The Complete Pleasure Island Plaquesby Wade Sampson, staff writer
“Fun for all, and all for fun!”—Merriweather Adam Pleasure (1873-1941?)
It broke my heart when I walked through the remains of Pleasure Island on September 25, 2009, on my way to the final performance of the Adventurers Club as part of Congaloosh (link). Areas were roped off, buildings were empty, and landscaping had clumsily been placed in front of certain venues to discourage guests from exploring, although a little persistence allowed a obscured glimpse through a window that revealed that all the Disneyana on the walls of the inside of the Comedy Warehouse was long gone.
I hadn’t been to Pleasure Island since it officially closed its clubs a year ago and I was surprised at how lifeless the area seemed today. I had the opportunity to visit P.I. the summer after it opened in 1989 and was intrigued by the backstory that the Imagineers had created for the location. In fact, I was more fascinated by the story of Merriweather Adam Pleasure than the dancing at Mannequins or getting so drunk to the point of vomiting—as I saw others doing.
To help guests understand the story of Mr. Pleasure, Imagineering placed 26 plaques around the island to be discovered by guests. Unfortunately, those plaques were on a black background which were difficult to read clearly at night, they were hidden in out of the way places around corners, up stairways, inside entry ways and more importantly, the consumption of alcohol didn’t aid in guests’ desire to find these bits of amusing back story or to read them clearly when they did stumble across them.
Over the years, as changes came to Pleasure Island, some of those plaques disappeared. For instance, the Fireworks Factory became the Wildhorse Saloon and then Motion and, in the course of those changes, the plaque was removed because the new business no longer supported the overall story. The Merriweather Market food court became the Pleasure Island Jazz Club and now an Irish pub and that plaque was lost. The Neon Armadillo became the BET Soundstage and that plaque was lost.
Some businesses and buildings never had plaques. Although in my research, it was surprising to discover that the AMC Theaters were even part of the Pleasure Island story.
However, some plaques were in such out-of-the-way locations that they were forgotten. Walking through Pleasure Island in September, I discovered that at least six of the original 26 plaques still exist because either the Disney Company has forgotten they are there or that Disney fans haven’t gotten around to bringing a crowbar and prying them off the wall to add these souvenirs to their personal collection. So I am not going to encourage their removal by indicating which ones remain at this time.
In 2005, I walked through P.I. to write down the information on the still-remaining plaques and last year was able to find documentation on the original plaques that were already gone by that time.
The Disney Company seems to have had no desire to retain official documentation of any of this information and certainly has no apparent need for it today when it hopes that guests will forget over time that such a place existed.
One of the most frequent requests I get from readers of this column is to give them a complete list of those plaques. So, to accommodate those readers, those of us who enjoyed elements of Pleasure Island, those of us who like to keep the historical memories alive, and others who are interested in the convoluted and fascinating story of Merriweather Pleasure and his family—for the first time in nearly 20 years, here are the complete original plaques of Pleasure Island.
More importantly, they are much more elaborate than the official written history which I have reprinted previously ("In Memory of the Original Pleasure Island Story, June 28, 2006, link), and include additional information not discussed in that history.
The Pleasure Island Plaques
PLEASURE ISLAND (entrance plaque on the bridge by the ticket booths)
An unverifiable, anecdotal, purely subjective, theoretical alleged purported history. Also, ersatz. A living monument to "the wise fool, the mad visionary, the scoundrel, the scalawag, and the seeker of enjoyment." Merriweather Adam Pleasure, who purchased the island in 1911. Pleasure's profitable canvas manufacturing/sail fabricating empire, founded on this site, provided him with the capital to indulge his lifelong interest in the exotic, the experimental, and the unexplainable. Known as the Grand Funmeister, Pleasure disappeared during his 1941 circumnavigation of the Antarctic. His sons, Henry and Stewart, took over the island and the Pleasure enterprises. Their mismanagement led to bankruptcy in 1955; Hurricane Connie hit that same year, and Pleasure Island was abandoned. In 1987, Archaeologists uncovered the site and its remains, and a large scale reclamation project was begun. In 1989, the new Pleasure Island was re-opened and dedicated to the legacy of Merriweather Adam Pleasure: "Fun for all, and All for fun!"
Placed here by the Pleasure Island Histerical Society.
THE EMPRESS LILLY
The Floating Arts Palace
Originally christened The Floating Arts Palace, this vessel plied the mighty Mississippi River for 25 years. Boat fancier Merriweather Pleasure purchased it in 1911 to use as a home, guest house, and entertainment center while he began construction on Pleasure Island. In 1918, the former showboat was unmoored and transformed into a summer houseboat for steaming down the tree-lined waterways of Central Florida. In 1971 the boat was restored to her original glory and re-commissioned The Empress Lilly in honor of Mrs. Lillian Disney.
Originally a turnaround for the limousines of guests visiting the Pleasure family houseboat. The plaza was remodeled for the July 4, 1937, debut of the 118-member Pleasure Island Philharmonic Concert Band conducted by Maestro Don G. O’Vanni. The P.I.P.C.B. concerts on this site ended with a piece Mrs. Isabella Pleasure commissioned, the haunting "Fugue for Triangle, Piccolo and Steampowered Riverboat Whistle."
PORTOBELLO YACHT CLUB
Pleasure Family Home 1918
Island Founder Merriweather Pleasure built this home for his family who lived on their beloved island for 20 years. Here, Mrs. Isabella Pleasure hosted hundreds of tea socials, garden parties and croquet tournaments, featuring fine food and uninhibited conversation. As she often said, "If you don't have something nice to say, come sit next to me!" Restored in 1989 as a joint effort of the Walt Disney Company and the Levy Restaurants.
PORTOBELLO ROSE GARDEN
Mrs. Isabella Pleasure, wife of Island founder Merriweather Pleasure, spent 20 years and several-hundred-thousand dollars attempting to crossbreed a "true blue" rose. Like others before her, she had to be content with variations on the color lavender. Mrs. Pleasure’s garden, first planted in 1919, was recreated in 1989 from notes in her journals and diaries.
Originally constructed 1914
This bridge stood until 1943, when young Stewart Pleasure, son of Island founder Merriweather Pleasure, piloted the family showboat directly into the graceful span connecting Pleasure Island with the mainland. Stewart supervised the rebuilding of the bridge in 1944, but destroyed it again on September 2, 1954. The current bridge was built from the 1914 plans by the Walt Disney Company.
M. A. Pleasure’s Original Sailmaking Factory
Foundation and wellspring of the considerable fortune of Island founder Merriweather Adam Pleasure. Once a month during the full moon, Pleasure could be seen on the roof of this building, chanting to the goddess of the the tides to keep his various enterprises afloat. Pleasure Island’s first sail was completed here December 18, 1912. After the assembly of the last sail on June 4, 1931, perfectionist Merriweather Pleasure insisted that the factory be preserved intact. The building was devastated by Hurricane Connie in 1955. Restored in 1989.
Pleasure Island Canvas Works Fabrication Plant
Second building erected on the island, this actually housed Merriweather Pleasure's famous canvas fabrication works. In the 1930s, it was converted to a soundstage for Invincible Pictures, then into a design studio and workshop for various Pleasure projects. Most notable of these was a huge locomotive powered by a combination of steam and magnetic power. A colossal turntable was installed to facilitate the work on this revolutionary product, called Maxwell's Demon, that was intended to revolutionize world transportation. It didn't. For further unverifiable information on the life and times of Pleasure Island, refer to the theoretical histerical plaques located at the island's entrances.
THE ISLAND DEPOT
Pleasure Island Administration Building
Originally a wooden shack housing Pleasure Island's paymaster/accountant/bookkeeper, telegraphy office, mailroom, first aid station, and social center, the first building on this site (constructed in 1913) burned to the ground in 1933 during a party celebrating the repeal of Prohibition. A subsequent building erected on the site was blown apart by a savage 1944 typhoon. Refurbished 1988-1989. The complete and dubious history of Pleasure Island is inscribed at each island entrance.
Fireworks Laboratory and Storage Bunker
Island founder Merriweather Pleasure had a passion for pyrotechnics. In 1922, he persuaded China’s premier fireworks inventor, The Bang Master, to immigrate to Orlando. The Master’s lab and storage bunker were built on this spot, and for the next four years Orlando’s citizens enjoyed stupendous Independence Day aerial displays. On July 3, 1927, a stray spark from Pleasure’s pipe set off an explosion that was heard in Tampa, 82 miles away. Mrs. Pleasure insisted that the wreckage of the factory be preserved as a reminder of “Pleasure’s Folly.” Renovated as a joint venture by the Walt Disney Company and the Levy World Company.
Pleasure Perfect Upholstery
Six full-time seamstresses worked here to refurbish the interiors of the custom yachts in the Pleasure Island Dry Dock. In 1934, the shop was responsible for stuffing the head of a rare Mongolian Yakoose for the Adventurers Club. This profitable sideline ended in 1943 when a war time shortage of kapok put taxidermy on the endangered species list. Further information on the incredible doings at Pleasure Island from 1911 to the Present Day is inscribed on the ersatz histerical plaques at all island entrances.
The Machine Shop
Built as a custom tool-and-die shop for fearless flyer and Island founder Merriweather Pleasure’s “X-Thing” project. His granddaughter, Katie, converted it into Katie’s Kustom Kars, the first female owned and operated auto customizing shop in the Southeastern United States. Katie, a.k.a. Doodles, closed the shop in 1954 to join the Air Force as a test pilot for the only customized X-1 ever built.
ROCK AND ROLL BEACH CLUB
(XZFR Rockin' Rollerdome-a roller skating dance club)
Island founder and UFO enthusiast Merriweather Pleasure built his experimental "X-thing" here. Pleasure himself designed this super amphibious aircraft that could harness the power of the wind. The "X-Thing" flew only once—Sept. 1, 1940—with Pleasure himself at the controls. The test flight is shrouded in mystery, but upon landing Pleasure began broadcasts to outer space. Beamed from the roof of this building, the international Morse Code messages repeated "W-E-L-C-O-M-E." Further information on the incredible doings at Pleasure Island from 1911 to present day may be found inscribed on the quasi-historical plaques at all Island entrances.
(Hammer and Fire - shop that featured titanium jewelry, stoneware, and wall hangings)
The bronze foundry for Pleasure Island Yacht Refurbishing Inc. was built in 1923. Unique custom fittings, individually cast at great expense, were required to achieve the "pleasure principle" of lavish but functional ornamentation of sailing vessels.
Further information on the illustrious and illusionary past of Pleasure Island may be found upon the plaques at each island entrance.
Remains of Pleasure Island Ltd. Chandlery and Tool Crib
One of the many support facilities for the cornerstone of Island founder Merriweather Pleasure's commercial empire, Pleasure Canvas and Sailmakers, Ltd. A 1944 hurricane sheared off the front of the building, sending a million (more of less) bolts, screws, linchpins, lugnuts, and spanner wrenches into the depths of Lake Buena Vista. The silly saga of Pleasure Island is told in its imprecise entirety at each island entrance.
Navigational Pleasure Graphics Ltd.
Island founder and graphics connoisseur Merriweather Adam Pleasure rocked the art world when he lured R. North Camilpoter, America's premier gold leaf stylist, to Orlando. Camilpoter spent his days peacefully hand-painting the bows of the yachts Pleasure refurbished. When Hurricane Charlotte damaged the building in 1944, only three years after his patron's demise, the graphic artist was too dispirited to rebuild. History buffs: The incredible and unverifiable story of Pleasure Island is summarized for your entertainment at each island entrance.
Pleasure Shipping and Receiving
Island founder Merriweather Pleasure had this building constructed to facilitate his business refurbishing ships and yachts. It later became a clearing house and depot for the booty from his global adventures. In 1939, Pleasure befriended a group of native Floridian stunt pilots, the "Avigators" who operated a short-lived import/export business here from 1949-1951. The entire history of Pleasure Island is misrepresented on the plaques located at each entrance to our island.
Mrs. Pleasure's Music Parlor
Built to store island matriarch Isabella Pleasure's gargantuan collection of 78 rpm Italian opera records. Immediately upon her passing in 1949, her two sons sold her collection (valued at $475,000) to an Orlando junk dealer for $150. Refurbished by the Walt Disney Company and Star Trax Enterprises in 1989. Find the fabulous fable of Pleasure Island and its founding family on the plaques at each entrance to the island.
Artificial Intelligence Lab
Built for Island founder Merriweather Pleasure's son Henry, the "mad genius of Lake Buena Vista" and Henry's life work, the Pleasure Cellular Automaton. Henry died thinking his experiments in artificial intelligence had failed. But when the building was reopened in 1987, the automaton was alive and thriving. In fact, it directed the refurbishing of its home and designed the sophisticated computer hardware that shows itself to best advantage. The complete and purely subjective saga of Pleasure Island is synthesized on the ersatz histerical plaques at the Island's entrance.
Designed by Island founder and incurable romantic Merriweather Adam Pleasure after a trip he and wife Isabella took to San Francisco. They both fell in love with the city's back-and-forth boulevard, Lombard Street. Isabella wanted a photograph as a souvenir, but Merriweather insisted on recreating the street itself. It later became a favorite site for the legendary, day-long hide-and-seek tournaments organized by the Pleasure grandchildren.
The fabled follies of Pleasure Island and its founding family are recorded on the histerical plaques at each island entrance.
This building became a storage facility when Pleasure Island was electrified in 1928. Six years later, the power station became home to the Pleasure Island Thespian Players, founded by and featuring Isabella Pleasure, wife of island founder and drama enthusiast Merriweather Pleasure. The players specialized in elaborate Central Florida Historical Pageants, including the seminal "Song of the Seminole." After Mrs. Pleasure's death in 1949, the building was closed and the players disbanded. Since its restoration by the Walt Disney Company, this site is again a warehouse, storing strange notions, again attractions and ideas slightly ahead of their time.
Constructed to house the vast array of exotic desert plants collected by island founder, a globe-trotter and amateur cactogogist Merriweather Pleasure. Pleasure regarded the Greenhouse as his personal Eden. He nurtured his “prickly pals,” as he called them, with fanatical devotion. After Pleasure’s disappearance in 1941, his Greenhouse was sealed off. When it was reopened in 1989, scientists discovered a huge and happy family or armadillos. The inhabitants were immortalized in neon by the Island renovators.
This imposing building was designed to house the huge personal library and archeological trophy collection of island founder and compulsive explorer Merriweather Adam Pleasure. Pleasure won the plans in a game of dominoes and attributed them throughout his life to noted architects Sir Edwin Luytens, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and Eliel Saarinen. The building became the headquarters for the Adventurers Club, Pleasure’s zany band of globe-trotting friends. Exotic souvenirs of the members’ outlandish expeditions and riotous adventures were displayed on the walls. After Pleasure vanished at sea in 1941, the Club was sealed until it was opened to the public for the first time in 1989.
WEST END PLAZA
Island founder and stargazer Merriweather Adam Pleasure was convinced during the sole flight of his “X-Thing” aircraft that he could make contact with alien beings. Working feverishly, Pleasure completed the world’s first and only Alien Landing Platform on July 4, 1941. His wife Isabella immediately laid claim to it for her beloved Pleasure Island Philharmonic Concert Band. Much to Merriweather’s disgust (“How can ‘they’ land when that blasted band is playing?’”) this became home base for the P.I.P.C.B.
THE PLEASURE ISLAND AMC 10 THEATERS
Pleasure Canvas Works
Fabrication Plant No. 12
Originally constructed to house Island founder Merriweather Pleasure’s burgeoning canvas fabrication business. Hoping to discover and patent a cheap, clean, abundant, renewable source of power, Pleasure had the building refitted in 1938 as a laboratory for testing “thermomagnetics”—a process designed to harness the earth’s magnetic force. The success of the experiment was proven in 1940 when the facility blew sky high with no visible, provable use of combustibles. Pleasure commanded that the ruined super structure and outbuildings remain as testimony to “the awesome power of the planet”. Rebuilt jointly by American Multi-Cinemas, Inc. and the Walt Disney Company. Opened in 1988.
LOOKOUT POINT, PLEASURE ISLAND
Son of Island founder Merriweather Pleasure, “Paranoid Henry” Pleasure camped up here every single night from December 8, 1941, to V-J Day. He was convinced that the Axis powers were plotting an assault on America by coming ashore at Pleasure Island, which was then—and remains—80 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. In his nearly four years of vigilance, Henry fired his musket only once. He mistook a family of herons for the leading edge of an invasion force. The herons escaped unharmed.