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History’s Mysteries – Life & Health

Being a history-oriented Disney obsessive means that occasionally, from time to time, you find yourself immersed in activities both arcane and inexplicable to the general population. Sometimes you have to invent names for these pastimes; for this post I’m voting for “berm analysis.”

When Walt Disney Productions announced in 1978 that it would proceed with the design and construction of EPCOT Center, one of the pavilions planned for the park’s 1982 debut was known as Life & Health. While this attraction would not appear until 1989 under the name Wonders of Life, a pavilion centered around the theme of human health was central to EPCOT Center’s design from its inception.

Life & Health pavilionA model from the late 1970s of the Life & Health pavilion. Click to enlarge.

While a full retelling of this pavilion’s origins will have to wait for a future post, there is a historical oddity that I’d like to throw out to the open internet in the hope that someone out there might be able to shed a little light on this mystery.

I was recently discussing the Life & Health pavilion with Disney historian extraordinaire Martin Smith, when I mentioned that during EPCOT Center’s first year there had been a sign between The Land and the future site of The Living Seas trumpeting the soon-to-arrive Life & Health pavilion. Martin thought that I must be wrong, as the only pavilion ever planned for that plot that he was aware of was the second iteration of Journeys in Space. This opinion was echoed by Mike Lee, webmaster of the spectacular Widen Your World, who also remembered the Health pavilion as always being planned for the Wonders of Life spot. As I trust Mike and Martin’s research far more than I trust my childhood memories, I surveyed the members of my family who had been on those early trips to see if they recalled the sign. Strangely enough, the only person who clearly recalled seeing it also remembered without prompting that it had been between Land and Seas.

Further contributing to the confusion were a couple of pictures which were the only documentation I’ve been able to find over the years of the signs in situ:

Future Site of The Living SeasFuture site of The Living Seas. Click to enlarge.
Future Site of Life & HealthFuture site of Life & Health. Click to enlarge.
Wide angle of Life & Health siteWider angle of the Life & Health site. Click to enlarge.

As you see, the berm behind the two signs looks very similar. As Foxx from Passport to Dreams pointed out, the round planter on the edge of the picture resembles those in Future World West as opposed to the angular planters in Future World East (now that’s good fandom!). I also speculate that, if the Life & Health sign were in the position currently occupied by Wonders of Life, the construction of Horizons would be clearly visible in the background. Perhaps more definitive is this photo that Martin sent along, which comes from the book Walt Disney World: The First Decade:

EPCOT Center, 1982EPCOT Center, circa 1982. Click to enlarge.

You can clearly make out the berm in front of the land intended for The Living Seas which matches the landscaping behind both signs. The walkway past the site is close enough to the berm that these pictures would be possible, and it might be my imagination but I think I can make out the circular planter seen in the picture. In Future World East, where Wonders of Life would eventually be located, the Horizons construction wall dominates the angular terrain and there’s no sign of a berm or significant landscaping.

So, mystery solved? Not really, but it does indicate that my youthful memory isn’t as bad as I suspected. What we need to know now is whether this sign was really in Future World West, and whether the Imagineers ever intended for the pavilion to actually be located on that site.

After that we’ll move on to the mystery of how I have a girlfriend, and people who talk to me in real life when they know I spend my free time doing berm analysis.

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5 comments to History’s Mysteries – Life & Health

  • I’m sorry, but none of this makes you as big a loser as I was when I was standing in Liberty Square shouting “THAT is an OPENING DAY BENCH! — I have the PHOTOS TO PROVE IT!!!”

  • Zach

    The description of all of these Disney fandom luminaries all debating this seriously tickled my funny bone. Reminds me of an academic conference.

    Great post, just added you to my feeds, and I’m quite glad I did!

  • Great post.

    It is nice to see so muchh of WDW’s early history being documented now. We need more.

    But with ladies like Foxx out there scouting benches, we are in great hands!

  • Foxx: You win :) Now I feel the need to one-up you somehow…

    Zach: Thanks! The series of emails is actually pretty funny – I had a similar mental vision of some sort of academic roundtable with powerpoint slides and everything. Just the fact that there is a group of people who can seriously and at length discuss planters, berms, and empty fields of grass makes me very happy. There are some very, very smart Disney fans out there.

    George: Thanks to you too! I too am very grateful for the people out there doing the digging on these things. As we’ve talked about, WDW history is an overlooked field of Disneyana but I have a feeling that things are looking up. And maybe once its history is better known and held dear by fans, its future will be brighter as well. The reason Disneyland gets treated so well is that so many execs and creatives have skin in the game with that park – they’re connected to its history.

  • Peter Altschuler

    I was 12 at the time and a BIG Disney fan. Before the opening of EPCOT Center, I took the EPCOT Center preview book with me to summer camp and had every page memorized. So, when the park opened that October, I ran around as if I’ve been there already millions of times. I made sure to see everything, including the parcels reserved for future use. It was like a game for me to find where all the future stuff would be going.

    In Commincore was a sign that said “Coming Soon: Tron Arcade”. I also saw all the signs you mentioned on your site, including those at World Showcase and the one ones mentioned in this article. I can confirm without a shadow of a doubt that the proposed health pavilion sign was placed between the future site of Living Seas and The Land. I even remember running through the grass in order to see the sign up close, with my parents yelling at me “Get back here! You’re not supposed to be back there!”

    That never stopped me from going to “off limits” areas of the Disney theme parks. One “off limits” area I would always sneak into was in Communicore. This area had all of Imageering’s rendering of planned projects for Walt Disney World. One project that I won’t let out of my head was for a proposed EPCOT to Walt Disney World Village Marketplace monorail extension. They had a HUGE aerial map the size of an entire wall showing the Walt Disney World Resort property boundaries and planned land use. It showed a dotted line representing the extension switched from the current track around Space Ship Earth and exiting the park between Horizons and Universe of Energy.

    Quite a bit of work had been done on that monorail extension route to the Village Marketplace, I’ve been told. This includes not only the engineering work, but also underground foundations for the entire length of this expansion. You can see some of those in the construction pictures you have on your site.

    I’ve been looking for, but can’t find, proof of these foundations in the Lake Buena Vista area other than the models that show the monorail and people mover systems. It seems very odd to me how a company could “forget” they have infrastructure already in place that they could take advantage of and use today. The LBV monorail infrastructure is even more useful today with Downtown Disney and Disney West Side there.

    If you can find more proof that this monorail infrastructure exists, maybe WDW transportation managers might see it and get an idea to inquire the engineering archives and rediscover these underground foundations and put them to use!

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