In mid-January, 1970, the
Walt Disney World Preview Center became the first building on WDW property
to be opened to the public. Near the intersection of Interstate 4 and
State Road 535, the thoroughly modern glass, concrete and steel structure
was situated on the southern shoreline of Lake Buena Vista along the
then-quiet Preview Boulevard. This roadway would later become Hotel Plaza
Boulevard, a main artery serving traffic to the WDW Village and a
gathering of hotels.
Inside the building, a small army of "lovely young
hostesses" treated guests to a glimpse of what they could expect to see in
the fall of 1971, when the $300 million Phase One of the "Vacation Kingdom
of the World" debuted. The Preview Center was open daily from 9am to 5pm,
and offered visitors a leisurely tour of artists' renderings, an aerial
view of Phase One in the form of a huge model and a motion-picture
presentation that forecast what the first five years of the project would
entail. Visitors could also make reservations for a stay at one of WDW's
first two hotels, the Contemporary and the Polynesian Village, or purchase
souvenirs at WDW's first gift counter.
Fourteen women were selected as the original
representatives of Walt Disney World. They came from a pool of 400
applicants who were evaluated by two Disneyland hostesses, Valerie Watson
and Holly Hoelscher, and chosen largely on the basis of appearance. "We
looked for that fresh, natural appearance that our organization tries to
reflect," Watson told Orlando-Land editor Edward L. Prizer in 1970.
The Preview Center
officially opened on January 16, but spent the week prior hosting state
and local government and business figures by invitation only. When it
opened to the public, it hosted 12,000 visitors in three days - twice as
many as Disney had expected. Every fifteen minutes, visitors were escorted
into a theater to see the film and 625-square foot model, portions of
which would be lit from overhead in synchronization with the film's
1971's Project Florida, a 21-minute film that aired as
part of The Wonderful World of Disney TV
program, featured the Preview Center along with footage of construction
progress and attractions in development. A portion of that video is
The Walt Disney World Preview Center was also the
subject of articles in numerous magazines, newspapers and Disney
publications. Below is a reprint of how Disney positioned it for their own
employees in the April 1971 edition of Walt Disney World News, a
pre-opening large-format newsletter that tracked the resort's
DISNEY WORLD - TOP TOURIST ATTRACTION EVEN BEFORE IT OPENS!
Walt Disney World's "Vacation Kingdon" won't open
until October, but it is already a major tourist attraction ... and has
been since early last year.
More than 800,000 visitors have toured Walt Disney
World's Preview Center since it opened in mid-January of 1970, getting a
sneak preview of central Florida's "Vacation Kingdom" for the world.
At the same time, guests are being treated to Disney hospitality by the
staff of lovely and charming Preview Center hostesses, a brand of friendly
hospitality that has become synonymous with California's Disneyland and
will likewise permeate the Florida "Vacation Kingdom" when it opens in
Preview Center is open without charge every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It
is located on the shore of Lake Buena Vista at the intersection of
Interstate-4 and State Route 535, 15 miles southwest of Orlando.
Guests can view construction
progress photographs, see scale models, artist renderings and a colorful
motion picture outlining the first five years of the mammoth
project. The Preview Center also features beautifully landscaped
grounds, picturesque Lake Buena Vista and a Topiary Zoo featuring
sculptured animal-shaped shrubs being grown for the "Magic Kingdom" theme
Press information and
convention service facilities, a souvenir gift shop, refreshments and
executive reception areas also are included in the Preview Center.
More than 600 letters are being received each day inquiring about
accommodations and reservations and requesting information about Walt
Disney World's "Vacation Kingdom."
Reservations for hotel rooms and camping facilities
are being processed and should be directed to '"Reservations Office, P.O.
Box 78, Orlando, Florida, 32802.
the rest of Walt Disney World opened to the public in October 1971, the
Preview Center was closed. Most of the hostesses moved on to new jobs at
other parts of WDW. One of them, Debbie Dane, had by that time already
been chosen as Walt Disney World's first ambassador.
While the Preview Center building still exists
and looks little changed from the outside, all of its wonderful interior
elements have completely given way to the annoying forward march of
time. Since 1971, it has been used for a large number of other purposes, for
many years it was known as the Reception Center where guests staying at
the Preview Boulevard hotels were directed to check in. It once housed
a post office and most recently served as headquarters for the Amateur Athletic
Union. So you can't walk in and see a diorama of WDW's original souvenir
counter. But in a way it's nice that you can still drive into the
same parking lot that met the very first WDW visitors and, suspending disbelief, imagine
that this building is all that exists - the first little breath
in a big balloon that would soon burst into pop
culture and theme park history.
Bibliography: WDW Publicity Dept. Press
Releases, Osceola Sentinel
January 16, 1970, Orlando-Land magazine
February 1970, Walt Disney World - The First
All images copyright
The Walt Disney Company. Text copyright 2015 Mike
First version of
WDW Preview Center page posted to WYW March 1999 Updated
June 2002 (additional images),
July 20, 2009 (additional text & images, video imbed), February
25, 2011 (additional images), August 17, 2012 (additional text
and images), June 8, 2014 (page rebuild) abd April 19, 2015 (additional