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Third Theme Park – It’s dot-com!

Throughout 1991 Eisner and other Disney managers cut a swath through California, bullying and berating officials on the state and local level for money and infrastructure improvements for the two projects. In Anaheim and in Sacramento they made no friends with their high-handed policies, dangling offers from others cities over officials’ heads. Politicians and businessmen would scrape and beg, offering Disney whatever they wanted only to have Eisner ask for more or threaten to pull out entirely at the mere threat of any legal or civic red tape.

In December of 1991, Disney announced that it was abandoning the Long Beach project and building Westcot instead. The legal and logistical issues involved with building on the Long Beach site, including the hundreds of acres of landfill that had to be dredged, continued to push up costs and delay timelines. Westcot could be built by 1999, while Port Disney could have taken until 2010 to be completed. Rather than deal with the hurdles that still remained in the halls of Sacramento, as well as the further cost of environmental reviews, Disney decided to play it safe and stay at home. Anaheim celebrated, and the wait began.

Hotel New YorkThe Hotel New York, one of seven (!) hotels built for EuroDisney – did we mention Eisner also loved trendy architecture?

Then things took a turn. In April of 1992, EuroDisney opened near Paris, France and immediately began to hemorrhage money. Eisner’s mania for constructing destination resorts had led to a severe over-building of hotel properties on the site. EuroDisney only contained a single theme park and was a quick commute from Paris, and strangely enough this resulted in mostly day-tripping visitors instead of the week-long vacations Disney was used to seeing in Florida. Rooms sat empty and while the park itself was a masterpiece of design, poor planning and an initial refusal to acknowledge differences in French culture (No wine in the park? Really?) led to massive debt.

Of course the message Eisner took from all this was that he had let those pesky Imagineers spend way too much money on the park itself. Rather than accept blame for all the money he spent on his series of white elephant hotels, he began to rein in WDI. After 1992, Disney would never again build a fully-conceived theme park outside of the borders of Japan.

Westcot Version 2The second iteration of Westcot with the 300 foot spire to the left

The first casualty, of course, was Westcot. In April of 1993 Disney announced a redesign of the park with the 300-foot Spacestation Earth replaced by a lone white spire. Plans for Disneyland Center, the lakeside shopping district, had been eliminated from the plan and the hotel expansions had been scaled back as well. The only announced addition was the incorporation of hotel rooms into the park itself, allowing guests to stay inside the park in themed resort hotels. Downscaling continued throughout 1993, with Disney announcing in December that they were going to adopt a “smaller and slower” approach to Westcot. While they promised the park would be built, it would most likely be in slow and gradual phases. The EuroDisney problems led to a “wait and see” attitude, and construction continued to be delayed.

Negotiations continued, with Eisner continually threatening to pull out at the first sign of trouble while still demanding parking and infrastructure investments from the city of Anaheim. With the fear of cost overruns at WDI still on his mind, 1994 arrived. As described in our article on the failed Disney’s America project, 1994 was a year that changed everything at Disney. The death of Frank Wells and the departure of Jeffery Katzenberg, Eisner’s health scare and the cancellation of Disney’s America – these events took their toll and management became cowed. Suddenly fearful of any risk, and no more willing to fight for projects, Disney announced in June 1994 that they were putting off a decision on Westcot’s future for a year. This, despite the fact that they had just recently signed an agreement with the city of Anaheim that essentially granted them many of the concessions that they had been demanding.

Then, it happened. Like one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, Paul Pressler arrived at Team Disney Anaheim in November of 1994. No doubt reeking of brimstone and carrion as he dismounted his fell steed, Pressler claimed to have come to help push through the Westcot project. In reality, he was to be Eisner’s hatchetman and in the ensuing years he would do more than any single individual to wreak havoc with the Disney legacy and in the process he became the most infamous – if not hated – manager in the company’s history.

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4 comments to Third Theme Park – It’s dot-com!

  • [...] themes. We’ve already touched upon the story of Disney’s America, as well as the process that led WESTCOT to be downsized and eventually cancelled. Port Disney followed a similar path to [...]

  • Mike Kowalczyk

    Fascinating article, its really a shame what the management did to Disneyland and Disney World in the ’90s, even today.
    As of right now it seems the third gate is going to be a parking lot until at least 2017-2018. We can keep our fingers crossed for what it will become after that but they have lots of issues to fix in their existing parks before building a third or fifth gate.

  • Thanks… it’s true, we’re still paying the price for those policies.

    I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t had a chance to cover the parking lot news. Looks like Third Theme Park is a ways away, and that’s probably a good thing. DCA is no Westcot, and needs many years of attention. Disneyland, too, needs some love and a new Tomorrowland!

  • Chason

    Another fantastic article. I am constantly captivated by the wonderful information you present and much appreciate (and in most instances agree) with your commentary about the state of Disney theme parks, its successes, failures, and changes that need to be made.

    I hate to take the discussion into the realm of backseat imagineering, but I hope the powers at be, as penance for DCA, really work to conceive a wholly original and inspired third gate for DLR. I cannot help but have a kernel of hope for DCA given the flavor of improvements they are applying to the park, specifically Buena Vista Street and the (albeit superficial) re-themed Silly Symphony Swings. DCA could be very successful as “Walt Disney’s California Adventure,” a park dedicated to the California young Walt experienced, the one that inspired and informed his work, and what came of it in his early years. I think this sort of philosophy, a sort of back-to-the-beginning investigation of Disney history and appreciation for classics, should really be at the heart of Disneyland development. Let Disney World be innovative. Let DLR be that little bit of the past Walt hoped no one would ever truly let go of.

    In that vein, I wouldn’t want to see a revival of Disney’s America or Port Disney. I wouldn’t even want to see WestCOT, as impressive as the concept was, just because it draws so heavily from Epcot (and I’m sure we will never see the concept of a city ever again). DCA’s Hollywoodland has, thankfully, saved us from another studios park, and the plot of land couldn’t accommodate something akin to Animal Kingdom. As I child, when I first saw the Silly Symphony short “Music Land,” I thought that would be an amazing theme for a park, with Disney shorts and Silly Symphonies as the themes for lands and attractions, though I am unsure now if an entire park could be built with that theme. Nonetheless, this is the sort of development Disneyland deserves, and I hope management realizes this, too.

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