Monday, March 21, 2016

The Construction and Naming of Disney’s Contemporary Resort

By Brittany Bell

In 1969, when construction for the Walt Disney World Resort was well underway, Disney announced that it was going to build five “theme resorts”. As part of the “Phase One” of the new Florida Project, each of the hotels was to be themed as an extension of the Magic Kingdom park—once a guest steps out of the park and into their hotel, their immersive, fantasy experience continues. One of these planned hotels, inspired by Walt’s idea for his “Progress City”, became one of the most well-known Disney landmarks when it opened along with the Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971: The Contemporary Resort. The timeless, retro-futuristic design of the resort still makes guests feel as if they are staying within the boundaries of Tomorrowland itself, with its unique A-frame design and monorail station running right through the center. Join us in today's new article as we discuss the construction and naming of The Contemporary, one of Disney’s classic resorts…

Originally to be the “Tempo-Bay” Resort, Disney wanted to create a hotel that was to be an extension of Tomorrowland—in fact, the reason it’s positioned so close to the Magic Kingdom was because Disney intended to create a walkway straight from the land to the hotel (a walkway which now leads to the main entrance of the Magic Kingdom). The resort, originally designed by WED Enterprises (which is now Walt Disney Imagineering), was to be created with the hotel to have a “city” feel, featuring an open-atrium building with shops, restaurants, and of course, the monorail running through the center. This vision came straight from Walt’s model for EPCOT, a project that had been abandoned at the time because of his recent death.

However, one of US Steel’s subsidiaries, American Bridge, had begun experimentation with a technique called “unitized modular construction” in which the company would construct and furnish rooms offsite and then slide the rooms, like a drawer, into the frame of a hotel. Check out this Disney Avenue video featuring a US Steel promotional video on the construction of the Contemporary...

(For your viewing pleasure, please remember to pause the Disney Avenue Music Player in the top left-hand corner of the page prior to playing the video below if you are on a desktop computer.)

Eventually, US Steel got involved with the resort project, and made an agreement that Disney would retain the land that these “Phase One” hotels were built on, while US Steel would build and own the hotels themselves. Disney would then lease and run the hotels. From this deal forward, US Steel took over everything involving the construction of the Contemporary Resort, including the design. With the help of Marvin Davis, who served as the liaison between US Steel and the Walt Disney Company, the idea for a city-structured hotel was ultimately discarded and replaced with the familiar A-frame that is the hotel today. The final dimensions of the design had the main building standing at 184-feet high, 468-feet long and 220-feet wide.

One of the main issues the engineers ran into while constructing the hotel was with the monorail. Originally the monorail was intended to run straight through the middle of the hotel, as opposed to it’s lower to the ground entry that it has today. What ultimately led to this change was the problem that the monorail could potentially shake the entire hotel every time it passes through, something that could lead to disastrous outcome. The solution came in anchoring the monorail tracks to the ground instead of the hotel itself while also moving the monorail slightly to one side of the resort. Thank goodness they figured it out, or else we wouldn’t have these wonderful shots of the monorail passing through the main floor of the Contemporary...

As I had mentioned earlier, the original name of the Contemporary was the “Tempo-Bay” Resort. However, from the beginning, this name did not receive approval from some of the Disney higher ups. According to David Koenig’s book, Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World, everyone referred to the hotel instead as “The Contemporary”. In early 1971, when WED Enterprises firmly decided on calling the resort Tempo-Bay, Roy Disney ultimately shot down the name, and brought back the one we all know today by saying, “I just don’t like it. I like Contemporary. I like names that are simple and say what they are. The other name is phony and plastic.” Shortly after Roy had expressed his grievances, the official name of the hotel became “The Contemporary Resort”.

The Contemporary ended up running into some delays in construction ultimately caused by the rising tensions between Disney and US Steel. Just weeks before the death of Roy Disney, a deal was negotiated between the two companies in which Disney bought out US Steel’s interests in the hotel and took on the remaining construction costs. Though the entire resort did not open to guests until a few weeks after the grand opening of Walt Disney World, it was a part of the opening ceremonies and was included in the October 29, 1971 coverage of The Wonderful World of Disney.

In 2009, the Contemporary Resort added a new neighbor in the form of Disney Vacation Club Villas: Bay Lake Tower. This tower, designed, too, with futuristic style and architecture in mind, is home to 428 grand villa suites. Occupying the land that was formerly a garden wing of the Contemporary Resort, it was the seventh Disney Vacation Club Resort at the Walt Disney World Resort, following the opening of the Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge in 2000. (Just a tip, if you are familiar with the wonderful smell as you walk into the lobby of Bay Lake Tower or the Contemporary Resort then you are going to LOVE the Walt's Wonderful World candle sold right here on Disney Avenue. Click here to grab yours today.)

Disney’s Contemporary Resort still enchants guests today with it’s futuristic “Progress City” style. It is home to some of the most popular restaurants on Disney property and is a dream destination for many. Although I haven’t personally stayed at the Contemporary, every time I visit there is a distinct charm and attraction to the resort that you can only seem to find there and in Tomorrowland. It will forever be an iconic Disney resort that will continue to keep guests dreaming about the possibility of tomorrow.


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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