The First Walt Disney World History & Lost Attractions Site
Obsessive and Horribly Incomplete Since 1996

As of 2017, WYW is being rebuilt to become the world's longest (like, really long) single-page website

  Widen Your World is active primarily on YouTube and Facebook (now as Omniluxe)

 You can access most of the original WYW subpages via these three links:

     

 
 

Below you can find information on topics, mostly focused on a 1965 - 1995 date range, arranged in the following order:

* WDW Planning & Construction
* WDW Transporation
* The Magic Kingdom
* WDW Resort Hotels
* Lake Buena Vista
* EPCOT Center
* Miscellaneous WDW
* WED Enterprises

THE SUPER EARLY STUFF: 1958-1966

In 1958, once it was clear that Anaheim California's Disneyland (which opened in 1955) was a financial success, Walt Disney hired Harrison "Buzz" Price's Economic Research Associates to begin evaluating locations for another Disney project in the eastern United States.  Disney put substantial time and effort into a mid-1960s plan for a park in St. Louis called Riverfront Square, but before and during that time he was looking at Florida as a likely location for his next venture.  He commissioned two additional reports in 1959 and another in 1961, the result of which was that Ocala would be the ideal site, with Orlando coming in second.  After yet another report in 1963 elevated Orlando to the top of the locations, and immediately following a meeting in St. Louis where Walt was verbally insulted by the head of Anheuser-Busch over Disney's refusal to consider the sale of alcohol at Riverfront Square, Walt flew over Central Florida that November and set the wheels in motion for what would becomes Walt Disney World.

By mid-1964, the exact location and plots of land that Disney would purchase (using fake company names and operatives with CIA backgrounds, chief among them Paul Helliwell) had been decided upon, with the center of the site being about 15 miles southwest of Orlando.   Three major parcels for the site were tied down by August and a year later there were less than 300 acres left to secure out of the final count of 27,443.  Orlando had been a quiet citrus and cattle town for most of its history, with some tourism activity related to its location through which people headed south toward Miami, southwest toward Cypress Gardens, northwest toward Silver Springs or, at its own doorstep, Gatorland.  But now it was ablaze with rumors regarding who was purchasing all that property.  The names and theories thrown out for consideration ranged from the Hercules Powder Company, Ford Motor Company and Boeing.  Why so much land, and why the secrecy?  The guessing game was intense and often zany, with Orlando Sentinel columnist Charlie Wadsworth hot on the trail of any lead or source that might reveal the identity of his "mystery industry."  Disney did make the list of potential buyers in the mix, but was not a prime suspect.  Not, at least, until Emily Bavar got involved.

On October 17th, 1965, Bavar, an Orlando Sentinel reporter, printed her firm belief that Walt Disney Productions had purchased the land.  She and other reporters from across the country had been invited to visit Disneyland on the occasion of that park's tenth anniversary. During a Q&A session with Walt, she asked if he was behind the Florida land purchases.  She said he was shocked by the question and that his answer belied a detailed knowledge of the region's details such as annual rainfall and tourist visitation even as he told her Central Florida was not the kind of place he'd want to locate an attraction.  Bavar, referring back to Walt's response years later, said "he wasn't a very good liar."  Although few took her story seriously at first glance, within a couple days her editors decided to make her educated guess a front page headline.  On October 24th, Florida Governor Haydon Burns confirmed in a public announcement that he'd received official word from Walt Disney: his company was in fact the owner of 43 square miles of land near Orlando.

Walt Disney might have chosen Central Florida not entirely as the result of research, but also out of a bit of sentimentality.  His parents, Flora and Elias, had been married in Kismet, Florida in 1888.  Kismet no longer exists but was located in north Lake County, in the Paisley area.  Although their parents moved to Chicago before Walt and his brother Roy were born (respectively in 1901 and 1893), the two visited relatives just north of Orlando periodically... decades before Disneyland itself was even built.

As far as history has recorded, however, the first and only time that Walt Disney actually set foot in the city of Orlando was November 16, 1965, when he, Roy and Burns held a press conference in the Egyptian Room of the Cherry Plaza Hotel on the shores of Lake Eola.  While it seems from the standpoint of revelations that Walt and Roy hadn't expected to be attending this type of event at such an early date in the project's lifespan, Walt did make mention of plans to equal or top the amount of investment that he had made in California.  But he also stressed that he had too many possible ideas for what might materialize in Florida for him to list off and that it was all preliminary.  Between Governor Burns and the reporters, you can see in videos of the event that everyone just wanted to hear Walt say he was going to build another Disneyland (something they could wrap their heads around in terms of scope, size and concept), but Walt didn't cave to the pressure.  No concept art was presented at the time and the best verbal indicator for what the thousands of interested parties could hope to see Walt Disney Productions develop in Florida was a unique, family attraction that might include a model community.

Orlando Sentinel reporter Emily Bavar and Walt Disney in 1965   The Orlando Sentinel made Emily Bavar's Disney theory headline news on October 21, 1965   Walt Disney, Florida Governor Haydon Burns and Roy Disney at the first Disney World press conference on November 16, 1965   November 1965 letter from Cocoa Beach doctor L.R. Wells to Florida Governor Haydon Burns, proposing weird stuff ostensibly linked to Disney coming to Florida

Try to imagine being the governor of Florida when all of this was happening and, immediately afterward, when the announcement has passed and Walt has returned to California to begin the long process of assigning form to what he will build in Florida, when all the heated speculation as to the owner of the land has concluded and when your entire state is recovering from the biggest announcement to be made there since the advent of television.  And now, crickets?  Time for peaceful reflection?  Nope, because now you're going to be deluged with all sorts of inquiries about every single possible aspect of Disney coming to Florida from every conceivable governmental or business interest from all corners of the state, wanting connections, influence, assurances or special insights when you are in fact in possession of not much more information on Walt Disney's plans than the average reporter was during that press conference. Inquiries ranging from the mundane to the borderline insane.  Anyway, among the images here you'll find some correspondence that speaks to exactly what Governor Burns was contending with during that time period.

Meanwhile, Walt Disney, fresh off A) giving the world a vague introduction to the biggest and most expensive project his company has ever planned to tackle and B) the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair (for which he had produced four original shows) coming to a close, has a lot on his mind regarding the next five years.  And it has a lot more to do with the future of urban civilization than with a man cub.

WALT'S LAST YEAR AND MASTER PLANNING: 1966-1969

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EPCOT: THE CITY

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Bibliography

Florida's Disney Decade TV Special produced by Orlando NBC affiliate WESH-TV, 1981

 

 

Widen Your World is not affiliated with The Walt Disney Company.  Images of Disney parks & characters are copyrighted by The Walt Disney Company

Rest of site (non-attributed text) copyright 2017 by Mike Lee