Yes, what about that, Mr. Eisner?
With all the fooferall surrounding recent rumors of a fifth gate (or 4th and a half gate) in Florida, I’ve been reminded of an odd period in Disney history when, from 2000 until 2002, Disney operated a website called thirdthemepark.com. Occasionally when I make joking reference to the site as a generic verbal stand-in for any gross instance of managerial hubris, I find that Disney fans don’t remember or were not aware that this page once existed.
Thirdthemepark.com is a fairly interesting piece of Disney theme park lore, especially for those interested in the NeverWorld of lost park concepts. While the site itself is long gone (its URL is currently owned by an individual in Colorado), one can still view elements of it courtesy of the Internet Archive. So lets travel back, forty thousand years (or, say, seventeen), and take a look at this mysterious website and the process leading up to its creation.
The story begins, as all good stories do, with a Japanese immigrant farmer and his family’s strawberry fields. Hiroshi Fujishige’s father arrived in America in 1915 and settled down outside of Los Angeles, where he began to farm and eventually married in 1918. The Fujishiges lived there until 1941, raising Hiroshi and his brother Masao, until the outbreak of World War II led to a number of U.S. policies unfriendly to Japanese-Americans. Seeking to avoid the internment camps, Hiroshi’s family agreed to a government-directed “voluntary evacuation” and moved to live with a relative in Utah.
Hiroshi, who had just left high school after the completion of his third year, was eventually drafted into the army. Before he departed for Europe, however, he became violently ill with an infection only to discover that he had been poisoned by a dentist who sought revenge for a relative lost in the Pacific War. By the time Fujishige had recovered, the war was over.
At this point Hiroshi and his brother moved back to California and started a farm in Norwalk. Several years later, in 1953, they traded that land for 58 acres in Anaheim. The deal, worth about $2,500, allowed them to farm in peace without being hemmed in by development. Then, two years later, Disneyland opened and rural Anaheim changed forever.
Forty years later, Fujishige was still waking to at 5 a.m. every day to tend to his strawberries on the farm he owned with his wife of thirty years. He operated the fruit and vegetable stand from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, while raising his crops on land valued between $1 million and $2 million an acre. In 1994 he told the Washington Post, “if I had more schooling and knew what all these deals were, I might have been out of here a long time ago” and called himself “just a dirt farmer”. Yet while Fujishige affected a folksy hayseed persona, he was obviously a shrewd customer who knew exactly how valuable his farm was worth. It was this refusal to be bullied or bought that drove developers, and Disney management, crazy for decades.
Fujishige had already refused many offers, some upwards of $50 million, by the 1980s. In 1985 he was taken to court by the city of Anaheim who sought in vain to build access roads for new development through his property. After an arsonist burned down the fruit stand in 1986, the Fujishige family agreed to the project but the development eventually fell through. That same year Masao Fujishige killed himself, allegedly due to despair stemming from his slow recovery from a stroke. And then, into this mix of despair and determination, with his mind solely fixed on resort expansion, strolled Michael Eisner.