Walt’s E.P.C.O.T

D23 article originally published by
 Disney Twenty-Three website (October 2012)
written by 
Michael Crawford
(c) The Walt Disney Company

In celebration of Epcot’s 30th anniversary in 2012, D23, Disney official fan-club, published this Walt Disney Archives four-part article series looking back at the time before the park’s opening, and continuing with the development of the E.P.C.O.T Institute and the Future World Theme Center.

E.P.C.O.T, the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. No one can say just when the idea of creating a model city of the future occurred to Walt Disney, but as early as 1959 his company began to consider options for a new development in Florida. By 1964, Disney agents, operating in secrecy, began to secure what would become a roughly 27,400-acre parcel south of Orlando.

Walt Disney shooting the E.P.C.O.T film. 1966.
(c) The Walt Disney Company

But while the public might have heralded Disney’s arrival in Central Florida based on the promise of a “Disneyland East” alone, Walt had bigger plans. While the new complex would indeed feature a theme park—the “weenie,” or visual lure, to draw visitors to the new “Disney World”- it would also push the bounds of themed entertainment by presenting a model city demonstrating prototype systems and technologies.

Inaugural press conference of Walt Disney's "Florida Project" held November 14, 1965 at the Cherry Plaza Hotel in Downtown Orlando.
(c) The Walt Disney Company

In a November 1965 press conference announcing his “Florida Project,” Walt admitted he had tinkered with the idea of building two cities, “Yesterday” and “Tomorrow.” “We have done a lot of thinking on a model community,” Walt said, but he still wanted his futuristic city to be livable on a human scale. “I believe people still want to live like human beings,” he emphasized.

Overall view of Downtown district in E.P.C.O.T, showing surrounding greenbelt, Cosmopolitan Hotel.
Herbert Ryman. Opaque watercolor on board. 1966.
(c) The Walt Disney Company

The result, as Walt explained in a film produced weeks before his untimely death in December 1966, was a true city of the future—a development combining the latest technologies and materials with time-tested concepts about livable communities. E.P.C.O.T’s radial design surrounded a high-density urban core with low-density neighborhoods; at its center was a 50-acre downtown area housing hotels, apartments, convention centers and offices, and shopping and entertainment venues. Enclosed from the Florida humidity and heat, the city center featured a seven-acre rooftop recreation area. Towering above was the spire of a cosmopolitan 30-story hotel, providing guests with a panoramic view of Walt’s sleek metropolis.

View of the transportation center below the urban center of E.P.C.O.T
Herbert Ryman. Opaque watercolor on browline. 24 x 51. 1966. Restored in 2012.
(c) The Walt Disney Company

Transportation was important to Walt’s E.P.C.O.T  in his first Florida press conference, he reflected, “I feel that you can design so that the automobile is there but still put people back as pedestrians again.” To this end, trucks in E.P.C.O.T would be relegated to underground tunnels and the layout of the city was designed to discourage car use. Facilities could be accessed via PeopleMover, or, for those who did drive, an intricate system of roads allowed motorists to travel around the city without gridlock or even stoplights. An enclosed downtown Transportation Lobby enabled transfers between the city’s PeopleMover system and monorails linking to other parts of the planned Disney World development.

Site plan for E.P.C.O.T showing the urban center and the transportation hub.
Marvin Davis. Collage with watercolor and colored pencil on photostat. 40 x 66. 1966.
(c) The Walt Disney Company

Other Disney World facilities—the resort area to the north and a prototype industrial park to the south—would provide employment to most of E.P.C.O.T's 20,000 planned residents. The 1,000-acre industrial park would showcase participating industries to guests travelling to and from Disney’s new theme park; guests could witness firsthand the latest in light manufacturing techniques, R&D laboratories, and corporate computer centers.

Walt Disney during the shooting of the E.P.C.O.T film, November 1966.
(c) The Walt Disney Company

In E.P.C.O.T  Walt said, people would be able to “actually live a life they can’t find anywhere else in the world.” It would constantly be updated to project a vision of “optimum patterns of urban living” 25 years in the future, and was designed to be a dynamic environment that would “always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials and new systems.” E.P.C.O.T s philosophy, as expressed in a planning meeting in October 1966, was simple: In E.P.C.O.T  “people will be king.”

E.P.C.O.T film voice-over approval by Walt Disney. November 6, 1966.
(c) The Walt Disney Company

Although E.P.C.O.T was still in the conceptual phase when Walt Disney died in 1966, his concepts for the city were unveiled to the public in February 1967. That same year, faced with the daunting task of constructing the first phase of what was now known as Walt Disney World, Walt’s brother Roy O. Disney decided to suspend master planning for the rest of the Florida property in favor of focusing all efforts on finishing the Magic Kingdom theme park and its adjacent recreational areas; these areas had always been planned to come first, as they would provide the needed capital to underwrite further development. E.P.C.O.T would have to wait.