Walt Disney World Chronicles: 1978 World Showcase

by Jim Korkis
Disney Historian

Feature Article

This article appeared in the July 24, 2012 Issue #670 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

While many Disney fans have spent more than a quarter of a century wandering the promenade around World Showcase Lagoon and discovering the unique pleasures of elaborate pavilions devoted to specific countries, the original plans for this shoreline version of World Showcase presented five years before the area opened were significantly different.

Card Walker, President and Chief Executive Officer of Walt Disney Productions, announced October 2, 1978, to delegates of the 26th World Congress of the International Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Contemporary Resort Hotel that the upcoming E.P.C.O.T. Center would consist of two major themed areas: Future World and the World Showcase. Attending that event were thousands of the world's business elite, along with President Jimmy Carter, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Florida Governor Reubin Askew.

"The World Showcase will be a community of nations, the only permanent international exposition on the culture, traditions, tourisms and accomplishments of people around the world," stated Walker. "A model for true people-to-people exchange, the World Showcase will offer participating nations an opportunity to send their outstanding young adults to operate the attractions, shops, restaurants and exhibits of their pavilions. And these young people who will work, play and learn together for a period of up to one year will help to generate greater international understanding. We have received letters of intent from business or government interests in ten nations for participation in the first phase of the World Showcase –including United Mexican States, Japan, Federal Republic of Germany, Kingdom of Morocco, Canada, State of Israel, United Kingdom, French Republic, United Arab Emirates and Italian Republic. And in the months to come we anticipate substantial additional support for the planned second phase."

Second phase? Well, the World Showcase was planned to open with 10 pavilions as just the first phase of the project, with additional country pavilions to be added within the first five years — including one devoted to Spain and another to Equatorial Africa.

"In the spirit of what we're trying to do, I hope we're beyond politics," said Walker to Florida Magazine in the Fall of 1978. "If you're gun-shy, and don't talk to people, you're not going to have a true people-to-people program. If any country — Russia, Red China, anybody — would come in on a sincere basis and try to accomplish the goals we're trying to accomplish, what's wrong with it?"

The plans for those first 10 pavilions as announced in 1978 had some remarkable differences from the final versions we all enjoy today. Here are the descriptions of the pavilions. It is interesting to see what concepts survived and what ideas disappeared in those five years.

United Mexican States: The Mexico Pavilion is a reflection of the country itself: a country boldly moving into the future without losing touch with its proud heritage. The pavilion's fair weather entrance exposes guests to a modern interpretation of an ancient Indian pyramid against the background of the main show building, which has an enormous mural, covering the entire front of the structure. As guests pass into the pyramid, they find that the polished gold exterior is, in reality, made of mirrored windows that reflect the sun's searching rays. At night, the effect is reversed and pyramid becomes a shining beacon of light. This is the first of many surprises that await guests in the Mexico pavilion. The highlight of the pavilion is a water excursion with colorful boats themed to the famous Xochimilco Gardens. They convey guests through the history of Mexico.

Federal Republic of Germany: Guest entering the German pavilion of World Showcase will find themselves in a spacious plaza surrounded by ornately decorated buildings representing traditional as well as contemporary German goods. A glockenspiel with life-sized animated figures adorns the plaza clock tower and a sculptural fountain depicts the well-known story of St. George and the Dragon. The plaza ramps down to a sunken courtyard where guests can enjoy a snack and a view of the boarding area of the German Rivers ride. The ride is a simulated cruise down Germany's most famous and picturesque rivers: the Rhine, the Tauber, the Ruhr and the Isar. Guests will ride past intricately detailed miniatures of famous landmarks including Neuschwanstein Castle, the Garmisch Ski Area, Rothenberg and the Cologne Cathedral. The miniatures will be scaled so that they will appear to be full sized scenes viewed from a distance. In addition to the miniatures, the ride will feature several life-sized tableaus which will appear as animated visions in the sky. These tableaus depict milestones in German history and culture. The ride debarks at an authentic beer garden where guests can enjoy food, drink and music in the most festive of German settings.

Japan: The entrance to the Japan pavilion is marked by a traditional wooden archway, located along the shoreline of the World Showcase lagoon. Guests will walk past a ceremonial temple bell and an ornately decorated pagoda before arriving at the pre-show area for a carousel theater show entitled, "The Winds of Change." Through the magic of audio-animatronics and film, this four-act show traces the major influences on Japanese culture from the earliest Chinese visitors to the present. The show concludes with a multiple screen film presentation depicting modern Japan's vast manufacturing output and its impact on the rest of the world. Exiting the carousel theater, guests will be greeted by neon lights and music typical of the Ginza, a recreation of downtown Tokyo's famous nighttime shopping and entertainment district.

France: Paris is the heart of France, and this city's street life and flavor, which revolve around the River Seine, are captured in the French pavilion. Guests can walk along the waterfront's tree-lined embankment. Above them, the promenade is lined with bookstalls and poster kiosks. This boulevard borders an outdoor cafe where guests dine under brightly colored canopies. The cafe itself is located in the foreground and interior of a handsomely arcaded building modeled after the Rue de Rivoli. Leaving the entrance area, guests walk the street and stairway leading to Montmartre — the artists' quarter of Paris.

United Kingdom: Green lawns, ornamental gardens, gable roofs, and spires form the setting for romantic expectations. The promenade separates an English pub from the main body of the pavilion. Its shoreline location affords its guests a scenic view over a River Thames and canal setting. Across from the pub, shops and an Albert Memorial style information booth line the main village thoroughfare. The iron and glass work of St. Pancras or Victoria Station is recalled in the structure of the train shed. Nearby, guests can walk through passenger cars where scenes of the British Isles are re-created through the car's windows. Exiting the train, guests may enter a 200-seat theater for a traveling film presentation on the United Kingdom.

Israel: On the shorelines of the Israel Pavilion, the ruins of an ancient minaret serves as an information center. Olive and cypress trees line the entrance and provide shade for buildings and traveler alike. Beyond the pavilion's entrance, the rising walkways lead travelers to a courtyard setting with shops clustered around the perimeter. The bazaar atmosphere of a marketplace in Israel permeates the interior and exterior of the shops. Tapestries, custom wood and brass items, jewelry, fashion apparel, and quality gifts provide guests with a small piece of Israel to take home.

Canada: The Canada Pavilion is based on an outdoors theme that re-creates the majesty of the Canadian wilderness: roughly cut log dwellings, river gorges, steep mountainsides. All roads converge on Salmon Island where the rugged natural beauty of the Canadian outdoors stands alone. Waterfall, all pine trees and an abandoned mine tunnel seem to mark a dead-end until a waterfall magically parts and a drawbridge extends out, beckoning guests into the Canadian Circlevision Theater. Here guests will be surrounded by nine screens for the spectacular film "Canada the Beautiful" in Circlevision 360.

Italy: The classic grace of Italy's art and architecture form the backdrop for the World Showcase's Italian Republic Pavilion. Colonnades, gardens and shops are overlooked by a restaurant featuring cuisine in the grand Italian tradition. The guest enters from a stone footbridge modeled after Venice's pedestrian bridges. Gondolas are docked nearby, an obelisk rises from the center of the courtyard, and from here guests can see recreations of some of Italy's greatest Renaissance buildings. Shops feature examples of time-honored Italian workmanship. One area of the pavilion will be set aside for an exciting collection of art.

United Arab Emirates: Guests will immediately pass two ancient Arabic Dhows (sailing ships). Inside the pavilion, visitors first experience the excitement of a re-created Bedouin encampment. Located at the center of this deserted oasis will be the traditional ascetic black tents that symbolize Arabian warmth and hospitality. Then, guests are beckoned by the opulent royal marquis to enter an Arabian Nights experience, a thrilling magic carpet ride through the Arab World's most fascinating cultures, both past and present. As guests glide above the courtyard area, a powerful mythical character appears before them to serve as narrator and guide through the adventure.

Morocco: At the end of a short journey over the promenade, an adventure into the life and personality of Morocco begins. The visitor may rest or photograph near the rustic paths and exotic plants of Hesperides Gardens before visiting the jagged rock formations of Hercules Grotto. An arcaded bridge with ceiling artwork depicting Morocco's five Great Dynasties connects the upper level of the grotto and Jemas Square. Jemas Square is the gateway to the main body of the pavilion. The Koutoubia Minaret stands above the square, centerpieced by an elaborately decorated fountain, and from here glimpses of the Medina (ancient city) can be seen through the Bab Boujeloud Gate. The Medina opens into the Southern Morocco sector. Here, lunch can be enjoyed in a desert Kasbah where scenes of the Moroccan landscapes pass before the diners. Later in the evening, the Kasbah features a "Magic of Morocco" dinner show.

That is what World Showcase would have looked like in 1978. Quite a few additional changes were made during those five years including plans for an Equatorial Africa pavilion to open in 1983.

Where is the American Adventure, the only pavilion named for the attraction and not the country? It was not actually part of the World Showcase but a massive glass and steel circular structure that sat on ultramodern stilts just across the bridge from Future World at the entrance where two merchandise shops are today.

It was designed to match the architectural theming of Future World and serve as a transition to the World Showcase. The American Adventure was to be the "host" and when guests walked underneath the building (since the show would be on the second floor) and left the United States, they would go to either Mexico or Canada, the two countries that bordered the U.S.


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

http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm Jim Korkis



Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. He is the author of the recently published book The Vault of Walt, which contains nearly 40 chapters of untold Disney stories. 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.

Read more about The Vault of Walt: http://astore.amazon.com/debsunoffiwaltdi/detail/0615402429


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.