World’s Strangest

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The West Coast EPCOT That Never Was

If you’ve been to the Disney area of Anaheim in the past few months, you’ve probably noticed that the House of Mouse is working overtime to overhaul California Adventure. The big letters spelling the name of the state out front have been replaced by an opener that resembles the old-time movie studio feel of Hollywood Studios (formerly Disney-MGM) in Florida; Cars Land is looming large on the landscape; less drastic details are popping up all over the park.

But if Michael Eisner had his way, none of it would have been there in the first place. His original plans for the expansion of the Disney empire in Anaheim included a version of Orlando’s EPCOT called WestCOT.

Like EPCOT, WestCOT would have been made up of two parts – Future World, a place for guests to get hands on with science, and an area where guests could experience different cultures and architecture. Instead of being divided into individual countries, though, the mini-world tour would be split into regions: the New World (the Americas), the Old World (Europe), the World of Asia (guess) and the World of Africa (right again). Unlike EPCOT, guests would have been able to reside in any one of those regions during their stay, living right in the park. This hotel-within-the-park idea was eventually used at Tokyo DisneySea (anyone been there?). Rides included a James Bond-esque chase on a train, a trip through an Egyptian palace and a Native American Spirit Lodge.

Even more ambitious was a ride called “The Three Great Religions of the World.” Say what?! Luckily, Eisner and other Disney execs realized doing this without offending someone or creating some sort of controversy was more or less impossible, even for Imagineers who do the impossible every day. I’m guessing it’s totally out of the picture these days, but in 1994, Imagineer Tony Baxter still had hopes for it:

“We had settled on depicting the seven days of creation and avoiding all of the problems between the Muslim and the Jewish and Christian versions of that. And we were getting very excited because we were starting to deal with seven of the great artists of the world and trying to have them depict each of the single days that they had been given. Maybe that will happen later.”

Uh… maybe not.

Like all Disney parks, there were plans for WestCOT to have a large architectural symbol that would represent the park. At first, designers thought they would replicate the giant geodesic sphere from Florida, but make it gold and almost twice as big. When mockups were made, they quickly realized that it would totally distract from the view on Main Street over at Disneyland. The fact that nearby residents were already complaining about how a massive gilded golf ball would be an eyesore whenever they stepped outside probably influenced the decision as well. In the end, a 300-foot white spire was the winner.

And all of this was just the tip of the iceberg: there were incredibly detailed plans for landscaping, hotels, restaurants and more. It was projected that the additions would attract an extra 25 million visitors to the area every year. Nearly 30,000 jobs would be created.

So what went wrong? Well, Disney ran into a lot of problems along the way, including lack of funding from outside sources (hey, someone had to pay for revamped roads, highways and parking garages), push back from some pretty prominent people, and the financial failure of EuroDisney. So, even though WestCOT had officially been announced to the public in 1991, it was scrapped just a few years later.

Still, something had to be done, so execs put their heads together at a three-day summit in Colorado to come up with the next big amusement park. The result of the long weekend was California Adventure, which opened in 2001.

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