A glimpse into the future. Utopian society. Technology and innovation highlighted. Multiple national pavilions, with individual countries replicating their own architecture and environment. Nation branding. Sound familiar? Perhaps unexpectedly, these are the objectives and buzz words used in the promotions for the 1964- 1965 World’s Fair. At the time of its opening, Walt Disney had been collaborating with major American corporate giants for 5 or 6 years. As early as 1958, Walt had identified the value of building potential partnerships with these technological standard bearers, and a plan for development of a new section of Disneyland was in the works with General Electric. “Edison Square” was to be a residential extension of Main Street., but was shelved when GE requested that this concept be used at the World’s Fair instead. In all, WED Enterprises was hired to build and “imagine” four attractions for four major corporations in the New York fair: Ford Motor Company, Pepsi-Cola, the State of Illinois and General Electric. Yes, major lessons were learned in the emerging art of Audio-Animatronics with their respective attractions: Ford’s Magic Skyway, “it’s a small world”, “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” and The Carousel Theater of Progress. Interestingly, as fair-goers exited what we now know as Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, they were treated to Walt’s 160 foot “Progress City” model. (The same model that Walt Disney World Guests can now experience while riding the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover.) The vision and planning for EPCOT had clearly begun in full force long before this exhibit opened. The man who had completely transformed entertainment as we know it by observing his daughters riding the carousel in Griffith Park, and thinking families could and should be enjoying and playing together, the man who had created Disneyland, was at it again. Living in Southern California, a spot famous for its lack of public transportation and traffic nightmares, Walt had real concern for the preservation of the American neighborhood. The urban planning skills he had learned during the construction of Disneyland, matched with the alliances he had formed with US enterprises had him thinking and dreaming BIG. After his tremendous success at the World’s Fair in New York, (WED Enterprises had developed four of the five most popular attractions), the master visionary turned his sites towards the very way of life for Americans. Between Walt’s personal achievements, and the climate in the 1960’s, (the Space Race and the Civil Rights Movement were in full bloom) it seemed anything was possible. His solution for the problems of American cities was to be tested in the living lab that was to be EPCOT. Through controlled planning and design and partnership with technological powerhouses, it was to be a Utopian community. Folks would live and work in a setting that was dedicated to enhancing and improving their lives; climate controlled, domed areas for living; the pedestrian would be king, with all mass transit- monorails and peoplemovers- overhead; shopping areas with goods from around the world; a new theme park. It would be a true Progress City and one constantly evolving. A living model for American urban living.
|The photo of Walter Elias Disney that hangs outside Steakhouse 55.
It is hard to imagine an American figure in recent history who was more of a visionary. It is painful to accept that Walt passed way too soon. It is easy to acknowledge that there was nothing this man couldn’t do. The theme of the 1964- 1965 New York World’s Fair was “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe”, and this theme was symbolized by the twelve story high Unisphere. When I pass Spaceship Earth on October 1st of this year, I’ll dream that Walt’s “next frontier” would have been the stars. And that’s where he is now, fat pencil and pad in hand, planning.