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Neverworlds – EPCOT Center’s Science & Invention Pavilion

Science & Invention Pavilion, Herb Ryman, 1979Science & Invention Pavilion by Herb Ryman, 1979

I can’t say I have a very interesting story for this one, as this is something I don’t really know anything about. In fact, I’m fishing for information. The pavilion you see above, dubbed the “Science & Invention Pavilion,” was under consideration as part of EPCOT’s lineup back in 1979. In fact, it can be seen in the rendering in my previous story, where it occupies the site later meant for Horizons.

That park rendering from the 1979 Disney Annual Report, and this piece from Herb Ryman’s book A Brush With Disney, are the only two images I’ve ever seen of this pavilion. Information about it is even more scarce; the only reference I can find is from a 1979 article in BusinessWeek that refers to G.E. as in negotiations to sponsor a pavilion about “science and invention.” I assume this is a mix-up, though, as G.E. was at the time already involved in Century 3, which would later become FutureProbe and then Horizons.

So, does anyone have any information on this? I see all you folks reading from Southern California – surely someone can sneak into the reference library and see what they can dig up…

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6 comments to Neverworlds – EPCOT Center’s Science & Invention Pavilion

  • EC82

    I don’t have any information on it, but looking at it 30 years later, it’s like a strange combination of something from “Close Encounters” and … the hatch from “Lost”! Herb Ryman was truly amazing.

  • Another Voice

    Okay, I have dig deep in memory for this…

    This came about during the “panic days” for the entire EPCOT project. The size of the project was beyond anything that Walt Disney Productions could possible arrange financing on their own (people who whine about today’s ‘Disney’s restrained by Wall Street’ are pretty clueless about how rough it was to raise capital in the pre-junk bond era). The involvement of outside corporations wasn’t a nice marketing or ideological gimmick, it was an absolute necessity.

    Disney had quickly secured backing from longtime partners such as Coke, GE and AT&T. Finding backing for the straight forward corporate advertising pavilions like ‘World of Motion’ and ‘Universe of Energy’ was easy as well. But when one company signed, their contract inevitably required Disney to block out competitors. The deal with Coke meant Pepsi was gone, General Motors blocked Ford, Sperry (Unisys) nixed IBM and so on.

    By 1979 Disney was running out of corporations that could afford to sponsor a pavilion. But even worse was that several of WED Enterprises’ most cherished pavilions – ‘Life’, ‘Seas’, ‘Space’ – still didn’t have any backing. That left EPCOT with fewer pavilions than Disney felt was necessary to open a park (imagine that, a time when Disney worried a park was too small…).

    WED created ‘Science and Innovation’ to appeal to the broadest number of companies possible and took it on one last road show. I don’t even think much thought was put into the pavilion’s attraction – maybe a rehash of ‘Adventure Thru Inner Space’ or a film or something. It didn’t really matter, the pavilion had only one purpose – WED had to sell one more or EPCOT would be scrapped. So the tour began. They made the rounds through all the biggies, through all the companies that had rejected them in the past like Johnson & Johnson, Boeing, McDonald Douglas and so on. No one was bitting.

    According to the legend, they finally showed up again on the door steps of long time Disney partner Kodak and pitched ‘Innovation’ to their Board of Directors. One of them said that while the pavilion was nice, it was really bland, not fitting the image that Kodak wanted to project. Then she asked, “don’t you have anything more imaginative?”

    From that comment, the last original EPCOT Center pavilion was born.

  • Another Voice Says–Nice story. I would love to see some documentation on that.

    Michael–the Ryman books is gorgeous! How did you get such a good scan?

  • EC82: I thought the same thing about Close Encounters…

    Another Voice: Great to see you here! Thanks so much for chiming in. That all makes sense – I thought that because this pavilion was only seen in a few renderings, maybe it was a “placeholder” of sorts. One thing I had never really appreciated until my research lately was how difficult it was to get sponsors signed up for these pavilions. There are so many news articles from the late 1970s which are downright skeptical that the park will ever open because no one would sign on. It’s funny to see all the seemingly random companies that they talked to at the time. When GM signed, it seems like a lot of people thought that it completely saved the park. I guess the world’s largest private construction project didn’t come cheap… Anyway, thanks for the explanation and I hope you stick around!

    George: I got the scan with great difficulty :) I had to scan it in sections and use Photoshop to piece it together, brighten it up, and lighten the page crease as much as possible. It’s still kind of a hack job, but at least it gets the idea across.

  • Another Voice

    I wished I had swiped more memos, but the only real documentation I have is a creaking, aged memory.

    The deal with signing sponsors makes sense given the time. Remember that right after the Magic Kingdom opened the country went through a recession and massive oil problems – that was followed by the Carter years any weren’t any fun either. No one had built TWO theme parks before; no one had ever tried to build a resort around theme parks. Without a track record people were skeptical. Everyone really thought of a trip to Disney as a one day thing – no one could really imagine back then focusing your whole vacation around amusement parks. Besides, so the financial people went, Orlando already had Sea World and Circus World. There wasn’t enough visitors to support at park the scale of ECPOT Center.

    There was another issue working against EPCOT Center as well. Everything thinks of the 1964 World’s Fair as some giant wonder masterpiece. While that fair did stick in the public’s imagination, there followed a long string of abject, costly failures that people have now forgotten – Montreal, San Antonio, Spokane. Disney was now offering a permanent world’s fair. There were good and legitimate questions whether the public really cared anymore about that type of attraction (questions that Michael Eisner himself had which lead to the gradual destruction of the EPCOT Center concept).

    Lastly, there was just the cost involved. Disney was asking for $10 million in fees, costs of the pavilion, operation costs and a commitment to gut and rebuild the pavilion in ten years – all for signage and a really, really nice lounge for where the Board of Directors could swizzle drinks. I guess to be fair, Disney did offer exclusive vendor contracts – that was the primary reason Coke and Kodak came onboard.

  • Yes, I’ve learned over the years how critical those sponsorship deals were. As I mentioned, so much of the press for the park around 1978 asks if any sponsors will sign on, and strongly imply that the park won’t happen at all because no corporations wanted to be involved. Even with the sponsors, Disney still had to borrow extensively to build the park. I guess you’re right that those exclusivity contracts really bailed them out!

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