Saturday, August 1, 2015

EPCOT Construction Cavalcade: 1979-1981

By EPCOT Explorer

Sometimes, when writing and researching you come upon a group of interesting things and have no idea what to do with them, as they are just implicit pieces of a whole body of study. Although that sounds frightfully academic, this even happens in researching something fun, like EPCOT Center and Walt Disney Productions. So… in that spirit, let's take a look at some wonderful, early EPCOT Center photos from it's formative years. You're not going to want to miss these...

Our first two shots come from 1979 and show the finalized model of EPCOT Center. Spaceship Earth is finally a full sphere, and most of the pavilion models have coalesced into the versions we know today. A notable difference? FutureProbe in place of Horizons. More on that later.

Above is the groundbreaking ceremony for EPCOT Center. Former Florida Governors Claude Kirk and Reuben Askew, Card Walker; the current Disney Chief Executive during this time, Robert Graham and former Governor Haydon Burns all pose with shovels and before a massive plywood mock-up of Spaceship Earth.

These next three pictures are a fun look into WED Enterprises’ model shop in Glendale, California. John Hench is posing with the model of World Showcase, probably for a press event, and Marty Sklar is candidly (hah) observing the completion of the Spaceship Earth model. Notice the artisan applying the geometric skin to one side, you can see the differences in shape and texture on the model. The Universe of Energy makes an appearance, too, in the form of its massive mural that would later be installed in the diorama. This mural was developed and billed as “the largest backdrop built for a show feature in history”. Considering the scope of the Universe of Energy, this is certainly no stretch of the imagination.  All photos are from 1980.

Speaking of large murals, Jack Lindquist stands in front of a small mock up of the Mexico pavilion’s tableaux. The pyramid and backdrop planned for World Showcase would eventually grow to be 220 feet long, complete with an erupting volcano, towering above the Yucatan wilderness. Jack Lindquist, though the Senior Vice President of Marketing was formally in charge of World Showcase Promotion and can be attributed with finalizing many of the agreements between Disney and the respective nations to be exhibited in EPCOT.

Mid 1980, and the ride system for Horizons is being tinkered with…. though Horizons isn’t called Horizons, yet. This is FutureProbe, and although it bears a different name, the intent and experience matches the one to come to EPCOT in 1983. What you see here is a model of the Omnimax domes that the ride boasted and that surrounded guests with imagery. Also visible is the train of modified and hanging Omnimover vehicles that transported visitors from the FuturePort to under the sea, over the land, and even to out in space. The final version of Horizons would not have 3 levels of trains, however, just one.

1981 takes us into the realm of construction photos… The Universe of Energy’s dinosaurs are making their way from Asian Way to be installed in their pavilion, and the Journey into Imagination is merely a flat warehouse. The iconic glass pyramids will be installed much later, using a unconventional space frame construction method. Meanwhile, the warehouse containing the ride was been water sealed and installation of the ride began. Fatefully, though, Journey into Imagination proved to be problematic and would not open until March of 1983, five months into EPCOT Center’s operations. Also pictured is the “laser ballet” scene, part of the “Arts and Literature” scene. Although this picture shows off the lasers formulating an image of Figment out of thin air, this effect didn’t make the cut, and instead the lasers projected more simple images in the final version of the ride. Most notable were music notes and the theatrical masks of comedy and tragedy.

And to cap off this batch of photos, the groundbreaking ceremony for Journey into Imagination. Interesting to note is the artwork featured on the sign that Dick Nunis is standing next to: It’s much more homespun and less futuristic and grand, perhaps to better tackle the earlier concept of Dreamfinder as a magical professor who toured the world, with his pet dragon, Figment.

What really makes all these photos remarkable is the amount of detail and care that went into crafting, creating, and molding each part of EPCOT Center into the park that finally emerged in 1982. Each detail has a story, design process, and reason for being there. EPCOT Center delights in these details and was a work of art, the culmination of vision and talent for a large group of very dedicated artisans, engineers, and planners.


EPCOT Explorer has been visiting the Walt Disney World Resort since he was 2 years old and has recently just made his first visit to Disneyland. EPCOT Explorer's first ‘Disney’ interest is the history of EPCOT Center of his youth and the brand of optimism, futurism, and culture that was originally found in the park. Other interests include the thematic interplay of design elements in Disneyland and the Magic Kingdoms that make these theme parks repositories of culture and Americana. EPCOT Explorer is also interested in the World’s Fairs for their connections to EPCOT and tiki culture, since the return of the Enchanted Tiki Room to Walt Disney World in 2011. EE’s writings often focus on the minutia of Disney’s enterprises and attempt to uncover how and why the parks function in the manner that they do. EPCOT Explorer is currently a graduate student and Teaching Assistant in History at Florida International University. EPCOTEXPLORER.TUMBLR.COM

You can find all of EPCOT Explorer's articles here.

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