Skip to content

Lou Mongello’s Walt Disney World Wayback Machine – January, 1982.

And while I’m someone who enjoys change, and looks forward to what Disney has planned on the horizon, I can’t help but fondly recall the WDW from days gone by. I am a purist…a nostalgic at heart. While I love a good Yeti as much as the next guy, I miss the House of Magic, Mr. Toad and the ticket kiosks scattered about the parks.

Fortunately, my memory hasn’t completely faded just yet, and with the power of imagination (Lou starts singing the old “Journey Into Imagination” song in his best Billy Barty Figment voice), we can take a trip together in my Walt Disney World Wayback Machine.

Like VH1, I also “Love The 80’s”, so I’ve set the dials to January, 1982.

There’s something called “EPCOT Center” which I just HAVE to check out! They’ve been talking about this thing for almost 20 years, so I can’t wait to see this incredible glass-domed city of the future. Here, where 20,000 people, all of whom are employed, will live, work and play in a climate-controlled environment. This amazing, utopian city will have no slum areas, is supposed to utilize the most cutting-edge of technologies, and really showcases the forefront in industry, government and education. Like the Magic Kingdom, this city uses a hub-and-spoke model, where a transportation network radiates outward through four primary spheres of activity around the central core. The dense, central area has businesses and apartment housing, and radiates out to a more suburban model. I definitely have to check out the seven-acre recreation deck located above the pedestrian and shopping areas of the city. What’s REALLY cool is the transportation lobby below the city! Here, Disney uses two disparate, electrically-powered systems: a monorail for long trips and a WEDWAY People Mover for shorter ones. I love the WEDWAY in the Magic Kingdom, so this is gonna be great! Who knows, I might just have to move here myself…

(insert dream sequence music and blurry visual effects here)

*Poof* It’s January, 1982, and it’s a heck of a lot warmer here than it is in Jersey. I’m driving around, looking for that big jetport they were supposed to build, but no dice. Hmm…. No matter. I should see that big dome any second now… any second… here comes… ummm… huh.

A Cast Member in her dashing, double-knit polyester costume points me towards EPCOT Center (although she did look at me funny when I asked where the city was). She tells me its not open yet, but I slip her a twenty and she gives me the go-ahead to go look around.

Hey…. Wait a second!! That’s not a dome! It’s a geodesic sphere! And those aren’t houses! They’re big buildings shaped like a wheel, or a pyramid… and that one has solarn panels on it!

Time out.

OK, so Walt Disney’s vision of what EPCOT, the city never came to be. His vision of anExperimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow – this living, breathing community, died along with Walt in 1966. When Imagineers went about the task of picking up the pieces and decided how to proceed now that their leader was gone, the idea of EPCOT lived on, but not as Walt had wanted it to be. The reality of politics, voting rights for residents, as well as technical and logistical dilemmas plagued the folks over in California. So the “new” EPCOT was born.

Now, in January, 1982, progress on this marriage of educational pavilions and world’s fair is moving swiftly. Foremost in everyone’s mind is the opening of EPCOT Center in October, so let’s see what’s going on here, as well as elsewhere in WDW.

In Future World, the closest thing to Walt’s hopes for a showcase of new technologies, some pavilions are farther along than others. Spaceship Earth, the centerpiece of EPCOT, is about ¼ covered with Alucobond panels. This incredible, self-cleaning material will eventually cover the sphere with, 11,324 panels made up of 954 triangles. It will channel rainwater into the nearby lagoon, and will soon be affectionately known as “The Big Golf Ball.” Most of the interior show’s sets are stored in the top of the structure, and will be installed from the top down as the scene sets are made ready. They are installing the turntable for the load/unload area as I write this.

Nearby, solar panels are being positioned over at the Universe of Energy. Actually, this is the largest privately funded solar-power installation in the world. There are two acres of photovoltaic solar panels that generate 15% of the power needed to run the entire attraction. Exterior glasswork is being completed as the interior dioramas take shape. Some of the most realistic Animatronic dinosaurs are already waiting for Guests, and the 1/8 wire which will guide the 15-ton ride vehicles waits to be installed.

The World of Motion, which will center on the history of transportation, as well as the post-show “TransCenter” will General Motors’ newest cars and technologies in interactive exhibits. The building is circular in shape, so as to resemble a wheel (more like a very short cylinder). The 60-foot tall building had a diameter of 318 feet, and its exterior is covered in stainless steel. The 15-minute ride portion of the attraction will contain 22 scenes populated by about 150 Audio-Animatronics figures. As of now, many of the show scenes and Animatronic figures are already in place, including the foot power, animal power, invention of the wheel, DaVinci’s studio, the western wagon and more. The post-show display, known as the “TransCenter” will include the “Water Engine Show,” as well as the “Bird and The Robot” show. It will be hosted by an Audio-Animatronics toucan called, “Bird.” He and the assembly-line robot called “Tiger” will demonstrate the importance of robots in modern automobile assembly. “Tiger” will be the very first Audio-Animatronic figure to actually pick up objects, as he will eventually be able to retrieve certain items located in his bag. He also will perform a variety of tricks for guests, including “rolling over” and “playing dead,” and conducting a symphony orchestra. “Bird,” meanwhile, continued to entertain the audience with silly jokes.

Wow. The Land pavilion is HUGE! They tell me that when completed, it will be 253,780 square feet, and cover six acres, which includes working greenhouses and labs. The main building can hold up to 3,600 people and includes three attractions, a guided, behind-the-scenes tour, a great little food court and a wonderful character-meal restaurant. The Listen to the Land boat ride is already being tested, and plants have been growing in the greenhouses for several months. Once the park opens, some of these plants and vegetables will be harvested and served in the rotating restaurant above. The interior fountain is in place already. It will serve as part of a grand story, which will be told symbolically through the use of balloons, umbrellas and water. The large, center balloon in the center of the Land pavilion will represent the different cultures of the world. The “rain” that falls from this balloon symbolizes the many nations nourishing the earth, which is on the top of the fountain below. The balloons surrounding the center balloon represent the four seasons. If you look closely, you will see that the colors of the balloons reflect winter, summer, spring and fall seasons. Also, if you look from the second floor to the food court below, you will see that the tops of the umbrellas all contain images of the sun as represented in different cultures. Just another incredible example of Disney’s attention to detail and theming behind everything they do.

The two pyramids that make up the nearby Imagination pavilion are stunning. As of now, only a steel framework is up, but I do see evidence of a track being installed for the Journey Into Imagination ride, as well as concrete walls for the 3D “Magic Eye Theater.” However, I doubt that the ride will be ready in time for the pavilion’s opening in just a few months. Out of the corner of my eye, I could have sworn I saw a little purple creature buzzing about, but it must just be a figment of my imagination.

As I meander across Future World, I stop by what will be known as Communicore. Construction appears to be progressing nicely on the tunnel from the Universe of Energy to the Future Choice Theater and past Spaceship Earth. (What? You didn’t know there was a tunnel under Epcot?). CommuniCore East will host the TravelPort, sponsored by American Express, where Guests can preview and get information bout future vacations. The EPCOT Computer Central will give Guests a behind the scenes look at “tomorrow’s” computing technology.

Looking past this central plaza, I can see a Colonial-style mansion in the distance. I am beckoned to what I understand will be the promenade surrounding “World Showcase.”

Making my way clockwise (as I will likely always do even 24 years from now), I come across a rather nondescript foundation, with some minor structural steel in place. A peek over someone’s shoulder reveals blueprints of what will be a massive pyramid, complete with shopping arcade, restaurant and water-based attraction making up the Mexico pailion. These guys better lay off the margaritas and get back to work!

A large gap between this an the next structure, which I understand will be China, id somewhat odd. However, work seems to be progressing nicely here. The steel is about ready to be erected, and from what they tell me, Disney’s Imagineers are filming a CircleVision film in China right at this moment. They will likely continue well into May. Phase I of this pavilion will allegedly be ready to open in October as well.

In Germany, the beer garden is taking shape nicely, as the entire foundation is already poured and the steel framework is on its way up. This pavilion will use architectural elements from the regions of Bavaria, Rhineland and Northern Germany. Next to the Biergarten Restaurant was going to be a stone building, home to a “Rhine River ” ride, which will take guests on a cruise through the German countryside. It was to offer both education and entertainment, by showcasing the cultural heritage of Germany ‘s past and present.

Ciao, bella!! The Campanile in Italy is in place, the ornate lathe work on the buildings is progressing nicely, and constructions of the Venetian Island is well underway. Oh wait!! HEY!! Stop contruction!!! You guys got it BACKWARDS!! No! NO!! This one goes there… THAT one goes there!! Sheesh! These guys must have their plans messed up – The placement of ½ scale replicas of the Doge’s Palace and the Campanile of St. Mark are reversed from where they actually stand in St. Mark’s Square in Venice! Oh well, too late now.

The American Adventure building is quite the engineering marvel, as it will use some of the Disney Imagineer’s most advanced designs and effects in this moving tribute to the United States The handmade bricks that will cover the exterior of this building have arrived and are being laid into place. The foundation is in place, and they must have planned for a heck of a “rec room”, as there is a massive basement as well. Actually, this will house the “War Wagon.” Named after the 1967 John Wayne and Kirk Douglas comedic Western film of the same name, the “War Wagon” is a massive, high-tech scene changer located behind and below the American Adventure theater. This movable device is the length of a rail road box car and twice as wide (about 65 feet by 35 feet by 14 feet). It weighs 175 tons and moves on a computer-controlled system of tracks. The number of Audio-Animatronics figures and scene changes in the show forced Disney Imagineers to invent this behemoth that not only moves the 11 sets backwards and forwards, but up and down as well. In fact, the space taken up in the pavilion for this device is greater than the actual seating area for guests!

The familiar pagoda of the neighboring Japan pavilion is in place. The levels of the five-tiered pagoda represent the five elements from which Buddhists believe all things in the universe are produced: earth, water, fire, wind and sky. Atop the pagoda is a bronze, nine-ringed spire, known as a “sorin,” with gold wind chimes and a water flame. Hey! This place has a basement, too. But this one will house the restaurant’s kitchens. The koi ponds and life-support systems are almost complete, and the architectural ornamentation is almost ready for installation.

The steelwork for the France pavilion is nearly complete but something is… I dunno… missing. Oh yeah. The Eiffel Tower. This scale replica isn’t quite finished as yet, but the exterior decorative elements are about 85% complete. The Tower will be constructed using a copy of Gustav Eiffel’s blueprints for the original tower,but the Epcot version will be about 1/13 the size of the original. Through the use of forced perspective, though, the tower looks taller than it actually is. Another difference between the two towers will be the color. The pavilion’s tower is painted, a brownish pink color, which differs from the way the original Eiffel Tower looks today. Years of oxidation have changed the tower in Paris to a greenish color, similar to that of the Statue of Liberty. However, since the Disney pavilion was created to represent Paris in the late 1800s, it was painted the color representative of that period. A final discrepancy between the original tower and the one in World Showcase is one that you would likely never notice. To discourage birds from perching on or making nests in the tower, it will be covered with a sticky substance. This also prevents the forced perspective illusion from being ruined, as the birds would look enormous perched near the top of the tower!

Those folks over at the U.K. pavilion are in high-gear, as most of the Royal Doulton China shop is complete, and much of the exterior facades are almost finished. ‘Otium Cum Dignitate’ (‘Leisure with dignity’) is the motto around here, as I see the replica of Hampton Court Palace and Anne Hataway’s thatched cottage taking shape nicely.

Finally, the architectural elements and ornamentation on the replica of the Chateau Laurier in Canada that they are installing are astounding. It is another example of “forced perspective,” in that although it looks six stories high, it is actually only three. The building was designed to represent the entire nation of Canada, as the top portion of the building represents French Canada, while the lower half is patterned after the hotels built around the turn of the century by the Canadian railroad as it pushed west toward the Rockies. The entire pavilion features architecture and landscaping found throughout the nation. The amazing amount of rockwork in the canyon, pre and post-show areas and mountains is spectacular.

But you know… how can I take a trip back to WDW in 1982 without taking a quick trip over to the Magic Kingdom? I can’t, so let’s hop aboard the monor… I mean… grab a bus and head on over.

Looks like I’m just in time to for the big party! Well, the tail end of it, anyway. WDW just celebrated their 10th Anniversary on October 1, 1981, and Kraft is saluting Walt Disney World’s birthday with a one-hour TV special, being taped in just a few days. I can meet all my favorite stars here, like the Gatlin Brothers, and Michael Keaton. The show will follow the fictitious Lane family (Eileen Brennan, Dean Jones, Michelle Lee, Dana Plato and Ricky Schroeder) through the Magic Kingdom and resorts. The finale will feature a huge musical number featuring 10,000 WDW Cast Members!

OK, I’m going to make a quick trip into Tomorrowland, and hit “If You Had Wings”, grab a cool mask at the House of Magic, and then I’m outta here! This Wayback machine can be a bit finicky, and I can’t get stuck back here with no internet, Tivo, cell phone, mortgage payment, job… hey, wait a second! It’s not so bad here after all! Oh wait. There goes some girl wearing a head band and leg warmers, singing “Let’s Get Physical”. Of course, if I could lay a couple of bucks on Oakland to cover the spread over the Eagles before I go, that could help pay for some sweet WDW vacations once I get back…

(insert dream sequence music and blurry visual effects here)

Well folks, that was WDW back in January, 1982. Very different than what we see today, but interesting (to geeks like me, anyway) to see how it’s evolved, and the engineering marvels that shaped how Epcot came to be.

I look forward to out next trip back in time, as we visit Walt Disney World they way you may (or may not) remember it.

To learn more about Walt Disney World from days gone by, pick up your signed copy of the Walt Disney World Trivia Book – Secrets, History and Fun Facts Behind the Magic by Lou Mongello. All-New Volume II now available for pre-order! And for news, rumors, trivia, interview and so much more (including future audio trips on the Wayback Machine, visit www.mousetunes.com and listen to our Disney podcast.

This article appeared in the April 25, 2006, Issue #344 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)