In an alternate universe, you could be traveling to Niagara Falls or Houston for your annual Disney pilgrimage.
Despite a few opening-day hiccups, Disneyland was considered a success from the very start. According to Disney author and historian Aaron H. Goldberg, “Most people saw Disneyland and loved it, but Walt saw the shortcomings and he wanted to give it another shot.” Walt was proud of his Anaheim, California, park but there were a few things he wished he’d done differently. Namely, more of a buffer from the “real world,” more control over the land, and more room to expand.
In Goldberg’s new book, Buying Disney’s World: The Story of How Florida Swampland Became Walt Disney World, he details not only how Walt attempted to rectify those shortcomings with his second park in Orlando, Florida, but also the many projects that were almost built in its place. We’ve thrown in a few other never-built Disney projects so you can play a little game of Disney “what if?” and imagine a world where you were riding Pirates of the Caribbean in St. Louis, Missouri, or dancing at a Disney nightclub in Dallas, Texas.
Here are 10 Disney projects that never left the land of fairy tales.
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West Palm Beach, Florida
Within a few years of Disneyland’s 1955 opening, enterprising hopefuls were approaching Walt about the prospect of bringing a Disney theme park to their corner of the globe. One such hopeful was John D. MacArthur. MacArthur owned more than enough land in West Palm Beach, Florida, to house a theme park and he approached Disney with plans for a planned community featuring a theme park and an art school.
Ultimately, the deal fell through during negotiations. As seen in the Palm Beach Post, Walt’s brother Roy (the business guru who helped make Walt’s crazy dreams a reality) wanted more land than MacArthur was willing to give. If you think this “city of tomorrow” sounds a bit like Walt’s original plans for EPCOT, you’re right. According to Aaron, “I think the West Palm Beach project definitely had a major influence on the plans for EPCOT. Just a few years later, Walt was pitching EPCOT to the world.”
St. Louis, Missouri
In the early 1960s, Walt toyed with the idea of a second Disneyland in the Midwest. Walt Disney’s Riverfront Square was planned for downtown St. Louis. Many of the planned lands and attractions had already been built at Disneyland, but a few were built only after showing up in the plans for Riverfront Square. Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and an early iteration of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad were all included in the plans for Riverfront Square and went on to become Disneyland classics.
Unfortunately, Disneyland had one thing Riverfront Square did not—year-round warm weather. Walt planned for the five-story park to be fully enclosed, an expense the city of St. Louis didn’t want to pay for. By 1965, the plans fizzled out due to clashes over financing and ownership. You can still take a look at the blueprints, though, one copy of which fetched $27,000 at auction.
Niagara Falls, Canada
Another potential project that came Walt’s way in the early ‘60s was on the Ontario, Canada, side of Niagara Falls. The Seagram Company approached Walt with plans for a park that would include rides and attractions similar to those at Disneyland, while also incorporating the natural beauty of the falls. The cold Ontario winters didn’t mesh with Walt’s desire to build his park in a temperate climate and he turned down the partnership before it really even got off the ground.
Mineral King Valley, California
In 1965—10 years after Disneyland’s grand opening—Walt set his sights on building an alpine ski village in Sequoia National Park’s Mineral King Valley. His original plans for the resort featured skiing, hiking, ice-skating, dining, and lodging. In fact, the Country Bear Jamboree show that ran at Disneyland from 1972 to 2001 (and can still be seen today at Walt Disney World in Florida), was originally intended for the Mineral King ski resort. Opposition from nearby residents and the Sierra Club held up the project. Walt was the resort’s main cheerleader and after his death in 1966, the Walt Disney Company turned its attention away from Mineral King and the idea was dropped entirely.
EPCOT - The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow
Shortly before Walt’s death, he and his team were hard at work on their “Florida Project.” He had decided on Orlando for his next theme park. In addition to a Disneyland-style park, Walt wanted to move forward with his own “city of tomorrow.”
Walt’s Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (or EPCOT) was designed to include residences, schools, businesses, and parks. Transportation around the city would be by way of a WEDway PeopleMover (similar to the Magic Kingdom ride at Disney World) and a Monorail would take people in and out of EPCOT.
Though planning was underway, much of what was planned for EPCOT died with Walt. “The concepts and ideas for EPCOT were out there, but the logistics were all in Walt’s head,” Goldberg said. “Nobody else but Walt could see that vision and put together the pieces to make it all work.” Because of this, the city Walt envisioned morphed into a theme park of the same name that opened at Walt Disney World in 1982.
Another unrealized Disney park was planned for Dallas, Texas, in the 1980s. In conjunction with real estate developer James W. Rouse, Texposition, as it was called, was billed as an “urban entertainment district” with shopping, rides, nightclubs, and live entertainment. Though the Texposition project never came to fruition, it appears to have majorly influenced the shopping, dining, and entertainment districts found at both Disney World and Disneyland.
Long Beach, California
In the early 1990s, then Walt Disney Company CEO Michael Eisner declared the “Disney Decade.” Eisner had big plans to build new Disney theme parks and expand the existing ones. Disneyland’s second gate was part of that plan. Port Disney was set to be located on the waterfront in Long Beach, California with five resort hotels, a two-story, educational “oceanarium,” and a theme park. Even a Haunted Mansion-like walkthrough tour on the Queen Mary (it’s docked in Long Beach) was planned for the sea-themed park. Port Disney was scrapped in favor of a location closer to Disneyland. Many of the concepts for Port Disney, however, did inspire the attractions that eventually made their way to Tokyo DisneySea.
In 1991 (after Port Disney had been canceled), it was announced that Disneyland’s second gate would be a West Coast version of EPCOT. WestCOT would have been home to a golden Spaceship Earth, Future World, World Showcase, and other attractions similar to those found in EPCOT at Walt Disney World. EuroDisney opened around this time and, unfortunately, was both a PR and financial failure during its early years. “Disney needed not only support and money from Anaheim, but also land,” Goldberg said. Some of that land housed pre-existing Anaheim businesses that weren’t exactly thrilled with the plan. In the end, Anaheim wasn’t interested in Disney’s demands and WestCOT was canceled.
Prince William County, Virginia
In 1993 (still deep in the Disney Decade), Disney announced a new theme park concept. Disney’s America would feature lands and attractions that transported visitors to pivotal moments in America’s history—arriving at Ellis Island, battling in the Civil War, and living in a Native American village. As you can imagine, more than a few people were concerned with how Disney planned to portray such culturally significant events in a way that was accurate, yet somehow entertaining enough to draw in customers. The strong opposition led to the project’s demise, though some Disney California Adventure attractions like Soarin’, Grizzly River Run, and California Screamin’ were based on ideas planned for Disney’s America.
The “Wild Animal Kingdom” that was proposed in 1995 as Disney World’s fourth gate looked quite different from the Animal Kingdom park that opened in 1998. The original idea for Animal Kingdom would have included living, extinct, and imaginary animals. The unicorns and dragons were to be housed in the Beastly Kingdom section of the park, but the land was postponed and ultimately canceled. As fate would have it, Pandora – The World of Avatar stands exactly where Beastly Kingdom was intended to be built, thus adding the Banshees, Na’vi, and other imaginary creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar.
And there was Disney Quest, planned for Philadelphia. It never happened.