Home » 4 Radical Ways Walt Disney’s Lost Second Theme Park Would Have Been Unique

4 Radical Ways Walt Disney’s Lost Second Theme Park Would Have Been Unique

Walt Disney stated during the construction of Disneyland that he had no intention to create another theme park. That obviously didn’t stick, but before the Magic Kingdom there was another park named Riverfront Square being carefully considered by Walt and other members of the Disney family.

One of only three (or four, if you count Epcot) parks he had a hand in, Riverfront Square is an important piece of the founder of Disney’s history. Things we know from the planning stages show that Riverfront Square would have been a very unique theme park experience, unlike any other run by the Mouse then or even now. Here are four distinctions Riverfront Square would have had from every other Disney park.

1. It would have been located in Middle America

Image: Disney

Unlike Disneyland Resort in California or Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, Riverfront Square was going to be located at the center of the country in St. Louis, Missouri; it was casually referred to as Midwestern Disneyland during its early development. That location is significant for a few reasons. On one hand, it might have been a good thing to to have a park there. People in the middle of the country would have had a place to flock to. But it posed a big problem, too, in that wintertime attendance would suffer greatly due to harsh weather conditions in Missouri. Whereas warm and sunny Anaheim and Orlando are prime winter vacation destinations, attendance would have slowed down significantly at Riverfront Square as it got colder.

Missouri is also significant because it was Walt Disney’s home state. The Riverfront Square project was likely exciting for Walt in large part because it would have given him a chance to celebrate the rich history of the place he grew up. His love for Missouri was already present at Disneyland with Main Street, U.S.A. and Tom Sawyer Island, but Walt was easily passionate enough about the state to fill a whole new park. Many of the planned attractions at Riverfront Square were to be inspired by the myths and history of Missouri. That list of attractions included:

  • The Lewis and Clark Adventure, based on the travels of the men known for their early expedition that started close to St. Louis and went through the Western half of the United States. You can look at a picture of its artistic rendering in the introduction.
  • An attraction based on the Meramec Caverns of Missouri
  • A ride based on folk legend Mike Fink
  • An attraction inspired by Davy Crockett from folk legend where children could wander through caves 
It’s hard to imagine a Disney park in Middle America, and it would have made Riverfront Square an entirely different beast from the other Disney theme parks.

2. It would have been indoors

Image: Disney

It’s hard to imagine an entirely indoors Disney amusement park, but a location more prone to harsh weather in the wintertime dictated that it was the only sensible option for Riverfront Square. That would have made the Midwestern Disneyland one of a kind. There are a fair number of indoor parks around today, the most prominent one probably being Nickelodeon Universe (formerly Camp Snoopy) at the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN. The first fully indoors amusement park, The World of Sid and Marty Krofft in Atlanta Georgia, didn’t debut until 1976, which is over a decade after plans began for Riverfront Square. That means Riverfront Square would have been another mark for Disney in the history books as the first indoor theme park.

It’s interesting to wonder whether people would have responded to Riverfront Square, particularly as an indoor park. As a Minnesota native I enjoyed many trips to Camp Snoopy and appreciated the consistency afforded by no bad weather to deal with, but I’m sure others have different opinions.

3. It would have been rooted firmly in history rather than fantasy


Image: Joel (license)

Disneyland and most of the Disney parks that have followed are primarily focused on ideas and concepts we don’t see in our daily lives. Epcot is one potential exception, but even that has Figment from Journey into Imagination and, soon, a Frozen attraction. By and large, Disney hasn’t succeeded nearly as often when they’re making parks and attractions celebrating history over adventure. Little nods like Main Street, U.S.A. are nice, but people visit the Disney parks largely to escape the real world, not get immersed in the past. 

A lot of readers probably know the story of what led to underground tunnels at Disney parks. As the story goes, Walt Disney saw a Frontierland cowboy walking through Tomorrowland and was angry that it ruined the mystique of Disneyland, and the tunnels came out of his desire for that never to happen again. Considering Walt’s dedication to keeping mundane things like that from the eyes of guests, it’s somewhat surprising that he believed a park based in large part on Missouri culture would succeed. Sentimentalism may have blinded him somewhat.

The Walt Disney Company would even repeat the same mistake after Walt passed with Disney’s America, another parks that was developed by Disney but failed to get made. So Riverfront Square would have been the only park rooted so deeply in history, which may be a reason why it failed.

4. It would have served beer and liquor

Image: Disney

Urban legend goes that booze was what made the Riverfront Square deal fall apart. The Disney History Institute blog reports how many believe a feud between Walt Disney and an influential St. Louis man named August Busch halted production, based on something said by Admiral Joe Fowler, a man involved in both the construction of Disneyland and preliminary planning for Riverfront Square. He told others that Busch insulted Walt by insisting that his park couldn’t be successful if he didn’t sell liquor. That was when, according to Fowler, Walt lost interest in the project.

The Disney History Institute blog also goes on to dispute that urban legend somewhat, but it paints an interesting picture of Walt’s limited interest in serving liquor at Disney parks. Since he wanted a trip to Disneyland to be a family affair, Walt didn’t think it suited the Anaheim park. However, to make Riverfront Square happen he was willing to compromise on that front with an observation floor that would have contained a restaurant, banquet space and a cocktail lounge where alcohol could be sold. So, if Riverfront Square was made, it would be the first Disney park to have a public place to drink alcohol. That’s yet another thing that would have made the Midwestern Disneyland unique from all the other Disney parks.

As we all know, Riverfront Square never came to be. What do you think about that decision? It would have definitely been unique, but would it have been a positive contribution to Walt Disney’s legacy and the legacy of Disney theme parks? Share your thoughts on Theme Park Tourist’s Facebook page and in the comments below!