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Third Theme Park – It’s dot-com!

jackass OThe first project to fall at his hands was Westcot. In January of 1995 Disney announced the cancellation of the project citing cost concerns. They still desired a second gate, just something “less ambitious” and with more “profit potential” that could be built in phases. Still, they said, the new project might include some aspects of the Wescot proposal, and possibly some elements from the Disney’s America project as well as a water park. Back into the mix was the shopping district – retail being Pressler’s bread and butter. Disney was back to the drawing board.

Whatever they did at that drawing board, they should have stayed there. When Disney unveiled its really-for-real plans for a second gate in 1996, the term “crushing disappointment” found entirely new dimensions of meaning. Disney’s California Adventure was what they came up with, with an estimated completion date of 2001. Aiming at an older crowd ostensibly too mature for the frivolity of Disneyland, DCA reeked of “hip and edgy” and was designed to be built at the lowest cost possible. No corner went uncut; no accountant’s pencil went unsharpened. Ideas of “theme” and “design” and “fun” that had been honed to an art by WDI in its 50-year history were thrown out the window when Pressler’s crew came to town. Spurred by Eisner’s newfound enthusiasm for cut-rate construction, the expansion was on.

DCACan you smell the carnies yet? Remember – baby Jesus cries when you build Disney’s California Adventure.

The tourist economy had rebounded and Disneyland was raking in cash on the heels of its very successful 40th anniversary promotion. Ironically, the cornerstone of that success was the debut of the new Indiana Jones attraction – a massively expensive and highly themed ride the likes of which would never be considered for any of Eisner’s “less ambitious” new parks. Still, expansion mania was back and there, amidst the plans, was land earmarked for “future expansion” in a strawberry field that Disney still didn’t own.

At long last, this changed. As DCA slouched inexorably towards its debut like a leprous sloth, the Fujishige family finally agreed to sell 52.5 of their 56 acre farm to Disney in 1998. Combined with the land it had previously purchased adjacent to the farm, Disney finally had more than 80 acres that it needed to build a third park. So what would they build?

Resort MapThe resort map, as shown on thirdthemepark.com – the former strawberry field is in the lower right corner

Throughout the decade, Disney had considered several concepts for a third gate. Jack Lindquist, former Disneyland president, told the Orange County Register that these included an iteration of the Disney-MGM Studios in Florida (another Eisner pet project, it had also been intended to be cloned for Paris and Tokyo), as well as design based on the DisneySea concept that had been reconfigured for the smaller urban site. As many Disney-MGM attractions had already been incorporated into Disneyland and the designs for California Adventure, the DisneySea park seemed most likely. Other possible projects, such as water parks or more hotels, seemed to be less profitable uses of the land and Wall Street expected to see it used for a proper theme park. Still, the construction of a third park depended on the success of the second, so groundbreaking was still at least a decade away. Time passed…

As the Disney resorts continued to flourish, an unhealthy mindset began to permeate Disney management. People loved Disney, they knew. More and more they began to believe that people would continue to flock to Disney parks no matter what was in the actual park itself. The infamous phrase “if it’s good enough for Six Flags”, allegedly uttered by Pressler himself, indicated the mindset of the era. Disney was no longer leading, they were coasting. And they thought their fans would eat it up. Buoyed by the ecstasy of cost-cutting, and with dollar signs sparkling in their eyes, Disney became convinced that California Adventure was going to be a hit. A big hit. Hotel occupancy and turnstile clicks would soar, and soon Disneyland would be a bona fide resort destination just like its little brother in Florida. And this mindset is how, months before California Adventure was to debut, Disney opened thirdthemepark.com in the fall of 2000.

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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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