November 3, 2014

Westcot Goes European


With the addition of Frozen taking over the Norway showcase at Epcot, it got me to thinking it might be interesting to look back at Westcot, the California theme park that was never built and eventually replaced by California Adventure 1.0. You know, back when grand scale, in-theme attractions were designed by the geniuses at Walt Disney Imagineering and approved by the suits like Walt Disney himself, Card Walker, and Michael Eisner ...    for the stateside parks. 

Talk about a second park next to Disneyland had been going on since the 80's, but it wasn't really until the next decade that the Company got serious about turning the original kingdom into a full-fledged destination with additional hotels and activities.

There's a small amount of concept art for Westcot floating around, and this blogger has written many pieces on what could have been, images included. But here's something relatively new. The concept above, from Imagineer John Horny, shows the melting pot of the European section. 

That's right. Westcot's international section was broken down by regional areas not by individual countries. Instead of France, Italy, Germany, Norway, and the U.K. having separate locations, at Westcot they were gathered together under a common banner of Europe. The same plan set aside areas for Africa, Asia, the Americas, etc. Perhaps it was the smaller amount of acreage that necessitated that decision. Maybe it was the desire to create a second Epcot type park that would feel different to visitors who had been to Walt Disney World. Either way, it was a fresh approach.

Unfortunately, in one of Michael Eisner's worst decisions, the entire Epcot meets Southern California park was scrapped due to the expense involved. Of course, the story was different in Tokyo, where the Oriental Land Company was footing the bill for the groundbreaking Tokyo Disney Sea

Tossing aside the quality comes first mandate, Disney's California Adventure (DCA) was amped up instead. The debut in 2001 resounded with a pronounced flop. Just like the similarly budgeted Walt Disney Studios in Paris, the park was the laughing stock of the entertainment and theme park industry. At both locations, crowds were expected but never materialized. The Company executives threw every excuse possible to cover up their mess in California and hide the beautiful Tokyo park from the Disney loving public. Eventually new CEO Robert Iger admitted the park was a misstep and gave a decent chunk of change to transform it. (You can read all about DCA's history and it's Bargain Basement Imagineering in this multi-part series found here. Just the concept art alone is worth a look.)

Even though California Adventure 2.0 is finally a success more than a decade later, hard core park fans may never forget that Westcot was once on its way.  Nor should they. Or the Epcot once planned for Paris...

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

2 comments:

Matt Hunter Ross said...

WestCOT was one of the greatest theme parks never built - along with Beastly Kingdom - in my opinion. The transit plans for WestCOT alone are pretty amazing.

Disney is and always will be the leader in themed experiences, so I still wonder why they seem hesitant to build bigger things that capture the imagination (rather than one-off rides, for example). Beastly Kingdom captures the imagination and allure by its vague nomenclature alone. As does EPCOT (or WestCOT). They inspire even before you set foot in the door. So much potential to there.

Why is the Disney of today so afraid of the "World's Fair" concept, or the educational angle, anymore? It's what people want. And what about the inventiveness and allure of Disney transit alone? Seriously, think what a draw an expanded Peoplemover through EPCOT would be (like originally envisioned), for example, or a much needed expansion of the Monorail line. That excites people. I know that I would personally be visiting more and staying at more/different properties on site if they just expanded the monorail line.

People want to believe in something, and they want to be immersed in these beliefs - these promises of a better day. Theme parks can do this, but only a few, and Disney could rack up the change on this too if they realized the potential they had.

Makes too much sense, to me anyway.

Mark Taft said...

I agree with you on all fronts! And as far as the PeopleMover idea, I'd love to see that in Future World. In World Showcase, I think a Metro that would have stations in the back of some countries would be cool. Imagine, getting off the Metro in the France Showcase and coming up into Paris? Fun!