Monday, January 11, 2016

The Presence of WestCOT in Disney Parks

By Brittany Bell

In the 1980s and 90s Walt Disney World was booming. Now boasting 3 immensely popular theme parks and new hotels popping up on property, Disney World was achieving its goal of becoming an international tourist destination. However, over on the West Coast, Disneyland still sat almost the same as it had when Walt opened the park in 1955: one park with one hotel. Michael Eisner and Frank Wells had recently taken over the Walt Disney Company, and set their sights on developing Disneyland into a multi-day international destination much like its Florida counterpart. The idea that sprang from this: a California version of Walt’s vision of EPCOT: the (West Coast) Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. However, with budget constraints and the recent failure of Euro Disneyland (now Disneyland Paris) and complaints from the surrounding community, the WestCOT plan was abandoned. Though it may not have become a reality, some of the ideas and themes from the planned park did make their way into the Disney parks around the world. Let's discover where some of the best ideas for WestCOT are alive and well today in the Disney Parks…

WestCOT Concept Art

With his sights set on creating something new for Disneyland, Eisner gave the Imagineers the task of building not only a new theme park, but also a shopping district and a resort-hotel area. What they came up with: The Anaheim Commercial Recreation Area. This included not only the addition of Toowntown and Indiana Jones into Disneyland Park, but also the addition of the Resort Hotel District, Disneyland Plaza, a 5,000 seat amphitheater called The Disneyland Bowl, Disneyland Center and a brand new theme park: WestCOT. Much like Epcot in Walt Disney World, the goal of WestCOT was to celebrate cultural diversity and the shared human connection across the globe. Check out Keith Mahne's article from this past summer for a detailed description of what would have been WestCOT that you can read here.

Though the idea for WestCOT and the Disneyland bowl didn’t end up making it to Disneyland, other aspects of the proposed project did. First and foremost, Toontown and Indiana Jones became a reality in Disneyland in 1993 and 1995, respectively. The idea for Disneyland Center transformed into what would become Downtown Disney—both geographically and conceptually speaking. Lastly, the idea for the Resort Hotel District at Disneyland led (along with the construction of California Adventure) to the building of two new resort hotels: The Grand Californian and Paradise Pier hotels. With the addition of these new areas as well, the idea to connect more of the resort via monorail became a reality. The images below show the original concept art for the Disneyland expansion, and note that although WestCOT didn’t make the cut, most of the projects on there actually did and even ended up in the same proposed locations…

Concept Art for WestCOT Project

Map of Disneyland Resort Now

Though the idea for the Ventureport portion of WestCOT was largely borrowed from Future World at Epcot, the proposed Wonders of Space pavilion ironically went on to inspire Epcot. In 1999, the ride Horizons at Epcot was permanently closed to make way for a journey into space via Mission: SPACE. Instead of taking guests on a voyage through the cosmos (as the stated purpose of the Wonders of Space pavilion), Mission: SPACE puts guests in the shoes of astronauts making a research trip to Mars. The interior of the ride also has a Mission Control Center, where guests can enjoy games and children can play in a jungle gym all themed around the wonder of space. I’d also like to point out that Horizons permanently closed to make way for Mission: SPACE relatively soon after the WestCOT idea was scrapped. Take a look and see how Horizons (a ride focused around technology and the future) became Mission: SPACE, perhaps the concrete representation of the vision of Wonders of Space…

Horizons Exterior

Horizons Ride Scene

Mission: SPACE, Epcot

Glimpse into a Space Shuttle in Mission: Space Queue Area

WestCOT also would have featured a World Showcase, but here only with four pavilions based on the four corners of the world: the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. The Imagineers felt that grouping the world together in this manner would also create a more emotional impact by bringing together four very different corners of the world. Though the Europe Bay and Americas pavilions were largely borrowed from existing Disney structures (Main Street, USA, the Canada pavilion and Mexico pavilion at Epcot for the Americas and all of the European pavilions at Epcot for Europe Bay), nothing like the Africa and Asia pavilions existed at the time.

Proposed for the African pavilion would have been a white water river rafting ride down famous African rivers, cultural entertainment such as African drummers and dancers, a farming exhibit and a grand Egyptian palace.  The Asian pavilion would have been home to a carousel featuring mythical Asian animals and for thrill seekers there was a planned “Ride the Dragon” steel rollercoaster with ride vehicles designed to look festive Chinese dragons. The show piece of the ride would be red and orange silks that would engulf the vehicles when they reached a certain height (primarily so they wouldn’t see into the planned hotel for the area that will be mentioned later). Other entertainment and food in the Asian pavilion would have been housed in a white marble Indian palace offering Asian foods. Take a look at the concept art for the African and Asian pavilions:

Africa Pavilion Concept Art

Asia Pavilion Concept Art

Imagineers definitely knew they were onto something with this idea, because in 1998 Disney’s Animal Kingdom was born complete with its very own African and Asian sections. Though the concept art may look different than what Animal Kingdom looks like today, the vision for each of the lands is certainly rooted in the idea for Africa and Asia in WestCOT. In addition, some of the proposed attractions and entertainment for WestCOT’s Africa and Asia are currently in Animal Kingdom. Each day in Africa, drummers, dancers, musicians and performers entertain guests with traditional African-style music and dance—there are even bongos and drums for guests to try their hand on as well. Though the white water river rafting ride didn’t stay in the African pavilion, it did make its way over to Asia and is now Kali River Rapids, an expedition into the Asian jungle to witness firsthand the negative effects of deforestation. Though Animal Kingdom is a whole new style of theme park in its own right (it’s nah-ta-zu), the would-be African and Asian pavilions of WestCot can be experienced in a way at the Walt Disney World Resort.  Interestingly, note in the following pictures that Harambe is a port, much like the African pavilion would have been at WestCOT. Also note that Asia in Animal Kingdom also has a mountain (Expedition Everest) that is home to a steel rollercoaster…

Performers in Africa in Animal Kingdom
Port of Harambe Village Sign
Expedition Everest in Asia

Kali River Rapids

What would have been most astounding about this proposed WestCOT, however, would have been the idea to have a hotel within the park. Legendary Imagineer Tony Baxter referred to this idea as the “Live the Dream” program, designed to create an isolated environment from the real world. The hotel was to span across the Europe, Asia and African pavilions and be on the top levels of store, restaurant and attraction buildings in each of the pavilions. This dream of “Live the Dream” did become a reality in 2001 with the opening of Tokyo DisneySea Hotel MiraCosta. This hotel, based on the ports of Portofino and Venice is the first ever Disney hotel to be located within a Disney park. Guest rooms of the hotel overlook the Mediterranean Harbor of Tokyo DisneySea, and is a truly immersive Disney guest experience. Take a peek at pictures of Hotel MiraCosta: the reality of the “Live the Dream” program…

WestCOT was also planned to have area hotels as well (much like at Walt Disney World). These hotels would be themed off of the Americas pavilion featuring the Magic Kingdom Hotel, WestCOT Lake Resort and the Disneyland Resort Hotel. Although none of these hotels ultimately came to be at the Disneyland Resort, the theme and design of the Disneyland Resort Hotel did end up being the inspiration for the Grand Floridian in Walt Disney World. Similarly, the WestCOT Lake Resort concept and the idea of the resort having a boardwalk along the hotel became the inspiration for the Boardwalk Resort at Walt Disney World. Check out the similarities between the concept art of The Disneyland Resort Hotel and the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa and the WestCOT Lake Resort and Boardwalk Resort…

Concept Art for the Disneyland Resort Hotel near Disneyland Plaza

The Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Villas at Walt Disney World

Boardwalk Resort

Concept Art for WestCOT Lake Resort

Although the plans were extravagant and the hopes were high for WestCOT, problems ultimately arose leading to the dismissal of the idea for the West Coast Epcot. Though it surely would have been a worthy addition to the Disneyland Resort, unfortunate circumstances and bad timing proved to be the bane of the project. California Adventure now stands where WestCOT would have been. However, though WestCOT may never become a real park, its ideas and visions still stand present in Disney theme parks around the world today.


Brittany Bell grew up in Lewiston, Maine, about 45 minutes away from Portland. She is currently studying Public Relations and Journalism at Boston University, and hopes to one day work for the Mouse himself. She grew up in a Disney-loving home, and would watch Sleeping Beauty on repeat as a little girl. Her first trip to Walt Disney World was in the summer of 2000, at four years old. Ever since then, Brittany and her family take annual trips to the World, and have no intention of vacationing anywhere else. Her favorite places in Walt Disney World are the Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Grand Floridian, and the Magic Kingdom. She can’t go without seeing Fantasmic! at least once each vacation, even though she chokes up a little at the final scene. Brittany is fascinated by how one man’s dream became an empire—one that makes dreams come true every day.

Before she became obsessed with Frozen and Queen Elsa, her favorite Disney characters were Princess Aurora and Mulan. She loves everything and anything Disney, from the parks, to the movies, to the Broadway musicals. In the near future she hopes to participate in the Disney College Program and work as a “friend of a princess”.

You can find all of Brittany's articles here

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