Have you ever watched a potter at work – from the time he mixes the clay til he removes the finished pot from the kiln?
Have you ever sampled a fine wine in the wooden-casked surroundings of a wine cellar?
And when was the last time you tasted a piece of sourdough bread – or ate oysters on the half-shell while overlooking a shimmering lagoon?
There’s a world of discoveries here at the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village.
There’s been some excellent research done lately on on the area currently known as the Downtown Disney Marketplace – née the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village, and later known as the Walt Disney World Village. The Village was intended to be the precursor to a massive planned development that would include not only villas for vacationers and corporate lessees, but also private residences and a series of themed recreational communities. It would serve as the center of the Lake Buena Vista community, providing needed goods and services to residents as well as shopping opportunities for vacationing guests. Remember, in the 1970s Disney property was essentially the middle of nowhere and there wasn’t a Gooding’s in sight – LBV residents would need someplace to get a haircut, some groceries and pick up their mail.
Tucked away in a woods – and water-entwined corner of Walt Disney World is Lake Buena Vista, a unique combination of peaceful seclusion and Disney adventure. Here, golf carts and footpaths, flowers and trees, and the waterside Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village provide an unparalleled atmosphere of relaxation and recreation.
The city of Lake Buena Vista was chartered as part of the legal agreements that led to the creation of the Walt Disney World property. Disney officials intended to use this recreational community as a testbed for some of the systems and concepts developed for the EPCOT city project; in fact, in later years Walt’s successors would point to the development of Lake Buena Vista and the entire Florida property as the real-world realization of EPCOT’s goals.
Lake Buena Vista was to be “phase one” – Disney’s first attempt at real estate development that would let them work out the kinks before they attempted Walt’s dream of EPCOT. To this end they created Lake Buena Vista Communities, Inc. to develop the area. Their vision for the community was remarkably prescient, considering its emphasis on ecological harmony and the use of concepts that would now be referred to as “new urbanism” – walkable communities and greenbelts. Many of these concepts were inherited from the EPCOT project, and put to use on a smaller scale in Lake Buena Vista. It’s hard to realize when you look at the traffic gridlock on Buena Vista Drive today, but the community was intended to be free of automobiles, with residents running their errands via walking trail, electric carts, watercraft or even horseback. It would be kinda cool to trot down to the Village and hitch up your horse outside the Pottery Chalet.
Flowers and trees have replaced the chrome and concrete of most shopping centers. And weathered brick, warm wood and cedar shingles are the rule.
The aesthetic of the Village-that-was, far removed from the hectic and harried atmosphere of today, was something of a Mediterranean fishing village built to resemble a Swiss alpine resort. The use of brick and wood in construction, the low-slung, angular buildings, and the use of popular eco-friendly design features like skylights all served to give the Village a consistent sense of style and an intimate, friendly scale. Trees and greenery abounded, preventing the vast expanses of blistering concrete that prevail today. It was classy, it was relaxing, but now it’s gone.
I’ve digitized an issue, linked below, of the Lake Buena Vista Village News from the summer of 1976. It’s a fascinating window into a lost era, and its evocative language gives a sense of the relaxing atmosphere that pervaded the resort in the early days.