By Judd Hambrick
Special to the Daily Journal
Orlando, Fla., Nov. 16, 1965: There have been rampant rumors for weeks surrounding who has bought over 27,000 acres of land around Buena Vista over the past several years. Some speculated McDonnell-Douglas. Others speculated Ford Motors. It has been an extremely well-kept secret. But, all was revealed in a press conference at the Cherry Plaza Hotel, here, yesterday. The buyer is none other than the creator of Mickey Mouse himself, Walt Disney.
Disney will build a bigger version of his Disneyland park in Anaheim, Calif., which opened in 1955. This new park will be called Walt Disney World -150 times larger than Disneyland.
Gov. Haydon Burns introduced Walt Disney at the press conference as “the man of the decade, who will bring a new world of entertainment, pleasure and economic development to the state of Florida.”
Walt – he wants people to call him Walt – explained his ideas for the upcoming park. There will be the Disney signature Magic Kingdom, of course, like Disneyland. But, Walt also shared his vision for something entirely different – his vision for an ideal City of Tomorrow he personally would create.
This City of Tomorrow would be built adjacent to the Magic Kingdom. Walt wants it to be “a totally planned, controlled community.” The most perfect city in the world with underground streets and above ground homes, parks, offices and walkways.
Further, “There will be no landowners and therefore no voting control. People will rent their houses instead of buying them.”
Walt went on, “There will be no retirees; everyone must be employed.” This City of Tomorrow is clearly a driving force in Walt’s life.
Since 1958, the company has known that only about 2 percent of the visitors to the Anaheim park came from east of the Mississippi River; yet 75 percent of the U.S. lives in the east. So, Mickey Mouse had to build another “house” in the east.
Walt said they decided on Buena Vista because “it has warm sunny weather year round, a terrific highway infrastructure and inexpensive land.”
Coincidentally, the day Walt made the final decision to build Disney World in Florida, he and his executives had cheerfully begun to fly back to California in his jet on that bright, sunny Friday, Nov. 22, 1963 – when they heard the sad news: John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas.
Disney World will cost $600 million to build, employ 20,000 people and attract millions of visitors to our area annually. If these projections hold true, Walt will provide a huge boon to Florida’s economy.
“Boon” puts it mildly. Walt Disney World is the most popular theme park in the world with more than 17 million visitors last year. Today, it employs about 60,000 people. Its economic impact to Florida is incalculable but easily worth many hundreds of billions of dollars over the years.
Disney was smart to be so secretive in buying that initial 27,000 acres. The day before they announced Mickey was coming, raw land in Buena Vista was selling for about $175 per acre. Land prices jumped to $1,000 per acre and higher the day after the announcement. ($1,000 in 1966 equals $7,000, today).
Walt Disney died Dec. 15, 1966, from cancer at the age of 65. He died five years before Disney World opened in 1971 and 16 years before his beloved EPCOT-Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow – opened in 1982. He had worked into the night the day before his death. The EPCOT plans had been taped to the ceiling above his hospital bed. He used a long pointer to convey his thoughts. So, just a few hours from death, Walt Disney was still planning and dreaming about the future, or as they say at Disney, “imagineering.” He died at 9:30 the next morning.
After Disney’s death, the company’s board of directors was extremely reticent to build Walt’s concept for EPCOT. The board thought no one in the United States would want to live in such a controlled environment. So, when EPCOT was opened in 1982, it was not the City of Tomorrow that Walt Disney had envisioned but closer to a type of World’s Fair. EPCOT is still a huge draw to Disney World, but it is certainly not Walt’s dying vision.
Disney is one of the top 10 most recognizable company brand names in the world, ensuring its place in Southern Memories for as long as kids of all ages love to sing and spell M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E …