or more stories, shopping areas, where stores and whole streets recreate the character and adventure of places round the world, theaters for dramatic and musical production, restaurants and a variety of nightlife attractions, and a wide range of office buildings, some containing services required by EPCOT's residents." However, Walt was smart enough to know that people expected some type of entertainment venue so he placed it on the far end of the property he purchased on the worst possible land on the property so that guests would have to go through the industrial complex and Epcot before arriving at the Magic Kingdom.

The Cosmopolitan Hotel was to be the centerpiece of EPCOT.

The Main Gate entrance would be off of Irlo Bronson Highway (I-95). Just across the street he had plans to build an International airport on the property that later became Celebration. Orlando only had Orlando McCoy Jetport (which is why the luggage tags still read MCO). Orlando International Airport wasn't built until 1976. The plan was that the primary entrance to the Epcot project (the Main Gate) would be roughly "across the street" from Walt's airport. (The nondescript building that houses Entertainment, Merchandising and Disney Design Group on Sherberth Road is known as "Main Gate", since that is where the planned entrance to the property was to be located.)

Expectations were that more than 400 people would be working at the airport by the time Stage Two of the Florida property was completed in 1976. Disney projected that by 1991 the airport would employ more than 2,000 full-time workers and would be surrounded by hundreds of motels accommodating the many travelers flying in and out just to visit the Epcot area.

Disney could never get a major air carrier to partner with them in the costs for the larger airport, especially with the oil crisis in 1973, although Delta Airlines came close at one point to signing on. The continuing expansion of Orlando International Airport, as well as drastic changes to the original plans for Epcot, resulted in the large airport project quietly disappearing as an unnecessary expense. Basically, when Disney abandoned the plans to build the Epcot city that Walt Disney had envisioned, the airport was abandoned as well.

The Magic Kingdom has gone through many changes over the last five decades since it first opened. For instance in 1971, The Main Street Cinema actually showed movies, Liberty Square did not have a Liberty Bell replica, and the entrance to Tomorrowland was over a wide bridge that featured two majestic monolithic towers on the left and the right that had water cascading down a tile surface along the sides.

There were also attractions in October 1971 like the Mickey Mouse Revue, the Skyway, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the Diamond Horseshoe Revue, and more that are vaguely but fondly remembered today. However, there were just as many if not more things proposed for the 1971 Magic Kingdom area that never materialized because of time, technology or cost.

Walt wanted the Florida project to be a multi-day vacation destination, not just a one day visit to the theme park. So his original plans for the area included golfing, horseback riding, water activities and more. In fact, his plan for the area outside the Magic Kingdom would have included a swamp boat ride on airboats and in the area that used to have the Richard Petty Driving Experience, an indoor ice skating rink so there would be a variety of activities for guests to enjoy without having to pay to go into the theme park.

In particular, Fantasyland would have had different attractions. Instead of a Snow White dark ride, Imagineers decided to use a different Disney princess.

They had seen how guests had enjoyed the Sleeping Beauty Castle walk-through tableaus in California, and felt the 1959 classic animated film had definite possibilities. The proposal was for a typical Disney dark ride showing scenes from the story of Sleeping Beauty where the guests would be being chased through different story segments from the film by Maleficent's goons, who were hiding in the scenery and peering ominously at the ride vehicles. The big climax would be a confrontation with Maleficent herself who had transformed into a fire-breathing dragon and would be leaning in toward the riders who escaped her fiery breath at the last minute.

Instead of the popular Peter Pan's Flight attraction at Disneyland, the Imagineers proposed using the overhead monorail track to fly guests into an entirely different adventure inspired by the popular film Mary Poppins (1964), since guest surveys had shown Disney visitors would enjoy a ride based on those characters.

The first proposal was to use overturned umbrellas as ride vehicles to soar over the rooftops of London to mimic Mary's own journeys with her umbrella. A version that was more seriously considered was to use the colorful carousel horses from the film as ride vehicles. Guests would find themselves leaping through the chalk paintings done by the street artist Bert, the friend of Mary Poppins, as the horses bounced along. Several possible tableaus would have included scenes inspired by the film, like the fox hunt and a horserace.

Instead of a Mr. Toad's Wild Ride attraction, the Imagineers originally pitched the idea of an attraction based on the animated feature The Sword in the Stone (1963) since the character of Merlin fit in so appropriately with the theme of Fantasyland. The part of the film that offered the most options for dramatization was the famous wizard's duel between Merlin and the witch Mad Madam Mim, with them each getting zapped and transforming into different creatures. The finale would have had the ride vehicle circling around Mim after she had turned into a huge dragon just before she is defeated by Merlin.

With Fantasyland so close to Liberty Square, there was also discussion about having a dark ride based on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949) near the intersection of the two lands to act as a transition. Guests would have ridden in hollowed-out spinning jack-o-lanterns through a variety of scenes until the final confrontation with the headless horsemen.

Roy O. Disney made the decision not to build these new attractions not to save money because the attractions installed at Walt Disney World actually cost more because Peter Pan's Flight was made longer and larger and the Mr. Toad's Wild Ride had two different tracks that intersected. He made the decision because most East Coast guests had never visited Disneyland (one of the reasons for building an East Coast park) and they expected to experience some of the familiar Disneyland attractions that they had seen on television and magazine articles. However, Roy also realized there should be some impressive unique attractions to define the Magic Kingdom and perhaps entice West Coast visitors to make the trip which is why there were such attractions as Country Bear Jamboree, Liberty Square and the Mickey Mouse Revue that were only available at Walt Disney World.

A 1971 promotional map shows several unbuilt hotels.

However the biggest new attraction was put on hold when the costs of building Walt Disney World soared over budget but it was advertised as opening with what was called "Stage Two" of the park by 1975. It was advertised in the early guidebooks with concept art, a postcard and even a model was built and part of it was displayed for many years in the pre-show area of The Walt Disney Story on Main Street USA. Land had even been cleared for the show building. It was called Thunder Mesa and it would have towered over four stories high in Frontierland.

Thunder Mesa Mountain would have featured a variety of attractions including a runaway mine train ride (that would inspire the creation of Big Thunder Mountain); hiking trails through natural arches, waterfalls, desert flora and fauna; a canoe flume ride (similar to what became Splash Mountain); a Pueblo Native American village on top of the structure with real Native Americans like the Indian Village at Disneyland and more like a pack mule ride. To accommodate all of this, a four-story show building would have been decorated to look like the orange mesas of the American desert and Monument Valley. The WDW railroad would have gone through the building to offer guests a glimpse.

However the star of the area would have been the Western River Expedition attraction that was jokingly referred to by Imagineers as "Cowboys of the Caribbean" because of its superficial similarities to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland. "For some reason, it was thought that because of Florida's close proximity to the Caribbean, a ride dealing with pirates wouldn't be as popular in Walt Disney World as it was in Disneyland," Imagineer Tony Baxter said.

Guests would have entered through a cave that was actually a tunnel into the mountain and boarded boats that took them up a waterfall and then into the winding river. Scenes would have featured comically exaggerated Native American figures doing a rain dance and getting immediate results. Outlaws would not just wear bandanas to hide their faces when they robbed a stagecoach but so would their horses.

Dance Hall girls would perform for cheering cowboys to the general disapproval of the rest of the town. Toward the end of the ride, guests would have experienced a wild trip through the rapids and a fall down a waterfall to avoid bandits. In addition there would be animals like antelopes, buffaloes, prairie dogs along with singing cowboys all done in Imagineer Marc Davis' well-known humorous style.

It would have contained more than 150 Audio-Animatronics figures, many more than in Pirates. A buffalo and prairie dogs were actually built for the attraction and later incorporated into the opening ranch house scene in the Living With the Land attraction at EPCOT. Composer Buddy Baker had the beginnings of a theme song that would repeat throughout the ride.

The project was eventually cancelled because of prohibitive costs (estimated at more than $120 million), the decrease in popularity in Western movies and TV shows, and other factors — including guests demanding the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. Then Disney Company President Card Walker agreed and that attraction opened in 1973. Imagineer Davis was allowed to re-design the attraction (including not going up a waterfall at the end that was something he hated in the Disneyland ride).

In 1967, the Disney Company created a full-color map to indicate the various resort hotels that would surround the Magic Kingdom theme park. By 1969, these possible resorts had been narrowed down to the Disney Persian Palace, U.S.A. Disney (that would become the Contemporary Resort), Far East Disney, Venice Disney and Disney South Pacific (that would become the Polynesian Village). Frontier Village was renamed Diamond D (for Disney) Dude Ranch on its way to becoming Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.

In place of Disneyland's famed Opera House, the Magic Kingdom had what is now called the Town Square Theater. When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, that beautiful building was officially the elegant Main Street Hotel that housed the Gulf Hospitality Center. The legendary Dorothea Redmond had created concept art for the possibility of building an actual upscale Victorian hotel on Main Street.

The hotel would not only have encompassed the actual building as it is today but expanded into the backstage area that became a cast member parking lot. Some of those design elements for an actual hotel still remain including the individual balconies on each of the upper floor windows and the broad front porch with rocking chairs.

According to the original storyline, the hotel was located next to the Train Station so that people would have a place to stay while they waited for their train connection or visiting the city. This beautiful building was the unofficial central location for all of Walt Disney property, where guests could make reservations for resort rooms, dinner shows, golfing and other recreational activities.

The planned Main Street Hotel beccame the Gulf Hospitality House instead.

The large, polished wooden counter reminiscent of a check-in counter in a hotel was primarily staffed by friendly and attractive young women who extolled the virtues of Gulf Oil, of course, and handed out maps and brochures that assisted guests with driving routes, places to visit in Central Florida and selecting hotels or motels at which to stay on their trip. "Etched glass doors, potted palms, comfortable velvet settees and antique chairs set the mood for relaxation and comfort," claimed the 1972 "Gulf Personal Tourguide [sic] to Walt Disney World," describing the Hospitality Center. These items like the interior counter suggested a turn-of-the-century hotel lobby.

The Hospitality House officially closed March 1990 and became Disneyana Collectibles. It became the Town Square Exposition Hall in 1998 and closed in 2011. It was then re-themed as the Town Square Theater.

The Asian resort hotel was scheduled to open by 1973. Land had been cleared and prepared where Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa stands today. A square plot of land prominently jutted out into the Seven Seas Lagoon and the nearby road had been dubbed "Asian Way".

"The Asian hotel will be strongly Thai in its motif. A theme restaurant and lounge at the top of its 160-foot tower building will provide an enchanting setting for nighttime dancing and stage show entertainment. Each of its 600 rooms, including 50 elegant suites in royal Thai decor, will look out on the lagoon or a central recreation area."

The Asian's imminent completion was heralded on the official recorded monorail spiel and WDW literature like the Stockholders' Annual Report. There were also plans to have large meeting rooms under the guest area of the resort for conventions. The Asian had gotten to the point that an approved sample interior for the rooms was completed and elaborate Oriental gardens had been designed by landscaper Bill Evans. Guest rooms would have been arranged in a square around the perimeter with two-thirds of the guest rooms having beautiful garden or lake views. The remainder of the rooms would have been in the tower building providing a view into the central recreation area that would probably have featured a themed pool.

Located between the Contemporary Resort and the Ticket and Transportation Center near the water bridge on the Seven Seas Lagoon, the Venetian would have resembled the current Italy pavilion at the World Showcase at Epcot in terms of architecture and style.

"At the Venetian resort, an enclosed small boat harbor and intricate system of waterways will recreate the old world charm of the famed Italian 'City of Canals.' Shopping will be a unique experience as guests travel by gondola along 'streets of water' and under ornate bridges linking various sections of the resort. The style is reminiscent of St. Mark's Square, complete with a 120-foot campanile that will toll the time. The entire lobby will be glass-topped, creating a brilliant, sunlit atrium effect indoors."

Located to the north and slightly east of the Contemporary Resort on Bay Lake, the Persian would have been laid out in a circular pattern with a large central building featuring a 24-foot blue dome. Smaller blue domes would have highlighted the white columns and buildings.

"Stepping right out of The Arabian Nights is the Persian resort, which will reign like an exotic far-Eastern palace on the Northwest shore of the lake. Jewel-like mosques and columns will rise above landscaped courtyards, while terraced sundecks offer sculpted swimming pools and 'old Persian' dining facilities. Guests will practically be able to sail to their own rooms through a sheltered marina."

After a stop at the Contemporary, the monorail would have journeyed to the Persian. From there, instead of going directly to the Ticket and Transportation Center, the monorail would take a short detour through nearby Tomorrowland, just like the monorail at Disneyland, to offer guests a glimpse of the highway in the sky of the future.

The land in the area near the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground had been cleared of trees by 1971 although some claim that this was originally meant for additional campground. The 1973 WDW souvenir guide states that an unnamed "Lodge" was planned to be built in this location for guests. A rough replica of the resort was featured in the model in the post show area of Magic Kingdom's The Walt Disney Story attraction. In the early 1980s, it was given the name Cypress Point Lodge but because of cost overruns in the building of Epcot Center, the resort was cancelled. Later Wilderness Lodge was built in the same location.

The November 4, 1982 issue of Walt Disney World Eyes & Ears provided the following description of the rustic, moderate resort: "Cypress Point Lodge will be a medium-sized hotel facility, located on the south shore of Bay Lake near our Fort Wilderness Campground Resort. Encompassing 550 rooms and 50 log cabins on the beach, Cypress Point Lodge will offer a romantic notion of a turn-of-the-century hunting lodge secluded in a deep forest.

"Neither the trees nor the buildings dominate the entire area; but blend together in a natural harmony. One can almost hear the crackling fireplace and feel the large wooden beams offer a haven of security and comfort. Cypress Point Lodge will also include: two restaurants, a pool, extensive beach, and lake dock. Guests will commute in and out of Cypress Point Lodge by watercraft."

However, as mentioned, cost overruns for the building of Epcot Center resulted in Cypress Point Lodge being cancelled and it was no longer mentioned in any documentation starting in 1983.

Walt Disney World could have looked much different if any of these proposals had materialized but it was the beginning of many other ideas over the decades from a nighttime spectacular on Crescent Lake to a fifth theme park devoted entirely to Disney Villains that would have changed the entire Walt Disney World property.