Circa 1982

Communicore Logo

We all know by now the story of EPCOT Center was originally going to be EPCOT the CITY. And although that didn't happen as Walt Disney originally had intended, EPCOT Center followed the idea of the city more closely than you might think.

So since this year mark's Epcot's (I mean EPCOT Center's) 25th Anniversary (happy birthday, big guy! You still look great!), I thought we would take another trip aboard my Walt Disney World Wayback Machine for a detailed look at one of the park's original pavilions.

I transfer some money into the Wayback Machine (it now accepts PayPal, which is so darn convenient), and set the date to 1982.

OK, so I started off by talking about Epcot the theme park vs. Epcot the city, and how the city concept was more prevalent than one might think. In fact, Spaceship Earth's original "Earth Station" post show was meant to act as Epcot Center's "City Hall". To that end, Communicore, the "Community Core," made up of the two buildings that comprised Communicore East and Communicore West, were designed to be the central hub, or "Main Street" of Epcot. Communicore opened with the park on October 1, 1982, and the two buildings that made up this pavilion would serve to surround EPCOT's "Town Square", or central plaza.

Communicore Logo - Communicore was described as "Future World's global Main Street of ideas and inventions". This came from original concepts for the pavilions that would require Guests to travel through Communicore to enter the main area of the park, (just as Guests have to journey down Main Street, USA in the Magic Kingdom). As part of the Town Square design, it would house Future World's main dining establishments, much like a downtown district.

As we travel back to October, 1982, it's easy to see how these buildings have changed through the years. Looking at it here in my parachute pants, Michael Jackson leather jacket and wraparound sunglasses (I know it's hot, but work with me here), and brand new Air Jordans, I see buildings that are much more open and bright that the current Innoventions.

Let's look first at the design and architecture of the buildings.

Back when Communicore first opened, there was a central corridor that ran though each of the buildings from end to end, with a number of entry/exit points to the outside and breezeway to the other building. In fact, Communicore was originally designed to have a WEDWAY PeopleMover system installed on the second level - that is why the main corridors are so high - to accommodate the track system

Communicore's two circular building that are now occupied by Innoventions, were filled with interactive exhibits, attractions and restaurants. This design was chosen for a variety of reasons, including being able to build OUT from the existing structure. Disney wanted to be able to add on floor space to each of the 100,000 square foot buildings. Thus, wedge-shaped pieces could be attached to the outer rim of the building for new attractions, etc. To that end, these exterior, glass walls were not load bearing and could be removed quite easily. In fact, if you look at the areas on the outside of the perimeter of Innoventions now, you'll see a great deal of empty space just for that purpose. The areas from the building to the monorail tracks were left open for a gradual expansion, which would have basically doubled the size of the buildings. Brilliant engineering and planning if you ask me.

In fact, some expansion and change did take place when construction had begun, as the original location of the Odyssey restaurant was to be on the south corner of Communicore East. However, a large sinkhole forced its relocation to its current spot. The sinkhole is still there, and is actually the small lake to the southeast of Innoventions East. Old concept art even shows the Odyssey restart attached to the buildings - again demonstrating the Town Square mentality. The Sunrise Terrace restaurant also changed and expanded during construction and the Centorium extended out in 1987 during its refurb. In 1989, the Teacher's Center was added as well.

Unlike Main Street's Town Square, though, Communicore's buildings were surrounded by Guest areas and attractions. Thus, underneath these buildings needed to be a series of service tunnels. Much like a simplified Utilidor in the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT's tunnels connects the two building as well as some backstage areas. So again, EPCOT's Future World can technically be described as being on the 2nd floor as well! There is a large entry ramp to the tunnels right next to the Energy pavilion outside of Guest views. There are also storage areas, break rooms, offices, etc., but there are no tours and this area is strictly off limits to Guests

In the northeast areas of this underground section were the computers than ran all of EPCOT Center. Instead of being hidden, however, they were in plain sight and featured in one of Communicore's main attractions. Remember that in the early 1980's, computers were not a household commodity and were very new, expensive and huge, so they truly were a new technology that was being showcased, especially on a personal level. Because they were so new and unknown, Disney and the corporate sponsors made it a point to portray computers as being safe, friendly, entertaining and useful, as demonstrated in one of the main Communicore attractions. It was showcased through the WorldKey system, the use of robotics around the parks, and through interactive kiosks and terminals.

Inside these buildings, these areas were to really be the central places for interactivity with Guests, and allow corporate pavilion sponsors to have a second venue to interact with Guests after the attraction, such as Exxon, who had no additional space in or around their pavilion.

Now that we know a little bit about why they look the way they do, let's take a look inside and see why Communicore was so much fun (especially to geeks like me!)

Now let's get to the really good stuff - the attractions and exhibits inside! Although the floor plans inside the buildings were very open, they were broken down into a number of separate and distinct areas.

COMMUNICORE WEST - Communicore West was home to a number of large exhibits, the first of which was sponsored by AT&T, who at the time, was also the sponsor of Spaceship Earth. Extending the communications theme from the attraction into Communicore, their exhibits showcased some incredible technologies.

FutureCom was meant to be a demonstration of advanced communications technology in use today, in what AT&T called "FuturePresent". They used a large "Intelligent Network Map" to show the flow of information across the United States. One could imagine this as a simple precursor to a map of the internet pipelines across the continent. Here, Guests could also use interactive touch screen terminals to access information. These were known as ARIEL = Automatic Retrieval of Information Electronically. Hmm… Sounds like that could be a cool character name, too. File that one away, boys!

Other exhibits included the Fountain of Information, where neon lights were formed to look like a fountain, and represent the various ways that people receive information. Games here included "Packet", where Guests could decode messages distinguished by colors, which was demonstrating modern packet switching. There was also the AT&T Family Phone, and the Information Age Theater. This giant mural on one of the outer walls represented communication both musically and visually, and tied directly into Spaceship Earth, showing how communication had helped man throughout history

The WorldKey Information was basically a help desk staffed by an AT&T Representative, and had games and exhibits such as the AT&T Phone display and personal computers that were "online". The Face to Face exhibit showed video conference technology with Cast Member on TV interacting with Guests. Here, there were also a number of games such as Lost for Words (where you could guide an electronic mouse through a maze with your voice commands); AT&T True Vision; Famous Faces (here, you could use the touch screen to unscramble a celebrity face); Scramble Faces; Tele Trivia (which talked about fiber optic cables); Electronic Finger Painting. Network Control (a game where you switched lines for phone calls to make as many connections as you could), Phraser; and the Chip Cruiser (a video game where you could shoot computer viruses before it made its way through the network). Most importantly, there were prototype personal computers and even predecessors of modern PDAs. Like I said - Geek Heaven.

Also in Communicore West was the EPCOT Discovery Center, a research center all about EPCOT and Walt Disney World (later called "Ask EPCOT" and then EPCOT Outreach), the Sunrise Terrace Restaurant, and eventually the Expo Robotics show. Originally there were plans for a TRON arcade in this location, but sadly, despite all of my letter writing, it never came to pass.

COMMUNICORE EAST was home to… well… let's just say one of Walt Disney World's more "interesting" shows.

Remember, computers in the early 1980's were basically nonexistent to the average person, and were these giant, monolithic machines that filled rooms and, well… had about as much computing power as a kid's Playstation 3. (OK, maybe an exaggeration, but again - work with me... I'm going somewhere with this).

Ken Jennings from the Astuter Computer Revue © Disney
So, how does Disney decide to showcase EPCOT Center's massive computer room? Mickey? Nah, too cliché. Figment? Nope. He's busy with Dreamfinder. How about a lovely young woman and cute little techie character? Nah, but file that one away for later. Ah! Got it! Let's have some English gentleman in a white suit be sitting at the Rose and Crown Pub in the U.K. pavilion. No wait! Better yet! He's there with a monkey (stay with me people). Let's use some non-existent technology to beam him to Future World, shrink him down to about 12" tall, and project his image onto the tops of the computers! No, I'm not making that up. That's what Disney did. And to make it worse, they had him sing a (gulp) song that was, well, not the Sherman Brothers best effort if you get my meaning. Yes folks, this was the Astuter Computer Revue. This show ran from opening day to January 2, 1984 and holds the distinction of being the first attraction to be removed from EPCOT. It was hosted by Ken Jennings and sponsored by Sperry. And while it offered a great view of the giant DEC VAX computers rides that controlled all of the rides and shows, it was not very popular. At all. It quickly became the Backstage Magic show and introduced us to Julie and I/O and was a more serious look at the history of computers and explained how they were used at Walt Disney World. How Mr. Eggs from the Kitchen Kabaret show fit it in still a bit of a mystery, but let's move on, shall we?

There were interactive games-a-plenty here as well, including Get Set Jet (you could help board guests on a plane) and Putting It All Together (a trivia quiz about EPCOT), the Compute-A-Coaster (like cyber Space Mountain using CAD and the Manufactory (where you could assemble a U.S. Flag on assembly line). They may not sound all that exciting (kids, put down your PSP and please pay attention here), but they were innovative and cutting edge at the time.

Do you remember SMRT-1? The little purple and chrome robot that sat on a rotating pedestal surrounded by telephones? Now HE was popular, as he spouted trivia (right up the author's alley), and played games with Guests where they could compete against one another via the phone handsets.

Let's not forget the importance of corporate sponsorships to EPCOT. In fact, they got the park built! And Communicore was where many could strut their stuff.

The Travelport was sponsored by American Express, and featured a giant 14-ft sphere showing destinations worldwide. Looking at it then and now, it reminds me of the new, larger globe at the current Spaceship Earth post show. Of course, the American Express Travel Service desk was located close by, where guests could obtain more detailed information from live hosts and hostesses and even make reservations.

The Energy Exchange, which was sponsored by Exxon and located near the Universe of Energy pavilion, had wind, solar, nuclear, oil and gas, synthetics kiosks which were actually quite interesting. One even had a giant mini oil rig. (Giant mini? Oxymoron?...)

The Stargate Restaurant was located across from Energy Exchange, and here's where I'll stop to remember how amazing the view was. From your seat in the Stargate, you could look across the entire building to the bright floor to ceiling windows.

(Someone taps Lou on the shoulder…. "Ah, Lou? Something's missing. Where's the requisite merchandise shop?") Glad you asked, for you see, the Centorium was one of my favorite places in EPCOT Center. It was the largest merchandise location in the parks at over 13,000 square feet. It was wide open and bright, and even had a mezzanine level, elevator, and varying levels on the ground floor. Plus, all that cool 80's chrome and glass!!! More importantly, it had an amazing selection of merchandise that to this day I have never seen duplicated anywhere on property. No, not even the World of Disney. When the Centorium closed in August, 1999, it was the last original Communicore piece left before being taken over by MouseGear. RIP old friend. Yeah, we shall miss thee….

Now, one thing that (at the time) was VERY cool was the Epcot Poll at the Electronic Forum that opened on December 23, 1982. Guests entered the 175-seat Future Choice theater and watched short films about current events. After the watching the clips, viewers could take part in a poll and vote by pressing one of 5 buttons marked A through E on their seat armrests. The cool thing was that the results were instantly tabulated. Topics ranged from people's thoughts about nuclear energy, to our most important freedoms, etc.

But even better than that was the Person of the Century. Here, people were able to cast their vote 89 different nominees or write in their own choice for who they felt was the "Person of the Century". At varying times, some of the top nominees included Lucille Ball, Winston Churchill, Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, Mikhail Gorbachev, Michael Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Theresa. Believe it or not, Walt Disney was not one of the nominees!

Now here's where things got interesting. The poll was supposed to run until January 1, 2000, when Michael Eisner would announce the winner in a television special. Had the recipient no longer been alive, he would have given the award to his or her descendants. However, after a little more than a year, the machines were unceremoniously removed from Communicore, and the "Person of the Century" voting disappeared faster than... well... FAST! Why? Well, according to legend, some "creative" Cast Members started writing in the name of a single Cast Member. What started out as a joke took on a life of its own, and next thing you know, they were telling people to "Vote for Dan." Well, it worked… sort of. Because the results were SO skewed, Disney just took the exhibit and poll down, never acknowledging formally the results or why it was taken down.

Before we head on out of Communicore, do you remember the old Population clock? You know, the one that displayed the rough population of the Earth and changed with every passing second? Remember the little wooden people that rotated around it? Ah, well… call me sentimental, but I remember it fondly and for some reason, it brings back great memories of this place. And what about Disney's own Imagineering Labs? Do you recall seeing the Virtual Reality helmets that let you fly through Agrabah? A simple measuring tool and the most advanced VR technology all in the same place - and both leaving a lasting impression on a child. Disney at its finest.

Anyway, while we're still here (I like it here - they still have the ORIGINAL Figment ride! AND Horizons!!!), let's talk about some other cool concepts that never made it into Communicore. I already mentioned how I would have loved to see the Tron Arcade, and I don't want to get all sappy again, so let's talk about some of the others, OK? No, I'm not crying… I have something in my eye…

Other technologies and exhibits we never saw (although some have made it in some form or another into Innoventions) included the Road to Utopia, which let Gusts try their hands at city planning to design city of the future, and HomeStyes 2000, which showcased new technology in the home (think Horizons!). The EPCOT Creative Center would have displayed conceptual work from students across the country, and the Audio Adventures Maze would let Guests navigate a maze using only their voice. While this never made it to EPCOT, the technology was later used at Soundstations at the Disney-MGM Studios' Monster Sound Show. We also lost out on what would have been a very interesting space exhibit to go along with the planned space pavilion that never came to be.

Communicore in 1982 was quite different than the Innoventions that we have today. It served a number of purposes, both literal and figurative that are somewhat muddled since its change.

It truly meant to serve as EPCOT Center's version of Main Street, U.S.A. and accomplished that goal quite nicely. Guests had reason to walk though and enjoy these buildings, not only as a means to an end. And much like a true Main Street, it was a center for both community (restaurants and attractions) and commerce (pavilion sponsors). It really was an extension of the surrounding pavilions in Future World and brought together almost all of the corporate sponsors under one roof. For the Guest, it was something to enhance your visits and experiences at the pavilions, and to EPCOT Center as a whole.

But unlike today, the corporate advertising (let's be honest - that's what it was and is) was much more subtle than what we currently see at Innoventions, It was closely tied to the pavilions, attractions and their themes.

The timing for Communicore was absolutely perfect - it opened at the beginning of a new technology revolution, and was a great way to introduce and educate people about computers. For the first time, we had an up-close and personal look at giant machines that ran EPCOT, to the handheld devices, touch screens, voice recognition and even the internet that we would all come to rely on in the not-too-distant future. It was fun, often funny, and embodied the spirit of Epcot is more ways than one.

But alas, all good things must come to and end, much as this trip aboard my Walt Disney World Wayback Machine must as well. Time to hang up the parachute pants (I'm telling you, they WILL be back in style one of these… what do you mean they were never in style???) and head on back to 2007. Taking one last glance around Future World and seeing Horizons, World of Motion, and so much more that I fondly remember, I long for the days when you can join me once again and travel back in time to WDW's past.

Thanks for following me along in my journey. See you next time!

By Lou Mongello
Author of the "Walt Disney World Trivia Book: Secrets, History & Fun Facts Behind the Magic"
Volumes I and II