At the start of the 1990s Eisner had grand plans. He announced the Disney Decade, which would result in four fully-realized Disney resorts around the world. No longer would Disneyland exist only as a single theme park; rather, it would soon be the centerpiece of an entire destination resort along the lines of Walt Disney World in Florida. Eisner was obsessed in locking families in to an entire Disney vacation; at no point should they have to leave property to spend their carefully earned cash. California would soon see a new Disney park – the only question was where.
In the first act of defiant arrogance that would presage the ultimate failure of the Disney Decade, Eisner decided to play the cities of Anaheim and Long Beach against each other to determine where Disney would build its new park. Dangling the possibility of building one, both, or none of the parks, Eisner started a bidding war for which city could offer the best sweetheart deal while eliminating civic and governmental roadblocks in the shortest time.
The first volley came in July of 1990 when Disney announced plans for the Port Disney facility in Long Beach. This $2.8 billion, 414 acre seaside resort would be centered around the DisneySea park and also feature five resort hotels, retail shops and waterfront dining, a marina, and a port for cruise ships. The complex would incorporate the Queen Mary luxury liner, which along with Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose had been obtained by Disney as part of their purchase of the Disneyland Hotel from the Wrather Corporation in 1989.
While Disney tried to overcome zoning and environmental hurdles in Long Beach, they continued to lay the groundwork for the Anaheim resort. In February of 1991 they acquired 23 acres of land – a former trailer park – adjacent to the Fujishige farm for $1.3 million an acre. At the same time, they offered the Fujishiges $32 million for a 99-year lease to their strawberry field. Fujishige declined, but did not rule out future negotiations despite calling Disney’s offer “insulting.” He told the Associated Press that “it sure seemed to me that I was about to end up like those Indians who used to own Manhattan Island. When they came in with such a low offer, I was about ready to walk out of the meeting right then. Disney will do what they want to do, and I’ll do what I want to do.”
Things remained contentious throughout 1991. In May of that year, Disney revealed its new concept for Anaheim. An ambitious plan, it called for a $3 billion 470-acre resort expansion that would add three new hotels, a nighttime entertainment district, and Westcot Center – a new theme park that sought to perfect many of the concepts that Disney first tried at EPCOT Center in Florida.
It was a glorious plan, tying all the disparate pieces of the Disneyland Resort into a whole. All those small parcels of land occupied by abandoned motels and cheesy tourist traps that Disney had picked off over the years would be transformed into a lush resort with hotels, entertainment, and parks linked by monorail. The master plan even showed a large parcel of land to the southeast of the resort for future expansion – enough for a third theme park!
One problem – Disney’s promotional materials for the master plan all labeled the Fujishige farm as the site of future expansion despite the fact that there was not, and had never been, any agreement for the family to sell their land to Disney. As part of the planning process for the resort, Disney included applications for permits to build a third park on the site. This did not go over well with the Fujishiges, who famously pronounced in 1993 that they would never, under any circumstances, sell their land to Disney.
So, here we are in 1991. Disney Imagineers, at the behest of Michael Eisner, have created plans for two theme parks that, if built, would be the jewels in Disney’s crown. Magnificent and highly integrated plans for resort areas had been created for the two cities, including plans for a third park in Anaheim. So what happened? And how, out of all this promise, do we wind up with the flaming bag of ordure that is California Adventure?