Building Walt Disney World | The B1M


Once upon a time, there was a man with a vision.
That man was Walt Disney and his vision was for a theme park like no other. A whole new world of unique attractions, hotels
and even a planned community that would set new benchmarks in innovation and city planning. Though he never saw his vision completed,
Disney is now immortalised in one of the world’s largest and most visited attractions. This is the incredible construction story behind
the Walt Disney World Resort. In 1959, following the success of their first theme park – which opened in California in 1955 – Walt Disney Productions began planning
the development of a second resort in the United States. With 75% of the US population at that time
living east of the Mississippi River, a location on the east coast was explored. The new project was personally conceived and
led by Walt Disney. He disliked the numerous businesses that had sprung up around his California
park and the lack of control that he had over developments in close proximity to the resort.
With the second destination, he set out to control a much larger area of land. Walt Disney flew over a potential site near
Bay Lake in Orlando, Florida (one of many locations he was reviewing) in November 1963. The site was attractive for its proximity
to Orlando International Airport (then McCoy Air Force Base) and the well-developed
road network which was set to be strengthened further with the construction of Florida’s
Turnpike and Interstate 4. To avoid unwanted attention and press speculation
the early development of Disney’s second park took place in complete secrecy – with
even the notion that a second park was being considered being kept under wraps. With the Orlando site selected, Walt Disney
Productions began quietly acquiring the land for their second resort. In the early 1960s, many owners were only
too happy to let go of the land, which was mostly swamp at the time. The land acquisitions took place as distinctly
separate transactions through a number of proxy companies. Some of these company names
– such as the “Reedy Creek Ranch Corporation” – are now cast into a window above Main Street
USA in the Magic Kingdom Park. The agents brokering these deals were unaware
who their ultimate client was, and in some instances areas of swamp land were acquired
for as little as USD $100 an acre. Knowing that recording of the first deeds
would ignite intense public scrutiny, Disney delayed the filing of paperwork until a large
enough portion of land was under contract and the proxy companies could be amalgamated
under the Disney brand. Despite being undertaken by proxy companies,
as the land acquisitions became public in quick succession to each other, rumours began
circulating as to what such a large area could be used for. Newspapers at the time speculated
that Henry Ford, the Rockefellers or even NASA were behind the purchases. Walt Disney Productions gently stoked these
rumours through intermediaries and even announced a $50M investment in their California park,
to throw people off the scent. In October 1965, Walt Disney was asked about
the land purchases directly in a interview with the Orlando Sentinel. Whilst Disney denied
the claim, his momentary look of shock when the question was first put to him led to the
Sentinel publishing a theory that Disney were planning a major new park in Florida. With the story breaking, Walt Disney and then-Florida
Governor Haydon Burns formally announced what was then described as “The Florida Project”
in November 1965. Unfortunately, just over a year after announcing
the development, Walt Disney passed away from lung cancer. Roy Disney, Walt’s brother and business
partner, delayed his retirement in order to oversee the first phase of his brother’s
vision. In order for the resort to grow and succeed, legislation was passed which made the land owned by Disney a special district
containing two incorporated cities, Bay Lake and Reedy Creek – known today as Lake Buena
Vista. This status gave Disney a degree of immunity from County and State land use laws. It also allowed for the issuing of tax-free bonds to fund public
projects within the district. In 1967, the district began construction of
drainage canals to dewater the vast site, along with roadways and supporting infrastructure
for the Magic Kingdom. By 1971, that theme park, together with the
first section of the resort’s monorail, numerous golf courses and hotels were completed
– including the Contemporary Resort, Polynesian Village and the Fort Wilderness campsite. When the resort opened to the public on 01
October 1971, Roy Disney dedicated it to his brother, announcing that it would be officially
be known as “Walt Disney World” – ensure that the man who started it all would be remembered. Sadly, Roy Disney himself passed away just
three months after the park opened. While the first phase of the park opened to
much fanfare, Disney were determined to continually grow the resort and never allow it to become
dated; maintaining a continuous pipeline of new attractions. In its first decade, Walt Disney World added
further golf courses and hotels in the Magic Kingdom vicinity as well as the Village Marketplace
Shopping District (now Disney Springs) and the Walt Disney World Conference Centre. From inception, Walt Disney had wanted to
develop an ambitious Progress City within the resort district that would act as a blueprint
for cities of the future. This concept was abandoned by the board after
Disney’s death but later evolved into a version of Walt’s idea known as the “Experimental
Prototype Community of Tomorrow” or ‘EPCOT”. EPCOT officially opened in 1982, becoming
the second theme park at Walt Disney World. Famed for its World’s Fair-inspired Future
World exhibits and the internationally themed World Showcase, the park is centred around
a 55 metre (180 foot) high geodesic dome, known as Spaceship Earth. The completion of EPCOT also saw the monorail
system extended and today the system runs for over 14 miles around the resort carrying
150,000 people everyday. In 1989, a Hollywood inspired park, known
as “Disney’s Hollywood Studios” was added. Operating as both a theme park and an active
production studio – the facility contributed to a number of Disney’s productions in the
1990s and early 2000s including Mulan and Lilo and Stitch. More recently the park has become home to
the resort’s latest attraction – “Toy Story Land” – which opened in 2018. Typhoon Lagoon also opened in 1989 marking
the resort’s first step into water parks – and was followed by Blizzard Beach in 1995. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the latest theme
park to open at the resort, dedicated to the natural world and conservation. The attraction
was opened in 1998 and has since continued to grow with “Pandora – The World of Avatar”
added in 2017. Today, Walt Disney World extends over a 43
square mile, 110 square kilometre area. It features 30 themed hotels and has over 74,000
staff making it one of the largest employers in the United States. With more than 50 million visitors annually
since 2013, the resort’s growth shows no signs of slowing down and even more attractions
are currently under development. Disney’s acquisition of Marvel in 2009 and
LucasFilm in 2012 has given rise to “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” currently under construction
and due to open in Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2019 and a “Guardians of the Galaxy”
attraction due to open at EPCOT by 2021. The Fox-Disney merger currently in the pipeline,
is also likely to generate new resorts in the years ahead. Over the past 60 years, this remarkable project
has seen an area of swamp land become one of the world’s most visited destinations,
a powerful tribute to its founder Walt Disney and symbol of what can be possible if you
keep on believing. If you enjoyed this video and would like to
get more from the definitive video channel for construction, subscribe to The B1M.

David Anderson

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