Despite the fact that the Lake Buena Vista area is a critical element of the early Vacation Kingdom aesthetic, it often seems that Disney itself had a poor handle on what, exactly, the development was and why it existed. Trying to track the history of the Lake Buena Vista village’s intended purpose is a dodgy endeavor; seemingly every year in the early 1970s presented a new concept for the area. Was it a development for employees? For guests? For corporations? Was it a predecessor to EPCOT? Or merely overflow capacity for the Walt Disney World resort hotels?
At one point or another it seems to have been all these things. The idea of a “second city” in Walt Disney World went back to Walt’s original press conference announcing the Florida development. At the time he said he was considering building a “city of tomorrow” (which would become EPCOT) and a “city of yesterday.” As the EPCOT concept developed prior to his death, this other city seems to have evolved into a “satellite community” which is poorly elaborated but nevertheless always present in descriptions of the futuristic city. At times it seems the satellite community was intended for Disney retirees; EPCOT was only intended for working employees, and cast members would not have been able to live there in perpetuity.
As site planning for Walt Disney World continued, the satellite community came to be planned for the Lake Buena Vista area. As construction began on property, plans for the Lake Buena Vista community became more recreation and resort-oriented. Instead of full-time residences, which would require schools and other civic facilities, these would be second homes, available for sale or lease to corporations, those in search of a vacation home, or Disney clients.
The spin at the time was that the development, although not a permanent residential community, was laying the groundwork for EPCOT. Disney had no experience in the field of real estate development, and Lake Buena Vista would be their dry-run at city building. The small-scale, park-like atmosphere would allow a more gradual entry into home construction than the work required for the futuristic city of EPCOT.
It would also provide a place to put corporations that Disney was courting for sponsorships; the EPCOT effort (in both city and theme park form) depended entirely on the ability to recruit private participation and funds, and the Villas that were to be built in Lake Buena Vista would be a perq for visiting executives. They were also typically advertised as being available for “employee reward programs” or the like, the idea being that companies who bought townhomes in Lake Buena Vista could use them to reward hardworking underlings.
So Disney formed their own development subsidiary – the Buena Vista Land Company – and began building townhouses. Now they just had to sell them.
As with most things in early Walt Disney World, this is where it gets fun. Disney knew how to sell an idea back in those days, in verbiage so lush and savory you just want to bite down on it and chew. No guilt trips about buying your kids all the magic, dreams, and fantasy they can stand here. No pirates and princesses, no dependence on the memories of past glories. Back in 1972, Disney could take the sale of condominiums and turn it into an existential odyssey; a veritable dream quest into the heart of some fabled Shangri-La called Central Florida. This is how you do it, kids:
The pine forests and cypress swamps. The rich, sandy soils of the world’s grandest citrus groves. A quiet lake where a lone fisherman waits the tug of a nine-pound bass. The foaming sea and the majestic struggle of man against mighty 100-pound ocean tarpon. The golden fields where sleek thoroughbreds graze. The golden coast, beckoning vacationers to spend the winter “where the sun spends the winter.”
Florida has known it all. And it has known the land speculator, the glib salesman of swampland, mail order retirement, tourist traps, poachers and promoters.
In Florida, promise has often seemed as elusive as the Fountain of Youth. But where Ponce de León and his conquistadors once searched in vain, today there is a new fountain. And this one is real.
We call it Walt Disney World.
Walt Disney World is the New Promise of the New Florida. It is the new fountain of eternal wonder and wish and dream fulfilled. It is the quest begun by the Spanish five centuries ago, the reason for coming to Florida in the first place: It is the New World.
Now you can become a part of this new world. For within Walt Disney World, there is a new idea.
We call it Lake Buena Vista
You’re not buying a condo. No, no, no, no. You have discovered the new world. You’re freakin’ Cortés, and you’ve found the secret to eternal life, joy, and happiness in the splendor of the never-setting golden glow of Floridian sunshine. You’re no tourist, you’re a mighty god of old, at once one with nature as well as master of all its teeming bounty. This is Lake Buena Vista.
This rather remarkable bit of prose comes from a 1972 booklet published to advertise the townhomes and burgeoning Lake Buena Vista area to potential clients. What’s amusing is that the area was far from finished, so the book is full of pictures of… well, I’m not really sure. Some are obviously photographs of other parts of Walt Disney World property, while others seem to be taken elsewhere. Perhaps in Southern California, where various developments provided the conceptual impetus for the then-unopened Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village.
The idea of Lake Buena Vista as a residential area would soon fade, and for decades the Villas would serve as lodging for vacationing families. None of those original townhomes remain, most having been plowed under for the construction of Saratoga Springs. But we can always remember a swankier era, a time of champagne and shrimp cocktails, of fishing and tennis and golf in Lake Buena Vista, when your “conveniences and life’s pleasures are anticipated” by your dedicated “Residential Hostess.”
This document reads now as a time capsule just as alien to us as an episode of Mad Men, and the Walt Disney World it describes is completely different from that we know today. It also contains some of my absolute favorite, gonzo Disney promotional writing of all time. So call up your Residential Hostess, have her scare up some park tickets for the wife and kids, send them off and pour yourself a drink. It’s time to “meet in park-like settings to discuss business affairs,” “watch a toad hop,” or “shoot an arrow.” It’s time to experience the Promise of New Florida.
In Lake Buena Vista, you can own a piece of the world. And what a world it is.
Ride a bicycle to the Buena Vista Club. And while you’re there, play a few sets of tennis, take a dip in the pool, or take-off on a water-skiing party.
Sail to the market place in the commercial shopping center. And while you’re there, watch native craftsmen of the southeast create their unique wares. Or have dinner at a charming restaurant overlooking the water.
Step out of your backyard onto the beautiful fairway of one of Florida’s finest 18-hole golf courses. Take a walk through the pine forest that grows to the fairway’s edge. Fish just around the bend in Lake Buena Vista. Or get away from it all at a secluded private lake, just a few minutes away.
Whatever a vacation in Florida is – sunshine, relaxation, golf, bird-watching, water-skiing, sailing, fishing, tennis, technicolor sunsets – is yours at Lake Buena Vista.
And you’ll never know the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World is just a few minutes away. Except when you and your children and guests want to go there. And then all you need to become a V.I.P. is a telephone.
Because you own a piece of the world.
Lake Buena Vista is a new idea in second home communities. Master planned by the Buena Vista Land Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Walt Disney Productions, the “City of Lake Buena Vista” is not really a “city” at all. Instead, it is being created as a “park” comprised of woods, waterways, trails and active recreation pursuits. Lake Buena Vista is a park-like setting – with provision for people to live within the park.
To the Disney organization, the creation of Lake Buena Vista as a family-oriented recreation community is a special challenge: The first major Disney venture into a total concept of real estate planning, development and management. Lake Buena Vista is a continuation and extension, in a place where people live, of the same high standards and concern for people evidenced throughout the entertainment and resort areas of Walt Disney World.
To accomplish these high goals, Disney has assumed the responsibility for maintaining key elements and standards in Lake Buena Vista. Although a variety of housing is underway, the land itself is available only on long-term leases. The community is being created under the so-called “condominium-form” of ownership, in which certain elements are shared by all, but Disney maintains key common standards and features. Disney will own the land; you will own your structure. Thus, Disney will forever be your partner.
Located on 4,000 acres of Walt Disney World’s 27,500 acre site, Lake Buena Vista encompasses gold- and woods- and water-oriented homesites, townhouses and company executive retreats … a private club for Lake Buena Vista homeowners … a distinguished Motor Inn Plaza comprised of famous motor hotels, serving as the beautifully landscaped gateway to the community … and a unique cluster of art, handicraft and boutique shops and waterfront restaurants designed as the first phase of a major shopping center.
Water and recreation opportunities dominate Lake Buena Vista. More than anything else, this community is a series of “living environments” designed to meet the desire of those people who want to own a second home in a natural, recreational setting.
Here the designer has intentionally minimized the impact of the automobile: Through-traffic has been kept on the perimeter of the community. Within the recreation and residential areas, all roads are private. Residents may travel to all the important places within the community without using an automobile.
The “main street” of Lake Buena Vista is a series of pathways and waterways. The pathways, and connecting trails, are designed for electric carts, horses, bicycles and pedestrians. The waterways wind through woods and widen out into bays and lakes, forming a three-mile system connecting homes, the clubhouse and the shopping center … where residents may dock their boats while they pick up a loaf of bread, or shop for a birthday gift.
Nature has blessed the land we call Lake Buena Vista … and man has worked with the natural system to preserve the wonders that brought him here in the first place.
There are heavily wooded areas and broad open fields … tall cypress and pine where graceful white heron perch, and cool wetlands where peaceful deer await the night … quiet glades where wild flowers bloom, and quiet pools where the silence is broken only by the splash of catfish and bass.
Throughout all of Lake Buena Vista, land is used generously. Often, a natural stand of trees or a sweeping open field provides a spacious natural landscape between activities, between buildings, between pathways … between people.
As in other areas of Walt Disney World, man has worked with the land to make scenic and recreational use of waterways, essential for ecological purposed. The resulting recreational waterways are the heart of the “water park” concept … and a graceful transition to a unique living environment for man.
In Lake Buena Vista, the scene is trees and water. You are in the country, surrounded by woods, waterways, trails, fields and active recreation: Gold, boating, riding. Housing clusters and clubs and a variety of ways of living are located within the water park; commercial areas border the park, without intruding. The theme is the dominance of the natural setting; man is living with nature.
Lake Buena Vista is a private community of residences designed for leisure-living in the Florida outdoors. Looking out onto a lake, a forest or a waterway, residences vary: Family detached “second homes” and vacation sites, homes for business executives and corporations, cluster homes and townhouses.
Disney security, landscape, maintenance and other important services are part of the reason this community is “different” from other leisure-time concepts.
Residential Hostessing is not a new idea. But at Lake Buena Vista’s Townhouses, the concept has proved especially popular with America’s corporate officers and their guests … because Lake Buena Vista has met its promise.
In the Townhouse community, where Residential Hostessing is offered, conveniences and life’s pleasures are anticipated. Businessmen meet in park-like settings to discuss business affairs, dine on gourmet-catered luncheons, then tee-off at one of three 18-hole golf courses in Walt Disney World.
The Residential Hostess has arranged it all – tickets to the Magic Kingdom for wives and children, cocktails at six, dinner at eight, catered at your Townhouse or at Walt Disney World’s exciting hotel supper clubs.
Flowers, champagne, a note of welcome, arrangements made and followed, service … these are the calling cards of the Residential Hostesses in the Townhouse community at Lake Buena Vista.
The Buena Vista Club is centrally located at the crossing point of pathways, trailways and waterways. The clubhouse and pro shop service many aspects of the community’s recreational program: 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, swimming pool, swimming lake and beach, and a broad sports program for members.
Lake Buena Vista is also the “Host Community” to Walt Disney World. Hotels located in the beautiful Motor Inn Plaza, at the gateway to Lake Buena Vista, are designed to serve visitors to Walt Disney World with complete accommodations and a variety of restaurants. There are also meeting facilities for company gatherings and small conventions at the hotels of Motor Inn Plaza: Royal Inn, TraveLodge, Howard Johnson’s and Dutch Inn.
The Lake Buena Vista Shopping Center is conceived as a unique assemblage of handicraft, boutique and convenience stores … an area original in concept but inspired by places like Carmel and La Jolla, California. Shops and restaurants are arranged for the fun of browsing, and the joy of dining. Subsequent phases of the commercial center will include a suburban style, regional shopping center, and an office-park complex which one day promises to be the prestige business address in central Florida.
Wave to the security guard as you drive the private road to your townhouse or waterfront home. And then toss away your car keys, saddle your horse, take out the bicycle, unfurl the sail, charge the electric cart … and away you go into another world.
In Lake Buena Vista, you can examine deer tracks, watch a toad hop, drive a golf ball, skim a rock across the water, time a volley and overhead smash, drop a line in a secluded inlet, wave from your porch as the Smiths sail by, take a walk through the woods, watch the sunset turn red and gold and orange, walk your wife to the clubhouse dance, sink a putt, shoot an arrow, play games with the kids, relax on the patio, watch the thunderheads build, take a deep breath after the rain, bask in the sunshine, join the trail ride or don’t join the trail ride, fool around with your boat, play or win or let her think you did, paddle a canoe over to the Joneses for dinner, talk about business or forget all about it.
Here is the new Promise of the New Florida. Here is your piece of the world.
Lake Buena Vista
Those interested in seeing the full document can download it here. Special thanks to “Another Voice” for sharing this incredible publication.