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Disney Canned the Best Theme Park Concept it Ever Had. Here's Why.

© Disney

For many fans, Disney Parks are as well known for the projects that didn’t come to fruition as the ones that did. We’re fascinated by closed attractions, forgotten concepts, and plans that simply never made it off the drawing board. Recently, we’ve dedicated ourselves here at Theme Park Tourist to recalling and recording the lost parks, attractions, and lands that – for one reason or another – aren’t around today. And now, we’d like to dive headfirst into one of the most well-known and missed examples of Disney’s lost concepts.

In the 1970s, Walt Disney Imagineers officially announced a stunning new land to join Disneyland’s seven – an extension of Walt’s love of Americana and the impossible fantasy environments that only Disney’s Imagineers could create, Discovery Bay would’ve been the flagship land of Disney’s theme park empire. The gorgeous, thoughtful, brilliant concepts of Discovery Bay would’ve easily been one of the strongest lands at any Disney Park, even unto today.

But Discovery Bay never opened. Today, we’ll explore the tumultuous tale leading up to its design, what this magnificent land would’ve contained, why it never opened, and where you can find its DNA scattered around the globe. Hold on tight as we uncover the sunken mysteries of Discovery Bay. 

Hints in the West

Image: Disney

If you’ve visited Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, or Disneyland Paris, you’ve likely been awe-struck by the towering, geometric “natural” formations of Big Thunder Mountain. At each of those parks, the ride’s iconic rock towers were modeled very precisely after the inspiring stone monoliths of Arizona’s Monument Valley, a massive and expansive desert National Park. Like their (relatively) massive and overpowering castles, those three parks all built imposing, harsh, angular, geometric peaks in expansive desert settings on purpose - it builds a larger-than-life scale (above).

But did you ever notice something subtly different about Disneyland's version of the ride?

Sure, the roller coaster track itself in California is a scaled-down replica of Florida’s, meant to fit more snugly into the miniscule park’s cramped quarters. But there’s something else about Disneyland’s that simply doesn’t match the others.

Image: Disney

There, the iconic mountain range is not modeled after the geometric, harsh, intimidating towers of Monument Valley. Instead, famed Imagineer Tony Baxter opted to use the softer, rounded “hoodoos” of Utah’s Bryce Canyon, a National Park famous for its eroded desert formations nestled amid a dense forest. The hypnotic towers are not gigantic, powerful and strong. Like Disneyland's castle, they're not about size and dominance. Rather, they're more charming and warm. The hoodoos are somewhat… well… unbelievable. They’re more fantasy than forceful (above), and of course, it's not just a coindence that Disneyland's is different from the others. In fact, that’s just the way Baxter wanted it.

The softer towers of Disneyland’s Thunder Mountain tell a subtley different tale... The fanciful formations are certainly more appropriate for the quaint park (and the ride’s proximity to Fantasyland), but they also signal the existence of Discovery Bay.

Manifest destiny

Imagine this: when you step into Frontierland, you’re supposed to feel that you’ve been transported to the 1860s Old West, when prospectors discovered gold in the fresh mines of Thunder Mountain. And for all we know, the miners there simply settled into the town and spent their winnings at the saloon, right?

But what if they didn’t? What if, instead, those prospectors – now flush with gold – continued their Westward Ho journey to manifest destiny and found themselves along the Golden Coast of California? Imagine, then, if those prospectors settled into San Francisco, right at the start of its economic boom – right as it became known as the “Paris of the West?”

Imagine if they created in San Francisco an international coastal city for explorers, adventurers, thinkers, artists, and scientists – a golden, seaside port of crystalline towers, technology, cogs, hot air balloons, steel, gadgets, and wonder? Welcome to Discovery Bay.

On the next page, we’ll begin our in-depth exploration into this seaside mechanical Mecca and its origin story, then we’ll go in-depth into the rides and attractions planned for Disney’s most impressive lost land.

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There are 15 comments.

Bravo, Brian!

This was such a well researched and thought out article, fascinating to read. It gave me a much deeper appreciation of Tony Baxter.

Looking forward to more of your work.

Thanks Chris! On my profile you'll find quite a bit more that I've written on lost concepts and closed attractions that you might find interesting! But I'm a huge fan of Tony Baxter and it's hard not to be. He's responsible for so many of the modern attractions we love, and for so many more that fans beg for.

I know that Claude Coats was his mentor, but this is the first I've heard of Marc acting as such. In those days, Davis people and Coats people stayed in separate camps.

Coats was definitely his mentor more than anyone else out the gate, but Baxter benefited from both schools of thought, it seems. When you think about it, most any successful and "classic" Disney ride has elements of both designers (and obviously many more), and Baxter seemed to have registered that and incorporated a balance between them into his creative process!

Sometimes, Tony's projects leaned more toward Davis' style! Think of his Phantom Manor, which more or less conceded the Haunted Mansion debate to Davis' character-driven favor. Other times, he took Davis'-style concepts and made them a bit more abstract, as in Paris' Pirates. But altogether I think he simply learned that their two styles are complimentary, not mutually exclusive. Which has been a tremendous benefit for us as guests!

It would be a fantastic land to be added to the Disney Parks. The film "TomorrowLand" was an excellent film though I feel it had it's release dampened by its competition in the box office. It had Steampunk and Jules Verne elements tied with a theme of timeless optimism and development. Discoveryland could be just what the world needs, even if it doesn't know it.

If built I believe this lost concept would still be hit. I can see EPCOT's old Horizon pavilion fitting in there. I would like to see some of the rides mentioned added to Disney World. As far as Island at the Top of the World goes I loved that movie when I first saw it.

I think this concept would have worked perfectly in the Disney's America park had it been built.

Great article. I wonder if the town (San Fransokyo) in Big Hero 6 was inspired in any way by this back story?

Thank you again for yet another great article. A little late getting around to reading this one unfortunately.
Very excited to see you tackle the never built attractions/lands and also give a bit of insight into Tony Baxter's genius.
Can't wait to see what the subject of your next retrospective will be.
Cheers!

This would be a fantastic addition to walt disney world and would make a specal trip back just too see it.

I was at D23's Attraction Rewind where Tony did a presentation on Discovery Bay. When they announced the deal with Anaheim I hoped that perhaps they would go ahead and build it. Of course those hopes were dashed when they announced that Star Wars Land would go there. I am excited about Star Wars Land but sad about Discovery Bay. I am a big fan of Tony and hope he will be involved in future projects because he does things right.

Reading this now with the knowledge of the impending Star Wars expansions has me feeling disappointed that Discovery Bay will never be.

Nice article!!

I for one have dreamt about Disney building a third gate in Anaheim based upon alternate worlds of imagination.

I imagine a park layout based on Disney Sea, with a version of Discovery Bay at the entrance tied with Mysterious Island at the heart. And the rest of the lands being built around the Star Wars, Marvel, and Avatar properties. And perhaps others as well....but alas, Star Wars is being shoehorned into Disneyland.

I agree with you and your article completely. Discovery Bay should have been put in its rightful place instead of Star Wars Land. I would love to have it here in Disneyland Anaheim.

Really appreciated your article. I truly love what could have been. I think with the creation of Star Wars Land, they could move Star Tours and transform the rest of the land into some concept of Discovery Sea while incorporating/transforming their iconic Matterhorn Mountain into the land. There are many things that could be altered or changed in order to make it work. Possibly change; Finding Nemo into 20,000 Leagues, rework Space Mountain fitted with the cannon launch, remove the Tomorrow Land Stage and change the walk path above and below to create a larger lagoon, maybe fit a Tron Cycle Coaster in. I am sure much more could "Imagineered".

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