Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Disney's America theme park project

Today, i invite you to have a closer look to a Disney theme park project that never was: the legendary Disney's America project. Announced in 1993,it was supposed to occupy 1200 acres of a 3000 acre property in Prince William County, Virginia.

Bob Weis - who was at the head of Disney's America's creative development - defined it as "an ideal complement to visiting Washington's museums, monuments and national treasures" was supposed to be a park " that will be a venue for people of all ages, especially the young, to debate and discuss the future of our nation and to learn more about its past by living it". A place where guests "will be able to have rides, shows and interactive experiences that are both about the history of America, about America today and also give you a sense of America in the future. And he added: "In some ways the park is a timeline, we start in the mid-1860s and go backward or forward in time".

Great, but what kind of rides and shows guests would have enjoyed at Disney's America? Well, once they would have entered the park, guests would have found themselves in a detailed Civil War era village, the hub of "Disney's America.

From that point, guests would have discovered either "Native America" and explored the life of America's first inhabitants - including an accurate Native American village reflecting the tribes that were known in this part of the country. And also enjoyed interactive experiences, exhibits and arts and crafts, as well as an exciting white water river raft ride that would have gone all around the area, based on the legendary Lewis and Clark expedition.

Guests, then, would have discovered Presidents' Square, a celebration of the birth of democracy and those who fought to preserve it. The "Hall of presidents" of Walt Disney World would have moved to Disney's America.

A Civil War Fort would have plunged guests into a more turbulent time of American history, and adjacent to it, a big battlefield, where Civil War re-enactments and water battles between the Monitor and the Merrimac would have once again been fought.

Moving into the 20th century, guests would have entered a replica of the Ellis Island building, which acted as the gateway to America for many immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Guests would have lived the "immigrant experience" through music, ethnic foods, and a great live show presentation.

Enterprise, A factory town, would have highlighted American ingenuity where guests could have ridden a major attraction called Industrial Revolution, traveling on a roller coaster-type ride through a 19th-century landscape with heavy industry and blast furnaces. And, on either side of the coaster, would have been exhibits of famous American technology that have defined the american industry in the past, as well as new developments that would have defined future industries.

On Victory Field guests would have experienced what America's soldiers faced in the defense of freedom during the world wars. It would have been themed to resemble an air field with a series of hangars containing attractions based on America's military fight using virtual reality technology. The air field would have also served as an exhibit of airplanes from different periods, as well as for major flying exhibitions. Soarin' from Epcot and Disney's California Adventure is supposed to have been originally proposed for this area.

Another area, the State Fair, would have shown how - even during the big Depression of the '30s - Americans knew how to entertain themselves. With folk art exhibits and and exhibition baseball games, guests could also have enjoyed classic wooden thrill rides reminiscent of Coney Island.

Finally, in Family Farm, WDI imagineers would have recreated an authentic farm where guests could have had the opportunity to see different types of industries related to food production, in addition to hands-on experiences including milking cows and learning what homemade ice cream tastes like.

Mind you, all was not lost in this Disney's America project, as some of the concepts as you may have noticed were finally used in Disney's California Adventure. Jim Hill wrote an article about it, and you can read it HERE.

After the big battle between Disney and almost everybody living in Virginia, the project was cancelled. Disney's America would have been built near Civil War battlefields, shattering the solemnity of the area, perhaps causing damage to the historical properties and the location seems to have been the big mistake. However, in 1995 Disney envisioned to build it - guess where? - at Knott's Berry farm that the Knott's family tired to run their theme park wanted to sale. Jim Hill, again, wrote previously another good article describing what happened, and you can read it HERE

I know, this Disney's America project looks great and we all will miss it forever but years later Bob Weis, the WDI Imagineer who was in charge of the project's creative development, was back at WDI to supervise the new placemaking of Disney's California Adventure. As the original DCA took many of its inspirations from the Disney's America project, Bob Weis was indeed the best person to take care of DCA's future.

If you enjoyed this Disney and more article, thanks for your support!

All photos: copyright Disney Enterprises Inc

All my thanks to Jim Hill for some of the infos included in this article and to the Wikipedia page from part of the text.

Many many thanks to Michael of the excellent Progress City web site.

Those of you who want to find more infos on the Disney's America battle can find good links HERE


Anonymous said...

"big battle between Disney and almost everybody living in Virginia"

Uh, no. It was really a battle between Disney and a very small, but very rich and influential group of Virginians.

"shattering the solemnity of the area, perhaps causing damage to the historical properties"

Again, not really. That was the excuse used by the small group of influential people. You think the area that was supposed to be used by Disney has been left untouched since then? If you had continued the portion of the paragraph you quoted from Wikipedia, you would have read "The site is now home to Dominion Valley Country Club, as well as numerous other business and housing developments, creating some of the congestion and environmental damage that anti-Disney activists fought against."

Anonymous said...

Many people, including myself, had mixed feelings about this proposed park. Although we were excited about the idea of having a Disney park less than 5 miles from home, at the same time, we were worried about the amount of traffic that would be generated as well as the effect on the Manassas National Battlefield Park and surrounding historic sites.

It is unfortunate that people see this as a rich person vs. ordinary person battle, because there were supporters and anti-park people at all levels of income. Yes, there has been development at the site, mostly houses and the mentioned country club (which is mainly open space), but a Disney park is never built in a vacuum. I remember what Kissimmee looked like 20 years ago--and what a mess it is now. Many of us were afraid that our quality of life would be destroyed by the accompanying hotels, restaurants, etc. and the traffic they generated. As it is, with the D.C. commuter traffic clogging the interstate twice a day for several hours, where would the Disney traffic have gone? Gridlock. VA is very bad about building roads when and where they are needed.

People seeking more information abut this project will find the documents relating to it archived at the public library where I work here in Prince William County, VA.

Alain Littaye said...

Thank you so much for your informations, i always appreciate when somebody takes the time to give more details about the truth.

TokyoMagic! said...

Ah-ha, so that is what went horribly wrong with California Adventure! Sorry, but they should have stuck with the original Westcot idea for Anaheim instead of trying to recycle existing ideas from the unbuilt "America" park. I wonder if they would have been just as cheap with the budget if that park had been built in Virginia.

TokyoMagic! said...

P.S. Great post and info!

Marco Antonio Garcia said...

WESCOT? I don't think that there was enough space to build an EPCOT on Disney property in Anaheim.
Please, correct me if I'm wrong.

If I were the one deciding at the Walt Disney Co. I would have spent the money in two or three killer E-tickets on Disneyland and used the available room in the old parking lot to build the best water park in the world (it would have been a big success in sunny and warm Southern California).

Anyway DCA is not going to be a cheap park anymore after the expansion and when I was a child going to WDW with my parents the only park that I didn't enjoy going was EPCOT.

SamLand said...

If you want to get the political side of this story, I invite you to visit Samland. Love the artwork. As always, thank you.