The Dis­ney That Never Was



Af­ter Dis­ney­land opened, Walt quickly re­al­ized he needed to give peo­ple a rea­son to come back, again an again. Changes and ad­di­tions to the park could cer­tainly help – but what’s bet­ter than a new at­trac­tion? A whole new park! And if that park came with a new built-in au­di­ence, all the bet­ter.

It just so hap­pened that at this point in time, there was a unique con­flu­ence of so­cio-eco­nomic hap­pen­ings in the USA.

Long-term mort­gages of 20-30 years were be­com­ing avail­able (pre­vi­ously th­ese loans were much shorter, around 5 years) which al­lowed peo­ple to buy second homes for va­ca­tion pur­poses. The econ­omy was boom­ing and peo­ple had more dis­pos­able in­come than ever to spend on leisure and lux­u­ries. And tech­nol­ogy was ad­vanc­ing to the point where things were pos­si­ble that had been mere fan­tasy decades ear­lier.

The space race was on, and young adults were fas­ci­nated by any­thing sleek and mod­ern. They were largely well-ed­u­cated and well-em­ployed, and wanted to spend their money on some­thing nice for their fam­i­lies (and maybe “keep up with the Jone­ses”). Trade shows that show­cased the best in mod­ern liv­ing were the per­fect way to demon­strate how they could – or should – be liv­ing.

Sev­eral of Walt Dis­ney’s em­ploy­ees at­tended th­ese shows and brought back ma­te­ri­als that called to his at­ten­tion the high at­ten­dance of the public (hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple flock­ing to see the lat­est and great­est in­no­va­tions), the op­por­tu­nity for mil­lions of dol­lars in sales to trade and con­sumers, and the abil­ity to gauge what lifestyle prod­ucts were most pop­u­lar in an at­tempt to stay ahead of the curve for fu­ture Dis­ney­land de­vel­op­ments. An idea was born.

By 1962, Walt and his team had out­lined an enor­mous project by the name of Cal­i­for­nia Liv­ing. Struc­tured much like Dis­ney­land, it was com­posed of dif­fer­ent lands, all ac­cessed by a com­mu­nal en­try/exit point full of shops. The ar­eas were struc­tured around ter­rain types (moun­tains, beach and ma­rina, and desert – aw­fully sim­i­lar to the even­tual de­sign of Dis­ney’s Cal­i­for­nia Ad­ven­ture, don’t you think?) and would each fea­ture a cen­tral fo­cus hub for spe­cial events (boat shows, car shows, mo­tor home shows, Ice Ca­pades, etc.) along with re­sort space to show off the unique el­e­ments of leisure in that type of ter­rain.

The Moun­tain Re­sort Area would feaure a moun­tain range, wa­ter­falls, model cab­ins, lake­side model homes, and even a small-guage rail­road. A hunt­ing lodge themed res­tau­rant and shows like yo­del­ing, folk danc­ing, and skeet shoot­ing would add to the rus­tic ap­peal here. They were plan­ning Alps-style lakes with boat­ing, fish­ing, camp­ing, and more. A camp for un­der­priv­iledge kids was con­sid­ered for this space too.

Over in the Beach and Ma­rina Area, guests would find yachts and cruis­ers, model beach homes, and more camp­ing. A Poly­ne­sian res­tau­rant and an un­der­wa­ter seafood bar would draw din­ers, and boat­ing, surf­ing, mar­lin fish­ing and more would be the sources of en­ter­taine­ment here.

The Desert Area would be mod­eled on the out­door liv­ing con­cept so pop­u­lar in Palm Springs. Pa­tio fur­ni­ture, BBQ equip­ment, swim­ming pools, and more would be on dis­play along­side ten­nis and golf demon­stra­tion ar­eas. Mo­bile homes and camp­ing would fac­tor in here too. Span­ish fare and a cook-your-own-steak res­tau­rant were in the works.

But, this idea was larger than life and the team at Dis­ney was putting all their hard workin into the 1964 World’s Fair, The Sword in the Stone, and Mary Pop­pins. It was put on hold, un­til later that year Chem­strand (a sub­sidiary of Mon­santo, who spon­sored Dis­ney­land’s Home of the Fu­ture ex­hibit) showed some in­ter­est in the idea, and they were off to the races!

With the second gate un­der se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion it was time to pull back from the big dream stage and fig­ure out what was pos­si­ble in re­al­ity to fit at Dis­ney­land. The scaled down ver­sion, called De­sign for Liv­ing, in­cluded a se­ries of pav­il­ions: Mo­bile Homes (in­clud­ing one unit with the then-new tech­nol­ogy of air con­di­tion­ing), Travel Trail­ers, Campers, Trail Blaz­ers (like Jeeps, off-high­way ve­hi­cles, back­pack­ing and pack horse equip­ment), Camp­ing, and Float­ing (house­boars, cruis­ers, wa­ter ski­ing, etc.), and Va­ca­tion Homes (log cab­ins, chalets, desert-style con­crete block homes, and one-room cab­ins).

A few months later, by the end of 1962, the project was put on hold, and never again re-vis­ited.

In­ter­est­ingly, some other po­ten­tial projects from this time in­cluded an Aviary, Aquar­ium, Botan­i­cal Gar­dens, But­ter­fly Ex­hibit, and In­ter­na­tional Vil­lage dis­play­ing for­eign cul­tures, and a Mu­seum – th­ese ideas came to fruition one way or an­other at Ep­cot!

If you want to hear more about De­sign for Liv­ing, check out The un­of­fi­cial Guide Dis­ney Dish Pod­cast here!

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