|Most Disney fans agree that they would rather have seen the spectacular Westcot theme park built at Anaheim instead of what was eventually delivered : Disney’s California Adventure. In this article Shaun Finnie starts to examine what the abandoned park would have been like.
In 1989 Michael Eisner asked the Disney Imagineers to draw up plans for a new Disney theme park in California. He was aware that guests were spending two weeks or more in Orlando’s Disney properties, but only one day at Disneyland. Eisner wanted the west coast Disney fans to spend more time – and of course money – at ‘their’ home park. In commissioning these plans his brief was simple: “Amaze me”.
To their credit the Imagineers did just that, delivering one of the most ambitious plans that the Disney Corporation has ever produced.
WESTCOT was planned to be, as the name implies, a West Coast version of Epcot. After years of speculation the plans were officially unveiled May 1991. Like its eastern counterpart it was to have had a World Showcase style area dedicated to showing architecture from around the world. The twist with WESTCOT was that most of the representative buildings would have been hotels in their own rights. You could, for example, have stayed overnight in an African or Indian themed room at the centre of the park. For more information on this, see my earlier MickeyNews.com column,
The Hotels That Might Have Been Part 3 – WESTCOT Hotels
The World Showcase would have been much more than a series of glamorous hotels though. The smaller space available at WESTCOT would have meant that unlike at Epcot, where the countries each had their own individual buildings and areas, here in California they would be built together in a series of regionalised terraces. This was The Four Corners of the World, showing how all countries are dependant upon on another.
The Imagineers had learned that Epcot guests sometimes felt that the park was more educational than exciting. They wanted to see interesting things, but they wanted to have fun while doing it. With this in mind WESTCOT would have included more rides and attractions than it’s eastern counterpart. For instance the Asian section would have featured Ride the Dragon, a steel rollercoaster running through the Dragon’s Teeth Mountains that would have had cars designed like the Chinese lion-dragons seen in festival dances. At the point where the coaster would be at its highest, therefore enabling riders to see out of the park, the moving cars would be engulfed in billowing red and gold silks to hide the outside world.
For smaller children there would be a carousel in this area, but instead of the more usual horses, the riders would be seated on mythical Asian animals.
Architecturally the Asian Corner of the World would be composed of Japanese and Chinese elements – of course the famous Temple of Heaven and the Great Wall of China would be here - and a white marble Indian palace which was to house the dining and entertainment sections of this particular Corner of the World.
The Africa Corner would feature a white water river raft ride down the fictional Congobezi River, as well as an exhibit on basic farming culture. And of course there would be outdoors entertainment in the form of African drummers. There were also designs to build a grand Egyptian Palace. This latter was planned for the park’s first expansion.
Potentially the most controversial part of the park would have been the headline show in the African section. The Three Great Religions of the World would have been set in a small olive garden and would have shown the Muslim, Christian and Jewish versions of the seven days of creation, with seven of the world’s greatest artists commissioned to depict one day each.
The Africa pavilion would have been completed by an art exhibition and The Story Teller Tree, a place where traditional tales would be told and performed just as they would have been in an African village.
A Greek amphitheatre and a replica of the Acropolis would be the central points of the European pavilion. This Corner’s headline attraction was to have been a dramatic James Bond style spy chase train ride aboard the “Trans-European Express”. This Disney-created route would have had views of buildings with architectural styles found in Italy, France, England and Germany.
A small region called The Tivoli Gardens would be at the entrance to the European section. This children’s’ playground and ride area was named in honour of the Danish amusement park that was apparently a huge inspiration on the way that Walt planned Disneyland.
This classic picture shows Mr Disney trying on some nifty headgear on a visit there.
Also in this section would be the From Time to Time circlevision movie / animatronic show (starring Robin Williams as the voice of The Timekeeper) that has proved to be so popular at Disneyland Paris, and a show that had originally been developed for the Russian pavilion that had been designed for Epcot but eventually abandoned. This is a theme that keeps recurring throughout these articles: Disney never throws an idea away, though it may sometimes be decades before it comes to life.
The first pavilion that guests would see on entering WESTCOT’S World Showcase would be the Americas Pavilion, with an area representing early 20th century USA at it’s entrance. In this way the Main Street theming of Walt’s original Disneyland would be continued, as the two parks’ gateways would have been facing each other across a central plaza. The American Adventure that visitors to Florida will be acquainted with would be here also, albeit in an updated form. The Americas Corner would continue with a Native American Spirit Lodge show in the Canadian section, and an indoor Mexican area which would have included a fiesta show and restaurant. Another spirit show, this time featuring the Inca and Aztec cultures, would round out the Americas section.
There was one final attraction at WESTCOT’s World Showcase. Winding through the entire Four Corners of the World was to have been a boat ride called The River of Time. It would have been the longest ride Disney had ever produced in a park, taking guests on a 45 minute world cruise. It was intended to tour all the external areas of the World Showcase, but with the addition that guests could, should they desire, leave the boat at any (or all) of five show areas. Audio animatronics scenes depicting many of the events shown at Epcot, like Leonardo da Vinci working on the Mona Lisa, the burning of Rome, Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel etc would be seen on the ride and the stories begun by them would be continued in the shows. After the show finished the idea was that guests could either get on the next boat to continue The River of Time cruise, or leave the show area to explore the rest of the World Showcase on foot.
So that’s half of WESTCOT covered. Come back next time when I’ll look at the rest of this huge Disneyland expansion.