History of the World, Part III

by Mark Goldhaber, staff writer

When we last left, Walt had completed the purchase of the land in Florida, and was ready to begin planning the development.

What to build?

“I've always said that there will never be another Disneyland, and I think it's going to work out that way. But it will be the equivalent of Disneyland. We know the basic things that have family appeal. There are many ways that you can use those certain basic things and give them a new décor, a new treatment. This concept here will have to be something that is unique, so there is a distinction between Disneyland in California and whatever Disney does in Florida.”

Walt wanted to build another Magic Kingdom, to take advantage of all that he had learned since he built Disneyland, but he gradually came to focus on a more important project on his mind: The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT.

At the press conference to announce the Florida Project on November 15, 1965, Walt was quoted as saying:

“I would like to be part of building a model community, a City of Tomorrow, you might say, because I don't believe in going out to this extreme blue-sky stuff that some architects do. I believe that people still want to live like human beings. There's a lot of things that could be done. I'm not against the automobile, but I just feel that the automobile has moved into communities too much. I feel that you can design so that the automobile is there, but still put people back as pedestrians again, you see. I'd love to work on a project like that.

“Also, I mean, in the way of schools, facilities for the community, community entertainments and life. I'd love to be part of building up a school of tomorrow… This might become a pilot operation for the teaching age—to go out across the country and across the world. The great problem today is the one of teaching.”

As Walt focused more and more on EPCOT, he began to think of Florida's Magic Kingdom as a “wienie,” or highly visible attraction to draw people in, for the EPCOT project. It would both draw people to Disneyworld and bring in funding for the project.

Urban planning

Walt spent almost all of his time working on the EPCOT idea. He read books about urban planning. He toured research laboratories and think tanks at many major corporations. He wanted to come up with new designs that would allow the city to function more efficiently than other cities, and yet still allow the residents to have a warmer, more close-knit community.

There was a three-man planning committee for the Florida Project. Walt had Marvin Davis, an architect who had drawn up the 1953 plan for Disneyland (and who had married Walt's niece Marjorie), and General Joe Potter, whom Walt had met during the construction of the New York World's Fair, working on the project with him. There was a special planning room set up for the EPCOT project, and only the three of them had keys. Walt's health began to fail as work continued. His smoking had caused lung cancer, and a number of other illnesses and injuries had taken their toll. Walt expanded the project team as work progressed, and the Disneyworld conference room became the largest room at WED.

In July of 1966, Walt rented a yacht for a cruise in British Columbia for his entire family to celebrate his and Lillian's 41st anniversary. He, Lilly, their two daughters and sons-in-law, and their seven grandchildren took the Disney plane to Vancouver and then lived on the boat for two weeks. It would be Walt's last vacation. While on the trip, he read books on city planning to relax. Even on vacation, Walt was driven to work on his dream city.

“The EPCOT Film,” or Walt's Last Film

Walt decided to make a 20-minute film about Disneyworld to help potential investors and the general public get a better idea of what he was trying to do. In the film, he said,

“But the most exciting and by far the most important part of our Florida project… in fact, the heart of everything we'll be doing in Disney World… will be our Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow. We call it EPCOT. EPCOT will be an experimental prototype community of tomorrow that will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials and systems.

“And EPCOT will always be a showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise. I don't believe there's a challenge anywhere in the world that's more important to people everywhere than finding solutions to the problems of our cities. But where do we begin… how do we start answering this great challenge? Well, we're convinced we must start with the public need. And the need is for starting from scratch on virgin land and building a special kind of new community. So that's what EPCOT is… an experimental prototype community that will always be in a state of becoming. It will never cease to be a living blueprint of the future, where people actually live a life they can't find anywhere else in the world.

“Everything in EPCOT will be dedicated to the happiness of the people who will live, work, and play here… and to those who come here from all around the world to visit our living showcase. We don't presume to know all the answers. In fact, we're counting on the cooperation of American industry to provide their best thinking during the planning and creation of our Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. And most important of all, when EPCOT has become a reality and we find the need for technologies that don't even exist today, it's our hope that EPCOT will stimulate American industry to develop new solutions that will meet the needs of people expressed right here in the experimental community.”

Walt would frequently arrive at project meetings with notes that he had made overnight. One morning in early October 1966, he arrived with a sketch of the Florida property that was to become known as the Seventh Preliminary Master Plot Plan. It had an outline of the property, and notations for the locations of parks, hotels, lakes, tourist trailer camps, motels, an airport, a main entrance, and an industrial entrance. It also stated that the truck route would always be under the monorail. This plan remained the basic pattern for the property's development.

Planning the City of Tomorrow

Walt knew that he needed some kind of governmental structure to provide services to the area. Water and sewer districts, fire departments, police departments, zoning boards, and so on, would need to be established to serve the property. A proposal for a special assessment district, to be called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, was prepared for the Florida state legislature in late 1966. It included creation of the municipalities of Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake. Largely based on the premise of being needed for the infrastructure of Walt's city, it passed the legislature in May of 1967.

In an October 1966 interview, Walt said"

“It's like the city of tomorrow ought to be, a city that caters to the people as a service function. It will be a planned, controlled community, a showcase for American industry and research, schools, cultural and educational opportunities. In EPCOT there will be no landowners and therefore no voting control. People will rent houses instead of buying them, and at modest rentals. There will be no retirees. Everyone must be employed. One of our requirements is that the people who live in EPCOT must help keep it alive.”

He also mentioned (a little-known fact) that he was forming a plan for another prototype city in his mind, which would be a laboratory for administering cities. Everyone, including retirees, would be able to buy property in this second city.

Walt kept fleshing out his dream of EPCOT. But he would never live to see it built. And it never would be built as he had planned. Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966, of acute circulatory collapse. The great showman was gone, and nobody at WED or Walt Disney Productions was sure what was going to happen to all the plans that he had made.

Next time: We look at what happened to Walt's dreams for the Florida Project after his death.