/ Thursday, September 6th, 2012

by Josh Taylor

Tomorrowland was one of the original lands of the Disneyland park. Without question, it made its way to the Magic Kingdom park when it opened as part of Walt Disney World in 1971. It’s become a household name with favorite attractions such as Space Mountain, Carousel of Progress, and so many others. It’s kept our fascination for years, but unlike the rest of the lands at the Magic Kingdom, it has to forever evolve with the times. When Tomorrowland opened at Disneyland in 1955, the future looked similar to that of the “Jetsons” and attractions like The House of the Future, quickly became irrelevant. The world’s knowledge of our solar system, space, and what we could invent for the future was rapidly increasing, and unfortunately Tomorrowland has had to suffer because of it.

Imagineers, did however, come up with a plan in the late 1980s to solve the problem of always “reinventing tomorrow”  by creating a futuristic look from the Victorian era. A Jules Verne-like future was imagined to be a great answer. Using architecture, costuming, and paint schemes more related to today’s “steampunk” trend more than anything else. This same thinking was also put into play at Disneyland Paris. With this new look and feel, Tomorrowland would have been changed to Discoveryland, a salute to thinkers like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Leonardo da Vinci. Many of the most popular attractions would stay in Discoveryland, just getting new paint jobs and overhauls. Several other ideas were planned for this area, including a concept that eventually became a Downtown Disney favorite.

The Astronomers Club was to sit between Main Street U.S.A. and Discoveryland, currently where the Tomorrowland Terrace sits. This transitional restaurant would lend to the turn-of-the-century thinking towards what would later become an infatuation with space.  Guests would be seated and would be surrounded with Victorian decor, telescopes, and murals of the solar system. This funky restaurant would not only be a work of art, but a living work of art as actors playing famous, or not so famous, astronomers throughout history would walk around talking with guests and putting on a show for the crowd waiting for their dinner. It is unclear what the menu at the Astronomer’s Club would look like, or if these actors would also be considered part of the wait staff.

So what happened? Discoveryland went from fantasy to reality at Disneyland Paris, however the Astronomer’s Club, which was also planned there, was part of a phase two expansion.  The European park floundered for its first few years, nixing any plans that were involved in phase two. At the Magic Kingdom, it was thought that changing Tomorrowland would be a big leap, both in expense and in keeping guests happy. Several themes from Discoveryland were brought in, including part of the paint scheme, but the eventual theme of Tomorrowland was brought to life in 1994 as the Headquarters for the League of Planets. The Headquarters theme gave the Florida Tomorrowland an American appeal, resembling something you’d have seen on Buck Rogers.

Along with the cost effective change in themes, the Astronomer’s Club was also nixed, keeping many of the restaurants, shops, and attractions unchanged in the 1994 re-theme. The idea did, however, morph into the very popular Adventurer’s Club that opened in 1989 when Pleasure Island opened as part of an extension at Downtown Disney. Disneyland Paris also got the similar Explorer’s Club. Unfortunately, and to much criticism, both the Adventurer’s Club and Explorer’s Club have closed. The cast from the Adventurer’s Club does make appearances from time to time but they have yet to establish a new home.

So what are your thoughts on Discoveryland? Would you have liked it to have come to Walt Disney World? Do you prefer Tomorrowland? What if the Astronomer’s Club opened in Tomorrowland now, would it work? Leave your thoughts and as always, thank you for reading.

 

Be sure to follow Josh Taylor on Twitter at @kidredo. You can read more from Josh at www.disneyparkhistory.wordpress.com

4 Responses to "The Walt Disney World That Never Was: The Astonomer’s Club"

  1. Rich T says:

    I’d still like to see an Astronomer’s Club built as a sit-down restaurant, with or without the performers.

    I’d hate to see WDW’s Tomorrowland change its overall theme much. Disneyland’s version, now that it’s forever lost its Peoplemover, could probably benefit from a Discoveryland-type makeover.

  2. Sammie_Kay says:

    I would like to see the Astronomer’s Club come, I feel like it would fit pefect in Disneyland Paris. I have to agree with the comment above me, I would hate to see WDW’s Tomorrowland change theme. I think if they were to redo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland they could make the Astonomer’s Club work. I think it would be a fun sit down meal.

  3. Angie Carreiro says:

    My boyfriend Kevin is really into astronomy, so, naturally, I think this would be a great addition if they brought the idea back!

  4. Mike says:

    Having made my first trip to Walt Disney World at the age of 14 in 1976 (followed by repeat visits in 1978, 1983, and 1989) I am NOT a fan of the “update” which I first saw in my 1998 visit.

    I guess it’s an oxymoron to say it, but I’m a fan of the Tomorrowland of the past – the 1976 white shopping mall appearance with aqua waterfalls at the entrance, and the white Apollo-rocket-like Star Jets at the end of the main row. That is what I grew up with, that is what I was used to and still remember, and that will ALWAYS be my memory of what REAL Tomorrowland should look like. Yes, I guess the old theme was like a modern shopping mall, but back then shopping malls were just starting to look like that, and it was a VERY futuristic appearance at the time. (The 1976 science fiction movie Logan’s Run – one of my personal favorites – was actually shot in large part in a Texas shopping mall for that reason!)

    The old Tomorrowland theming also reasonably coincided with what had been one of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons a few years earlier – The Jetsons. The late ’90’s re-do took all that wonderful white away and added black, gold….meh – dull.

    Call me a traditionalist. If we can leave Carousel of Progress un-updated for decades at a stretch, we could and should have done the same with Tomorrowland as a whole.

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