|By Ted Linhart|
10 years after Walt Disney’s death, the idea of an “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” still percolated within the Disney Company but the vision had changed dramatically from the grand scope of its legendary founder. As we celebrate Epcot's 34th anniversary this month, let's take a look at a rare and fascinating 1976 document published by WED Enterprises that outlines what Epcot could have been after the idea of an actual city was abandoned and before it became a true theme park. In this incarnation, Epcot would be a think tank for companies to showcase new technologies to the public and then take them to market. Come explore this real gem called “EPCOT: What It is - How It Works - Values Of Participation”...
(Click on each image to enlarge)
I bought this document, which is in excellent condition, from one of the landmark Van Eaton Galleries Disneyland auctions in 2015. What first attracted me to it in the catalog was the striking futuristic image on the cover which also extended to the rear cover as you can see from the pictures above. This concept art of a potential EPCOT resembles the work of Imagineer John Hench, but I cannot find any record of it in reference materials or online, so it is possible it was designed specifically for this document. Perhaps a Disney Avenue reader has seen this elsewhere and can provide some more information.
The “Introduction” section of this document briefly covers the history and original goals of EPCOT and then asserts that Walt’s vision of a community where “advances in systems of living could be developed and demonstrated to the world, is as valid today as it ever was." It goes on to quote Senator Ted Kennedy who in 1975 proposed the creation of a Federal agency called Experimental Futures Agency to “design experimental communities which could show us what would eventually be possible." As far I can tell, the bill to create that agency was never introduced.
The next several pages state that the public has lost faith in the government and companies to solve future problems and implies that EPCOT can and should play that role. “A recent national opinion poll has indicated clearly that the majority of people no longer believe that the actions of these institutions are motivated by genuine concern for improving the quality of life.”
It is page 4, entitled “Philosophy", that crystalizes what Disney executives (Donn Tatum passed the CEO reigns to Card Walker that year) thought EPCOT should be in 1976.
“EPCOT IS DESIGNED TO RESPOND TO THE NEEDS OF PEOPLE BY PROVIDING AN INTERNATIONAL FORUM WHERE CREATIVE MEN AND WOMEN OF INDUSTRY, GOVERNMENT, AND THE ARTS CAN DEVELOP, DEMONSTRATE, AND COMMUNICATE PROTOTYPE CONCEPTS, AND NEW SYSTEMS AND TECHNOLOGIES, AND THEIR APPLICATION IN CREATING BETTER WAYS OF LIVING."
The page above shows the seven objectives for this version of EPCOT. What I find most interesting is how vague they are and that they do not sound very different from one another. All seven convey very similar notions — that EPCOT would be a place for anyone and everyone to discuss, share and demonstrate ideas and solutions to advance how people live.
The middle section of the document goes into detail about the three different sections that would comprise EPCOT.
This is the governing body of EPCOT which would “provide an organizational ‘hub’ around which the various EPCOT programs will revolve around and through which information will flow among the elements of EPCOT and to the public." It would be run by an Executive Director and “have unique access to the public and to the results of research and development efforts around the world."
A particularly interesting part of the Institute’s description covers its financial role in EPCOT. The goal was not to “accumulate profits” but it could participate in “substantial financial rewards” from “any products and markets [that] are developed through EPCOT exposure and participation.” This money would then be invested back into the Institute thus making it a self-funding body.
Those who participate in the Epcot Institute will come from entities that have a “futures” orientation and will be responsible for funding, staff, publicity material and specific projects.
The page above diagrams the “Process Flow” of the Epcot Institute. It shows how skills, ideas and money will be transformed into communication, understanding, products and markets through research, testing, and demonstration.
These are self-contained centers which will cover a specific field of interest, such as Energy that will “prove or disprove the potentials of the concepts or prototype products and systems tested." The satellites did not have to be located at EPCOT — they could be situated “off-site." They will “consist of facilities, programs, conferences, or field projects reflecting specific research interests." After the work was completed it would become part of the “EPCOT Information Network and central computer bank.”
This is the area of the 1976 EPCOT proposal that was the closest to what was eventually built in 1982. It is described as a “high-capacity public facility establishing new standards for ‘information transfer’ on a world scale. [It] will provide an opportunity for the public to engage in a constructive dialogue by registering its reactions and preferences regarding better ways of living.”
The closest association with the finished EPCOT six years later is the use of the word Communicore which, of course, was one of the primary pavilions of Future World when it opened until it was eventually closed in 1994.
In this proposal, Communicore is described as a “corridor to arriving and departing visitors. Within this corridor the visitor will be exposed to a series of entertaining and instructive information experiences and communication techniques. It will provide a focal point for visitor orientation to EPCOT and the EPCOT Information Network that will reach out to homes and offices around the world. Within the Communicore, the public will have access to an electronic encyclopedia of knowledge … [and] a visual demonstration of a computer simulation model which synthesizes and applies the latest EPCOT thinking to a ‘world city’ … in effect a ‘living blueprint’ of the future.”
In addition to Communicore, the theme center would have other pavilions — “Science and Technology”, “Community, and “Communication and the Arts." At these pavilions, visitors would “view experimental prototype programs such as a new method for recycling waste materials, a procedure for collecting and storing solar energy, and a real classroom where new learning systems are being tested for potential use in schools.”
The second-to-last page of the proposal provides the “Reasons and Values” for participation in Epcot by the various organizations that would be so clearly integral to the success of the Community. The only bullet here that does not restate the vague and pro-social points from earlier in the document is the third one which reads as follows: “Direct access to Disney’s public audience of 12 million plus visitors to Walt Disney World and the talents of the Disney organization to communicate to that audience and expanded audiences yet to come as well as audiences reached through Disney’s TV shows, publications and other media.” This is the only section of the proposal that refers to Walt Disney World or that has any data.
The proposal ends on the highfalutin side by quoting Pericles from 450 BC — “We do not say that those who are not in the future have no business here, we say they have no business at all."
After reading over this 18-page document, it is not hard to understand why this vision of EPCOT did not come to fruition. The description of its goals and how it would operate are quite vague and it clearly relied on the efforts of outside organizations, both for-profit and not-for-profit, to supply all the content that would make it work. Also, it would be several years after this publication when the idealism and anti-business views of the 1970s turned into the Reagan era of economic expansion.
|Card Walker reviews Disney's plans for EPCOT Center with President Jimmy Carter at Walt Disney World, 1978|
In October of 1978, Card Walker announced plans for the EPCOT that would ultimately be realized as noted in this prior Disney Avenue post that you can read by clicking HERE. He described it as “a vast new project for public interface with the concepts of tomorrow.” He goes on to describe the two sections — Future World and World Showcase. The latter has no representation in the 1976 document but clearly Future World was reminiscent of the Theme Center. The description of Future World is far more concrete than anything covered above — “[it] will dramatize the history and future of challenges of the critical problems facing us today — providing a public window on the worlds of energy, transportation, the land, seas, space, life, and health and other subjects.”
I think it's safe to say that anyone who reads this article wishes that Walt’s original vision of EPCOT had come to fruition, but I, for one, am glad that this 1976 version was rejected for the park that, at least for the 1980s and part of the 1990s, allowed millions of guests to take part in a credible version of Walt’s final dream.
Ted Linhart was born and raised in New York City and works at NBC Universal where he is an SVP of Research for the company’s cable networks. Ted has a passion for television and has long been a collector of many items. He is also quite passionate about the Disney Parks and, in particular, Walt Disney’s view of the future which was cemented the first time he went on Horizons in 1985. Over the past several years, Ted has been collecting letters, documents, brochures and other ephemera relating to the history, construction, and evolution of Disneyland, Disney World and EPCOT. Ted started posting pictures of his collection via his Twitter account @TedonTV and followers started asking him to post more pictures online. That led Ted to create his blog Disneydocs.net where pictures of each of his items are archived.
You can find all of Ted's article here.