Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Look Back at Walt Disney World's Buena Vista Land Company

By Keith Mahne

When Walt Disney World first opened its gates in 1971, the entire Vacation Kingdom utilized only 2,500 acres of the total 27,500-acre site owned by the Disney Company in central Florida. The 43-square miles of land represented a substantial opportunity, and an equally significant responsibility, for the Walt Disney Company to develop and enhance the lives of those that would live, work and visit there. Out of this need came the Disney owned Buena Vista Land Company. Let's take a look back at the organization originally responsible for the development of the Walt Disney World property and examine what plans it had back in 1972 in today's new article...

Since the inception of the Walt Disney World project, it has been the desire of the Disney organization to surround its destination vacation resort with a compatible and quality environment. This environment would be designed to protect the unique atmosphere of Walt Disney World, and to enhance the lives of those who would live (EPCOT City), work and visit there. In order to achieve that goal, the Disney Company formed a wholly-owned subsidiary called the Buena Vista Land Company and assigned this organization the long-range task of master planning and managing those Disney properties surrounding the Vacation Kingdom. As was intended in 1972, this, ultimately, was to include the development of Walt Disney's concept for an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, a project which was to require the complete cooperation of American industry in order to achieve its goal of introducing, testing and demonstrating new systems and technologies.

Herb Ryman's concept art for EPCOT City that was still planned to be built in 1972 with the guidance of the Buena Vista Land Company.

In 1972, the City of Lake Buena Vista represented a major first step into the field of real estate planning, development and management for the Disney Company to achieve Walt's original plans for a community of tomorrow. A leisure-oriented community amid a park-like setting of woods, waterways, lakes, trails and an 18-hole golf course, Lake Buena Vista originally offered townhouses, single family dwellings and cluster homes primarily as second homes and company executive retreats that was to pave the way for EPCOT City.

In 1972, the Buena Vista Land Company created 133 townhouses that were either leased to corporations or were still under construction, with a total of 220 planned. Four on-site models had been furnished by Disney's Academy Award-winning interior designer, Emile Kuri.

Some of these dwelling units were leased on a short term basis, with the remainder available for purchase under a form of condominium ownership in which the Company would retain title to the land. Its development proceeded in phases, with original intentions of the community encompassing a total of 4,000 acres and providing homes for 20,000 residents.

Concept art of the Buena Vista Club, a planned, semi-private club that was to serve the residents throughout the Greater Orlando area.

Concept art of the Buena Vista Club

During 1972, the Buena Vista Land Company continued working throughout the Lake Buena Vista site that featured a 1,200-acre first phase. Lakes and waterways were sculptured, roads and utilities installed. 80 townhouses were completed and leased, and another 53 began construction. An 18-hole, Joe Lee-designed golf course opened for play, and the golf clubhouse to be known as the Buena Vista Club, planned as a family recreational center for the entire Greater Orlando area, had begun construction.

A series of single family "second homes" were designed, which were intended to be sold to both corporations and individuals on land leased from the Buena Vista Land Company. Disney would still provide continuing security, landscape, maintenance and hospitality services. Below is an early master plan for the area...

The Buena Vista Land Company's master plan for Lake Buena Vista. (Click to enlarge)

The Buena Vista Land Company also had big plans here in 1972 for a commercial center, uniquely situated along the existing, three-mile waterway system. The plan was for residents to travel to this commercial center by pathway or boat...

The site had been designed to evolve into a suburban-styled shopping center, attracting motorists from throughout central Florida. Master planned to completion, but conceived to develop in stages along with the rest of the community, the commercial center was to ultimately include handicraft, boutique and convenience shops, major department stores and restaurants. Of course, this area eventually opened in 1975 as the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village, now Disney Springs.

Concept art for the planned Lake Buena Vista commercial center

As we look back at the Buena Vista Land Company during the infant years of Walt Disney World, it's easy to see that the Disney Company was still attempting to fulfill Walt's final dream of a city of the future. As the years progressed, Disney Company caretakers eventually realized that perhaps only Walt Disney himself could have actually produced an EPCOT City. Through a combination of accident and design, Walt Disney World actually is a city with a population of tens of thousands... and one of fantasy rather than science fiction. But I absolutely love this moment in time in Walt Disney World's history and seeing how those in charge were still striving to keep their late leader's dream alive.


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true everyday.

You can find all of Keith's articles here

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