Constuction of Disneyland and Walt Disney World
until the 1940s, the American amusment park was limited to merry-go-rounds, ferris
wheels and carnival games. All that changed when Walt Disney envisioned a new
amusement park called a Theme Park. Disney's innovations re-entergized amusement
parks in this county and creating an entirely new approach to the real estate
development and commercial construction of theme parks and the areas surrounding
Disneyland - A New Kind of Amusement Park
life, Walt Disney told inquirers that he first had the idea for a new kind of
amusement park when he took his young daughters out for the weekend and found
existing kids' parks and fairs were often dirty, sleazy, money-grubbing
In spite of the fact he had never developed real estate or
managed a large-scale construction project, Disney nourished his notions of a
new kind of amusement park throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s. His idea
for displaying Disney characters in a fantasy setting was a bold departure from
present-day amusement parks and carnivals that offered rides, games, and inexpensive
food. Instead Disneyland was conceived as an extension of the Disney brand, and
would be the first "theme park" built in the United States.
people at Disney Studios, even his brother Roy, were less than enthusiastic about
Walt's plan. Walt, confident of his own vision, sidestepped the studio and began
to gather funds by borrowing on his life insurance and selling vacation property
in southern California. He assembled a staff of designers, planners and artists
and formed WED Enterprises - the letters were his initials - as a personal corporation
to house them. The WED group began a long process of creative brainstorming. Its
members conceptualized, designed and reworked Walt's broad ideas. They visited
other amusement attractions around the country to gather data and impressions
and flesh out development plans, and with the help of commercial contractors created
a rough construction timetable.
By 1953 major large hurdles - obtaining
financing and securing a location - still blocked the launching of the park's
construction. In July of that year, Walt recognized his need to obtain guidance
from commercial real estate development experts and solicited a pair of marketing
studies from the Stanford Research Institute: one would examine the economic prospects
of developing Disneyland, and the other would seek the ideal location for construction
companies to build the park.
After determining the facility could be profitable,
the Stanford group closely examined a host of factors - demographic statistics,
urban growth trends, population concentrations, traffic patterns, freeway construction,
availability of experienced commercial contractors, weather conditions - before
recommending a site in Anaheim, a rapidly growing town just southeast of Los Angeles.
had struggled to find additional financing; as he later recalled, he was told
by bankers that "the outdoor amusement business was a cultural anachronism
that had already declined into senility." A few months later, the financial
breakthrough came with a long-term agreement with ABC which brought the television
network in as a major investor. (ABC agreed to carry Disney television programming,
marking Mickey Mouse's first network appearance and the start of a tremendously
profitable partnership for both companies. ABC also agreed to help publicize Disneyland
in return for an ownership stake in the property.)
Construction of Disneyland
With financing in place and a location secured, the construction
companies began in the summer of 1953. Commercial contractors and construction
companies fell under the overall leadership of Joe Fowler, an engineer and retired
navy admiral who became construction supervisor, and later park manager for ten
Disneyland was designed in a wheel-shaped configuration. The idea
was to provide a fun entrance area with a long walkway where visitors would wander
through, led by a grand visual attraction, to the park's center. From there, visitors
could branch off to the rest of the park on paths that radiated outward like spokes
on a wheel.
This became the design for Disneyland. Visitors entered the
park through Mainstreet U.S.A. and made their way to the center hub of the wheel,
where they found the park's majestic centerpiece, Sleeping Beauty's Castle and
Fantasyland. Winding "spokes" led from the castle through the rest of
the park, guiding visitors to other different themed "lands", including
Adventureland, Frontierland and Tomorrowland. This wheel design layout with an
iconic centerpiece has become the standard approach for designing theme parks
and has been adopted by the majority of theme parks constructed since that time.
Construction for Disneyland began on July 21, 1954, just 12 months before
the park was scheduled to open. Construction companies worked frantically to meet
the tight schedule and completed the project on time. Disneyland was formally
opened a year later, on July 18, 1955, to glowing reviews. Unlike other amusement
parks of the day, Disneyland was developed and constructed to be instantly recognizable
as an extension of the Disney brand and the Disney philosophy. The rides used
an array of Disney motifs, costumed Disney characters roamed the park, and Sleeping
Beauty Castle, the looming attraction at the heart of the park, was instantly
recognizable to millions of people since it was seen every Sunday night on ABC
television. Disneyland became, in a sense, the capstone of Walt Disney's career.
capstone of his career also quickly became the cornerstone of an empire. In its
first six months, one million people visited the Disneyland; in its first full
year, three million people passed through its gates. The park quickly generated
capital to finance a vast expansion, and in subsequent years, each time the park
expanded its capacity, revenues increased more than proportionately to the added
capital. In spite of his lack of real estate development experience, Disney had
created park plans that allowed for expansion and resulting construction that
would not interfere with ongoing park operations.
Lessons Learned and
Incorporated into the Planning and Construction of Disney World
that Walt Disney learned from the development of Disneyland was the need for space
- lots of it. He saw that his parks would become a destination for vacationers,
and he wanted the control over the surrounding area for restaurants and hotels
that would further the Disney brand. Unfortunately, Disney did not own the the
land around Disneyland, and his park soon became surrounded by low-end motels
and other business that detracted from the fantasy-like image he wanted to present.
Disney also had more visions for his theme park to appeal to visitors of all ages
and to incorporate a wider variety of subjects than just his cartoon characters.
He quickly recognized that the 160 acres for Disneyland would not be nearly enough
to meet his vision.
In 1963, Disney set out to find a site for a new Disney
theme park that would give him the room he needed to create multiple theme parks,
hotels, restaurants and more. His team (called Imagineers) scoured the country
to find the right place to host a theme park on a much grander scale than Disneyland.
His Imagineers chose the undeveloped lands around Orlando as the location for
his new park.
Disney knew the importance of getting as much land as possible
and was well aware of how prices would escalate if people found out what he was
doing. He formed fictitious corporations with names like Tomahawk Properties,
Latin American Development and Retlaw Enterprises (Retlaw is Walter spelled backwards)
to acquire the land discreetly. By the time Disney announced the project on November
15, 1965, the company had acquired 27,443 acres (43 square miles) for $5 million.
(This has expanded over the years to more than 30,000 acres, or almost 47 square
miles). As Disney predicted, within days of this announcement land values for
property surrounding the Disney site sky-rocketed from $180 per acre to as much
as $80,000 per acre.
Construction Companies Break Ground on a New Kingdom
Walt Disney passed away on December 15, 1966, before construction companies could
begin building his Disney World. Roy Disney stepped into Walt's place and led
the construction of the first theme park in Disney World, the Magic Kingdom, as
well as on two hotels and a campground. Construction began in April, 1969.
that central Florida is primarily a wetlands region, construction companies faced
a variety of challenges with relocating water while not affecting the local environment.
Construction crews built more than 50 miles of levees and canals around the property
to maintain levels and quality of the local fresh water while draining areas where
construction would take place. This control system, which functions automatically
based on water levels and without electricity, helps to minimize flooding without
removing water from the area. Even bodies of water that would remain on the site
needed to be cleaned and made safer for recreational use. Bay Lake was drained
of its water and cleaned of muck. Construction workers removed more than seven
million cubic yards of dirt from an adjacent area to create a man-made lagoon,
named Seven Seas Lagoon. Sand from beneath the removed muck was used to create
beaches around the lagoon. Once Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon had been filled
with water, the surrounding areas served as the setting for one of the hotels,
the Polynesian Village Resort.
The dirt removed for the creation of the
lagoon became the earthen foundation for the Magic Kingdom theme park. Visitors
to the Magic Kingdom rarely realize that they are actually on the second floor
of the park. The construction company in charge of this phase of the project created
a nine-acre ground-level floor which is comprised of corridors and massive rooms.
These corridors are called "utilidors" as they provide housing and access
to the park's utility systems and the incredible network center that controls
virtually every automated aspect of the park, right down to the gift shops' cash
registers. The visible part of the Magic Kingdom is built on top of that ground
floor, hiding it from view. Cinderella's Castle at the center of the Magic Kingdom
is further elevated by several more feet to make it visible from miles around.
The Magic Kingdom was designed in the same wheel-shaped configuration first
employed at Disneyland; at the center hub of the wheel stood Cinderella's Castle.
Winding "spokes" meandered from the castle through the rest of the park,
leading visitors to six different themed "lands", including: Main Street,
USA; Adventureland; Frontierland; Liberty Square; Fantasyland; and Tomorrowland.
Cinderella's Castle is a masterpiece of design and construction. Standing
189 feet tall, the Castle is made of fiberglass veneer crafted around a 600-ton
steel framework. It features ten spires; portions of the castle are finished to
look like solid granite and other parts look like brick. The facade bricks nearer
the top of the Castle are actually smaller than the ones closer to the ground.
This technique of designing higher features to be disproportionately small makes
the Castle look taller than it actually is; several buildings throughout the Magic
Kingdom were constructed with smaller windows, balconies and doors on their second
and third floors to employ this same design technique. Many believe the Castle
was designed to be disassembled in the event of a hurricane. While this is not
the case, Cinderella's Castle was built to withstand hurricane force winds. One
of the Castle's towers includes an unfinished apartment. This apartment was to
be used by Walt Disney and his family when they visited the park. Because Disney
died before the building was constructed, the room was never used for this purpose.
It has been left largely unused, although for some time it served as home for
a Disney call center.
the time the Magic Kingdom opened on October 1, 1971, more than 9,000 construction
workers had labored for 18 months to build the park, which cost approximately
$400 million to create.
Building the City of the Future
Disney's Imagineers entered a new phase of Disney World's development with the
planning of two new concepts that Walt Disney had envisioned more than a decade
before. The first was a World Showcase, capturing the cultures of different countries
around the world. The second was an amazing and daring vision of what the city
of the future would be. Initially, Imagineers planned these two attractions as
separate parks, or as attractions within Magic Kingdom. They finally chose to
put the two concepts together into a single new theme park called EPCOT, short
for Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow.
In 1979 Disney's Imagineers
began construction on EPCOT. EPCOT's skyline was to be dominated by one of the
most creative buildings ever constructed, known as Spaceship Earth. Science fiction
writer Ray Bradbury assisted on the design of Spaceship Earth and Disney served
as its design firm with its WED Enterprises Group. One of the most recognizable
buildings in America, Spaceship Earth was the world's first geodesic sphere building.
The building, standing 18 feet above the ground on massive steel pylons, is 180
feet tall and weighs more than 15 million pounds. So massive is the building that
construction crews drove its pylon legs 120 - 180 feet into the ground to provide
sufficient stability. The sphere's external surface is covered by an intricate
faceting of 11,324 alucobond triangles. The building surface is covered with gutters
between the triangle facets; rainwater is captured in these gutters and channeled
to a nearby lagoon to eliminate run-off from the building and conserve water resources.
Inside, a steel skeleton forms the building's shape, an interior sphere skin provides
the interior "walls" for the ride and attractions. A second sphere,
the exterior skin, is mounted to the skeleton two feet away from the interior
skin with smaller framework pieces.
EPCOT proved to be a much more challenging
project than Magic Kingdom. With advancements in technology, designers and builders
were able to incorporate five times more special effects into EPCOT than were
built into Magic Kingdom. More than 10,000 construction workers labored for 26
months to create the 300-acre, $1.4 billion park in time for the grand opening
on October 1, 1982; at the time, EPCOT was the largest commercial construction
project on earth.
Construction Continues Through the 1980s and 1990s
EPCOT opened its gates in 1982, Disney World has continued to expand with new
construction of theme parks, hotels, shopping areas and more.
construction was completed on Disney-MGM Studios, a combination theme park / working
movie studio. Using the template established with the Magic Kingdom, Disney-MGM
Studios was designed with the wheel layout. Initially, a replica of Hollywood's
Chinese Theater was the icon at the park's center hub. Construction crews worked
from the original Mann's Chinese Theater plans and recreated the lobby precisely,
then included stars on a walk of fame around the building for added effect. In
2001 Disney added a 122-foot tall Mickey's Sorcerer's Hat as the new centerpiece
for the park. Constructed of fiberglass with a concrete foundation, the 156-ton
hat was designed after the cap worn by Mickey Mouse in the movie Fantasia. Winding
paths lead from the park's center hub to five themed areas, including: Hollywood
Boulevard, Echo Lake, Streets of America, Mickey Avenue, Animation Courtyard and
Sunset Boulevard. To capture the Golden Hollywood theme for the park, construction
crews built painstaking replicas of California real estate icons like Sunset Boulevard
and Hollywood Hills Amphitheater, as well as more mundane tinseltown scenes like
a 50's diner, old fashioned theaters and other symbols of the community. Old time
movie studios typically had a water tower and Disney continued this tradition
with a 130 tower in the backlot area, complete with 5,000 pound Mickey ears that
were lifted in place with a crane during construction.
Throughout the 1980s
and 1990s, Disney continued to add more hotels and resorts to the property - no
less than 23 different resorts now offer lodging on Disney property that ranges
from the most luxurious suites to camping sites.
The expansion of new attractions
continued with the debut of Disney World's first water park, Typhoon Lagoon, in
1989. Also that year, an entertainment complex called Pleasure Island debuted.
Pleasure Island ultimately became a major section of Downtown Disney, a 120-acre
shopping, entertainment and restaurant area outside of the theme parks. In 1992
the Bonnett Creek Golf Courses opened, featuring two courses: Eagle Pines and
Osprey Ridge. A second water park, Blizzard Beach, was completed in 1995. In 1996
construction was complete on the Disney World Speedway 200 race track.
1995 Disney broke ground on the fourth of its theme parks at Disney World, Animal
Kingdom. This theme park, the largest of all the Disney parks, is dedicated to
the conservation of our planet's wildlife. True to form, Animal Kingdom is designed
in the wheel configuration. The center of the park, Discovery Island, features
the massive Tree of Life as its icon. The Tree of Life stands fourteen stories
tall and is built around a refitted oil platform. Paths leave Discovery Island
and lead visitors to the other themed areas of the park, which include Oasis,
Camp Minnie-Mickey, Africa, Rafiki's Planet Watch, Asia and DinoLand USA.
crews worked on the Animal Kingdom for three years, opening the 500-acre, $800
million park on April 22, 1998.
A Simple Experience Leads to a New Paradigm
in the Construction of Amusement Parks
From Walt Disney's unpleasant experience
as a father taking his daughters to an amusement park has emerged the multi-billion
dollar industry of modern theme parks. Disney's theme parks now dominate tourism
on both coasts, as well as in Paris and in Tokyo. Disney's diversification from
cartoons and movies into vacation environments now includes a Disney cruise line
as well. In fact, Disneyland and Disney World signaled a major shift in amusement
and theme park development and construction. Almost every major amusement park
in the U.S. today is a descendant of and aspires to the Disney model: a focus
on convenience, a superior guest experience, development planning allowing easy
and seamless expansion, innovative construction techniques and most importantly
a "theme" that gives a park a sense of identity and uniqueness. While
Walt Disney is best remembered for creating ageless cartoon characters like Mickey
Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck, his impact on commercial real estate development
and the construction of major entertainment venues is just as historically significant
for the entertainment AND the construction industries.