Walt Disney World Chronicles: History of the Hub

by Jim Korkis
Disney Historian

Feature Article

This article appeared in the May 13, 2014 Issue #764 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.

Tokyo Disneyland HubI always tell people that Disney's middle name is "Jello" because it is constantly changing.

The latest change is to the Hub area at Walt Disney World. Expected to be completed sometime in 2015, the Hub's renovations will include new sculpted gardens, new pathways, more restaurant seating and a special viewing area for fireworks and shows. It is hoped that this redesign will alleviate congestion in the area, as well as provide better, more comfortable viewing opportunities for the nighttime fireworks extravaganzas. To accommodate these additions, some familiar areas like the old Swan Boat dock and Rose Garden pathway will disappear or drastically transform, like the amount of space devoted to the castle moat. Construction has been underway for quite some time.

The new gardens are "inspired by the lush grounds seen around European castles and chateaus," according to the Disney publicity release. The castle itself will seem to expand outward, with small castle turrets replacing the vaguely turn-of-the century design of the sound booths by the edge of the street at the entrance to Fantasyland.

To better adjust to these changes, it is important to understand the original purpose of the hub area. Like many things, it all started with Walt Disney. However, it wasn't a revolutionary original idea, but a re-imagining of an already existing concept.

"Walt restlessly prowls the Earth like a walking electronic computer storing up data. You never know when he's going to press a button and some idea, maybe from as far back as 1910, will come tumbling out of his brain," stated top Disney executive Charles Levy in an interview in the Saturday Evening Post magazine from November 7, 1964.

Walt was famous for adapting or integrating things that he had seen somewhere else into a Disney project. The development of audio-animatronics came from declassified documents from NASA about the launching of rockets into outer space. Walt could see that the way rocket scientists released the different stages of a rocket through a sound pulse could easily be adapted to an enchanted Tiki bird and flowers that only needed to open and close their mouths repeatedly. However, when it came to utilizing the idea of a hub, Walt had a very prominent example to reference.

Walt had frequently visited Washington, D.C. and had studied the layout for the city created by French-born architect Pierre L'Enfant. It was a design referred to as the "radial system," or more commonly, the "hub and spoke." The hub and spoke referred to a wagon wheel, which has a central core and many different spokes emanating out of that center. Everything, no matter its location on the outside, eventually connected back to the core.

The early amusement parks and carnivals had multiple entrances/exits in an attempt to increase attendance. Just like a Las Vegas casino, it was easy to get in, but often a challenge to get out because of the chaotic, confusing interior layout meant to keep people disoriented and staying inside longer. Often, guests would backtrack in frustration to try to determine where they had originally entered.

When Walt started seriously planning the building of Disneyland, he studied all sorts of public spaces, from museums to carnivals to libraries to entertainment areas like Greenfield Village and Knott's Berry Farm.

"I've been studying the way people move at museums and other entertainment places. Everybody's got tired feet. I don't want that to happen in this place," he emphasized to his Imagineers.

At the time Disneyland was being built, Walt was more than 50 years old (considered old age at that time when people died earlier) and a grandfather. While others remarked at how quickly he could walk, causing others to struggle to keep up, he preferred not to waste his time retracing his steps needlessly and having his feet sore at the end of the day.

Walt, who was known to invent colorful phrases to describe something, referred to this problem as "museum feet," based on his experiences of trying to acclimate himself in a museum. For Walt, there never seemed to be a logical flow connecting the various rooms. Walt described "museum feet" as "the ache of having walked too much just to get through the place." The result made the visit unpleasant and sapped the joy from some of the treasures that were discovered in the process.

"I want a place for people to sit down and where older folks can say, 'You kids run on. I'll meet you there in a half hour,'" Walt said. "Disneyland is going to be a place where you can't get lost or tired unless you want to."

Working with Imagineer Marvin Davis (who did more than 200 different designs for Disneyland before a final one was approved by Walt), Walt recalled the radial plan and how it helped people instinctively orient themselves at all times.

In a much later interview, Davis noted, "The overall shape of the park, with its single entrance, was Walt's and that was the key to the whole thing. Walt was very circulation conscious, and he wanted a single entrance so that they could control the number of people that came in, and know the number that went out, and know what's in the park."

All the different lands returned to the hub. One of the early challenges to the concept is that Walt designed it so that people who entered a land also had to exit the same way to return to the hub. Eventually, he realized from guests' reactions that once in a land, there needed to be a cross-over to another adjacent land in the rear without having to retrace steps back to the entrance of the land.

Years later, the Disney company bought expensive time on a massive computer to determine the optimum design for an entertainment venue that would handle "x" number of customers, have "y" number of areas for them to visit, etc. The results were that the computer recommended the exact same design that Walt had come up with, which included a single entrance and a centralized hub.

Walt never originally called the location "the hub." As early as the first Disneyland map in 1958, there is documentation that the area was referred to as the "Central Plaza" or just "Plaza." That's the reason the restaurant in that area was called "The Plaza Inn." Occasionally, The Walt Disney Company still refers to the location as the "Plaza," but the name "Hub" became the more frequently used term used to describe the area.

"The more I go to other amusement parks in all parts of the world, the more I am convinced of the wisdom of the original concepts of Disneyland. I mean, have a single entrance through which all traffic would flow, then a hub off which the various areas were situated. That gives people a sense of orientation — they know where they are at all times. And it saves a lot of walking," Walt told an interviewer later in life.

Disneyland opened in Summer 1955. Later that year, Delta Airlines experimented tentatively with the first concept of a hub for its flights. It proved so successful that it was expanded in the 1970s and is considered commonplace today in the airline industry. It was much more efficient in many ways.

Walt immediately saw the advantages to having a hub at his park. The hub offers an opportunity to facilitate decision-making. Walt saw how families would bunch up looking over a confusing map, often congesting a walkway, as they tried to determine where to go. In the hub, all the major choices are immediately visible.

The hub also prevents guests from becoming disoriented and getting lost. The large centralized landmark of the castle, which can be seen at great distances, allows guests to easily find their way back to the hub or to determine where they are in the park.

As mentioned, the hub was to help prevent tiredness by avoiding needless walking and backtracking. One of the possible reasons that "Every Person Comes Out Tired" at Epcot is that it is not based on a hub and spoke design. The hub also distributes people more evenly throughout the entire park through the many spokes. People don't feel that there is only one right way to go.

Having just one entrance going to a hub also allows Disney to better assess how many people have entered and how many have left at any given time.

Swan Boat DockSomething that never occurred to Walt was a "cross park familiarity." Visitors to Disneyland can understand the layout of the Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland fairly easily despite some specific differences.

For those concerned about the changes to the Hub, it is important to realize that the area has changed significantly since the opening of the park in 1971.

The entrance to Liberty Square once sported the row of flags that now surround the Liberty Bell. The entrance to Tomorrowland was flanked by two massive waterfalls. Even Cinderella Castle did not have the currently existing raised stage at its entrance.

In the beginning, the Hub even had an attraction: The Swan Boats. These vehicles would drift leisurely through the waterways of the park.

The hub itself had many beautiful trees that continued to grow (and eventually obscured the late night fireworks show for many guests). Even the beloved Partners Statue did not appear until 1995, well over 20 years after the park first opened.

It is not a coincidence that when Disney developed its in-house proprietary intranet system for cast members to get information, request schedule changes, sign up for the cast choir and more that it was dubbed "The Disney Hub."

Even in this day of massive electronic communication, the Disney company recognizes that "the hub" is the best way to manuever the many pathways available.



Walt and the Promise of Progress City (excerpt): Site Design:

Other features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives:

Jim also writes for the AllEars® Guest Blog every other week, contributing entries under the heading of "Jim's Attic." Find his latest entry here:http://land.allears.net/blogs/guestblog/2014/05/jims_attic_snow_queen_ride.html



Disney Historian and regular AllEars® Columnist Jim Korkis has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of several books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com.

— The recently released, "The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse," is more than 300 hundred pages covering the life and career of Mickey Mouse, with thousands of facts, quotes and stories about Walt Disney's famous alter-ego.

"The Vault of Walt, Volume 2: Unofficial, Unauthorized, Uncensored Disney Stories Never Told"

"Who's Afraid of the Song of the South?"

"The REVISED Vault of Walt": Paperback Version / Kindle version


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.