The Other Epcot

by Wade Sampson, staff writer
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Most readers of this column are certainly knowledgeable about the Epcot theme park that exists today in Central Florida. I would also suspect that those same readers probably are also aware of Walt Disney’s original plans for Epcot that would have included a domed city of 20,000 residents with the tall Cosmopolitan hotel as the centerpiece that would literally be a “living laboratory” of new technology and international interaction.

However, there is another Epcot that existed after Walt’s passing in 1966 and the opening of EPCOT Center in 1981. That Epcot was where the corporate leadership of the Disney Company had to struggle with how to make Walt’s dream a reality and how to appease the continual questioning from the state of Florida about when the city of the future was going to be built, especially since special dispensations had been granted including the creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District that allowed great freedom of construction among other things.

During those 15 years, the EPCOT concept continued to change and change again. Here are some excerpts from my collection of obscure articles with material that to the best of my knowledge has not been widely shared before in the many histories of Epcot.

From World’s Fair magazine (Spring 1981) there is the eight-page article EPCOT: Disney’s Dream Materializes in Swamps of Florida by William Kahrl.

Interviewed for this article was Disney Legend Jack Lindquist, who at that time was the senior vice president for advertising, publicity, promotion and public relations at Disney Productions.

Addressing comments that a better name than EPCOT could have been developed over the last 15 years, Lindquist responded, “We could have called it anything but, if we had opened it under another name, the media would still be asking, ‘But when are you going to open EPCOT?’”

Walt left just a few words and artist sketches about EPCOT Lindquist claimed: “It’s about having Scene 53 and Scene 78 of a motion picture and then trying to construct a film from that.”

According to the article:

“In early 1976, this line of thinking spawned grandiose descriptions of EPCOT as a world forum where the best minds in science, government, industry and the arts would gather to research and test new concepts for dealing with problems of energy supply, space exploration, transportation, agriculture, education, health, medicine, oceanography and communications.

“Aspects of the work of this world forum would be presented to the public in a World Theme Center consisting of three main pavilions displaying prototype technology in the general fields of science, the community and communications. And this plan was linked as well to a separate project the Disney Imagineers had been developing for a World Showcase where exhibits contributed by 30 to 35 governments would be grouped around a vast circular lagoon on which all nations would share equal frontage. Finally, the plan called for construction of an International Village where the estimated 200 young people ('tomorrow’s leaders') who would come to work the displays in the World Showcase would live together in a continuous ‘people to people exchange.’

“When Disney began serious planning for EPCOT, it was intended to be only one component in a three-pronged expansion program. At the same time, the company announced its intentions to build a new amusement park in Japan—initially called ‘Oriental Land’—as well as a resort at Independence Lake near Truckee, Calif. The new park in Japan was initially scheduled to open in 1978. Independence Lake in 1979, with EPCOT following in 1980. But things changed. The plans for Independence Lake met the same governmental and environmental resistance as its even more ambitious predecessor at Mineral King, and the project was abandoned in 1978. Work in Japan has only barely begun and that facility, now named Tokyo Disneyland, is currently expected to open no sooner than 1983.

"Tokyo will be almost an exact copy of Disneyland “because that’s the way the Japanese wanted it.

The article also revealed that:

“In all, eight nations besides the United States will be represented when EPCOT opens: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, Mexico and Morocco. Designs are also underway for additional pavilions for Denmark, Israel, the People’s Republic of China and the nations of Africa.

“The project has not been sanctioned as a world’s fair by the agency that does such things, the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE) in Paris. Disney executives have kept the BIE apprised of their work, but as Lindquist points out, formal recognition of the exhibition would have violated nearly every provision in the BIE’s treaty ‘because it’s permanent, and because it’s being constructed by a private corporation.’ The United Kingdom pavilion, for example, will be supported principally by Royal Doulton, Associate Biscuits, and Bass Export Ltd., manufacturers respectively of fine British china, crackers and beer.”

Talking about EPCOT, Lindquist stated:

“Our real competitor is three miles away. EPCOT will be compared to and must be as good as the Magic Kingdom itself. EPCOT will be as different from Disneyland as Disneyland was from the amusement parks of the past. In an important sense, EPCOT Center is the whole 27,500 acres we own there. A hotel room may be a good place to give people their first experience with a computer—to learn how to play with it—to learn that it’s not something mystical or threatening. EPCOT will be an attempt to attract the audience we’ve never felt we impacted effectively, older people without children.”

Bob Garner, a writer with the Disney communications department who was conducting a tour of the EPCOT models, answered why much of the details for the pavilions were being manufactured rather than getting authentic tapestries and statuaries from the host countries:

“You don’t understand. This is, after all, supposed to be the Disney version. And so we talked about what that meant. One thing it certainly means is that everything will be very clean. As Garner pointed out, each of the pavilions in the World Showcase will give a taste of life in a foreign country but without any slums or signs of age or decay. Almost all of the designers at Disney Productions come from Southern California and most have been trained in film production. That affects everything they are building at EPCOT. The design for each part of a pavilion is laid out on storyboards, just as for a movie. And the streets and buildings with their forced perspectives, their clean, impersonal lines and eerie lack of fine detail, look like movie sets. And that, in turn is the essence of their charm. Not the reality of a bunch of fancy exhibits in the middle of a Florida swamp, but an alternative, a cinematic reality that in some ways and for a lot of people will be more pleasing, more comprehensible and more fun than anything the future is likely to hold for them.”

On January 13, 1976, Walt Disney Productions President E. Cardon Walker gave a speechntitled “Dreamers and Doers” to an audience composed of faculty, members of the student body, and distinguished guests of the scientifically oriented Florida Institute of Technology. At the conclusion, Florida Institute President Jerome Keuper conferred an honorary Doctor of Science degree on Card. The degree was the first of its kind in the school’s history.

I believe this is one of the first times that Disney used the “dreamers and doers” phrase that became a standard catch phrase. Walt never said that phrase but as Card states in his speech, “Walt once told me, early in my career, ‘Card, the way to get started on something is to stop talking and start doing.” This was his personal motivation, a philosophy that helped carry our entire Disney organization to where it is today. Walt always had us dreaming and doing at the same time. And every time people around our organization thought things were settling down into a nice little business, Walt stirred us up again taking on something else that was always a little bit new…different…imaginative…and exciting.”

Of course, one of those exciting new projects was the Florida Project and Card discussed what the current Disney Company approach was to EPCOT that was still over five years away.

“If I were to write one sentence today expressing our basic EPCOT philosophy, it would be this: ‘EPCOT is designed to respond to the needs of people by providing an international forum where creative men and women of science, industry, government and the arts can develop, demonstrate and communicate prototype concepts, and new systems and technologies and their application in creating better ways of life.’

“Now if that sounds idealistic, let me say first that we are idealists…but we have a track record of achieving our dreams. We are goal oriented.

“Making Walt Disney’s EPCOT dream a reality is our goal, and we have already established seven specific objectives to make EPCOT happen:

“First, we want EPCOT to provide a forum where industry and the professions can introduce, test and demonstrate new ideas, materials and systems.

“Second, we want EPCOT to showcase and prove the usefulness of promising concepts, technology, and specific prototype products.

“Third, we want EPCOT to provide an ongoing ‘meeting place’ where creative people of science and industry, from around the world, may gather for days or weeks or months in a community and climate where experimentation is fundamental, to discuss and develop specific solutions to the specific needs of mankind.

“Fourth, we want EPCOT to advance the excellence in Futures planning.

“Fifth, we want EPCOT to be a special kind of new community…one not restricted by brick and mortar but instead one that is constantly seeking the best ideas and communicating those ideas to the world community.

“Sixth, we want EPCOT to provide, for the first time anywhere, a practical basis for investigating and proving not only the popularity…but also the economic feasibility of new ideas, materials, and systems introduced and tested here.

“And seventh, we want to create and maintain through EPCOT the broadest possible communication link and dialogue between the general public and world leaders.

“Often I am asked, ‘When are you going to build EPCOT?’ And my answer is that we’ve been building EPCOT right from the very start. Throughout everything we have done during the first phase at Walt Disney World, we have dedicated ourselves to these EPCOT objectives. And we have already introduced a number of new systems and technologies as forerunners of future growth.”

Card was also excited about the “International Village” that would be built to house the young people from foreign countries who would come to work in the pavilions of the World Showcase.

“I’m confident there will be a cross section of young leaders in fields as broad or wider even than in the audience here today—engineers and architects from around the world, and teachers, artists, musicians, mathematicians, athletes, scientists…even business people and future politicians.

“Could we someday see the day when the president of one country calls the president of another and starts the conversation by recalling their year together at EPCOT? Could we someday see the day when a technical problem affecting the people of two countries is solved through a satellite television conversation between scientists who were once roommates in EPCOT’s International Village?

“Why is a company whose basic thrust in the business world is entertainment and recreation suddenly dealing simultaneously with international relations and world technologies? Walt felt strongly that the answers to critical problems facing the world today are not locked in government agencies or corporate boardrooms—but locked in people’s minds, in universities, business and industry, in a thousand places where creative people practice ‘their thing’ around the world. Somebody just had to come along and help pull it all together and communicate to the world. This, Walt felt, could be the greatest contribution of his lifetime. Unfortunately, he was only just getting started when he died in 1966.

“Let me dream Walt’s dream with you for a few moments…

“Wouldn’t it be great if the talents and skills of people and nations around the world could be focused on solving the real challenges facing all the people of the world? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could thoroughly test and prove the potential of promising new concepts, technologies and systems? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if a meaningful new understanding could be established between the people of the world through you young people—the future leaders of nations around the world?

“You can sit, contemplate, talk and debate about the world until it passes you right on by…Or you can stand up and become a doer. I sincerely hope that everyone here today, wherever you are headed, whatever your goals…you will say that you do count…that your efforts can do something…that you will become not just dreamers, but dreamers and doers.”

So the next time, you are racing to the “Soarin’” or “Test Track” attraction to try to get that fabled Fast Pass or you overhear the latest outrageous story of the shenanigans that happen at the Commons housing complex for the young international cast members or you mourn for the lost Horizons attraction or the continued absence of Dreamfinder, then pause for a moment and remember that once upon a time Epcot was going to be the realization of Walt Disney’s final dream and it might have changed the world in many ways.