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Neverworlds – The Israel Agreement

Concept art for shopping street in the Israel pavilion at EPCOT Center by Herb Ryman

Another press release from the sad file of fruitless announcements, this excited blurb comes from November of 1981:


Representatives of the State of Israel and Walt Disney World signed an agreement for the design of a major pavilion representing that country in the community of nations in World Showcase at EPCOT Center.

EPCOT Center is our vast new showplace for the nations of today and the technology of the future, currently under construction. It is scheduled to open October 1, 1982, and cost $800 million. More than 120 million guests have already visited our Walt Disney World Vacation Kingdom since opening in October 1971.

The agreement was signed by Joseph Wolff, special advisor to the Minister of Finance for Israel and President of the Tourist Industry Development Corporation, representing the State of Israel. Carl Bongirno, President of WED Enterprises and Executive Vice President of EPCOT Center, and Howard Roland, Corporate Vice President of Contract Administration, signed the agreement for the Disney organization.

The agreement, following months of negotiation, is the beginning of design for this latest addition to the World Showcase area of EPCOT Center. The pavilion is scheduled to open in 1983.

Wolff was part of a team from Israel, which also included Samuel Ben-Tovim, Consul and Trade Commissioner to the U.S. for the State of Israel and Jeshaja Weinberg, Director of the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora in Tel Aviv. The group has been consulting with our Disney organization to finalize their countries’ participation in World Showcase.

The pavilion of the State of Israel joins eight other countries in the circle of nations surrounding the World Showcase Lagoon. They are: Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Morocco, Japan, Italy, Germany and Canada. American Adventure, a dramatic presentation dedicated to the “American Spirit, ” will stand at the center of World Showcase and will be presented jointly by American Express and Coca-Cola. Additional pavilions currently under development for future representation in World Showcase include Denmark and Africa.

This never happened, of course, for reasons that will be obvious if you’ve watched the nightly news at any point over the last seventy years. But Disney seemed so certain that the pavilion was going to happen that a sign appeared in World Showcase around 1983 marking the future spot of the attraction:

“The Old Meets the New in the ‘Land of The Bible'”

Seeing that blurb, it’s not hard to imagine why the pavilion didn’t happen. The sign features another lovely Ryman rendering, though, as did the other World Showcase “Coming Soon” signs.

Israel did eventually make it EPCOT, in the form of an exhibit at the Millennium Pavilion which sat between the Canada and United Kingdom showcases from 1999-2001. The $8 million exhibit featured a truly strange motion-base film attraction called Journey to Jerusalem, which provided a tour of historic sites in the holy land. Thankfully, by the advent of the 21st century such an attraction was greeted with the even-handed acceptance that a subject of such fascinating shared historic and cultural relevance deserves. Oh wait a second, never mind – it was actually a total PR nightmare, with threats of boycotts from the Arab League and various Arab American cultural and business groups, and Israeli officials adopting the “you’re not helping” strategy of rubbing their choice placement in a widely-seen Disney attraction in the faces of their political and cultural enemies.

Perhaps that’s a clue to the reason why Disney has continued to flirt with the idea of a Spain pavilion – another of those lost 1983 attractions – over the years, but we haven’t heard a peep about Israel since the days of Card Walker.

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3 comments to Neverworlds – The Israel Agreement

  • RO93461

    That Ryman painting looks like they overdressed “Europe Street” on the backlot with some signage and called it Israel. It could have been New Orleans Square. That has to be one of the most generic, or as he used to say, “specifically vague” pieces of art he has done. Where’s the “wow” Herbie? No wonder it never happened, he was probably told not to paint anything controversial and that left him nothing.

  • HA! You’re so right. I thought specifically about New Orleans Square. It’s very vague – pretty weird when the thing that grabs me the most is the font on the signs (I love Herb’s “handwriting”). Some of the people in the street look like they’re out of a Lautrec poster, which is fun.

    I’ve no idea how much work was done for this project – this painting and the one in the picture are literally the only pieces of art I’ve ever seen for the pavilion, and this one didn’t even come out until the “Brush with Disney” book. All the promotional stuff from the time is really vague too – just shopping, and eating in an olive grove. Like you said, they were probably told to avoid anything controversial!

  • Ashley

    The Herb Ryman painting looks to me like the facade of Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean given a makeover to look like a building found in Jerusalem.

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