Home » WESTCOT: Inside The Abandoned Theme Park Plans That Would’ve Changed Disney Parks Forever

WESTCOT: Inside The Abandoned Theme Park Plans That Would’ve Changed Disney Parks Forever

“To all who come to this place of possibility… welcome. Possibilityland is your land…” Or at least, it almost was! Over the years, we’ve taken astounding trips into our  Possibilityland  series to explore the could-be classics that have been dreamed of but never built… 

Maybe you’ve ridden along with us through the Enchanted Snow Palace long before Elsa reigned, the wild Western River Expedition that would’ve been Magic Kingdom’s mainstay, or the perilous peaks of never-built Disney “mountains.” Along the way, we’ve visited entirely lost lands like the inventive Discovery Bay, the wacky Muppet Studios, or the “timeless tomorrow” of Tomorrowland 2055. We’ve even explored “alternate reality” versions of Disneyland Park, Magic Kingdom, and Epcot with their unbuilt attractions in-tact!

But today’s trip into Possibilityland may be the most epic yet: the true tale of the ambitious, alternate-reality, never-built Disneyland Resort and its lost theme park, WESTCOT Center. One of the most elaborate and expensive projects ever announced, Westcot was born and died all in the span of a decade, during which time this officially-greenlit project promised to transform Walt’s tiny, original Disneyland into a multi-day destination on par with its younger Floridian sister. 

This is the definitive, in-depth exploration into what could’ve been… and why it wasn’t. Settle in for the almost-unbelievable tale of a park that would’ve transformed Disneyland (and Imagineering’s catalogue) forever as we dive deep into Westcot and the Disneyland Resort that almost was… 

Walt’s Magic Kingdom

In the beginning, there was Disneyland. With the last of his savings and having cashed in his life insurance, Walt and a small team purchased about 160 acres of land in the remote and rural orange groves of Anaheim, California. Chosen for its proximity to the under-construction interstate, the park initially took shape on just about 60 acres, nestled up to the I-5 on-ramps. The park and its own blacktop parking lot were snuggly hemmed in by existing streets on all sides. Disney’s property purchase was just enough to hold his dreams. 

But his dreams quickly grew… and the land around Disneyland seemed to shrink. That’s because, soon after the park’s groundbreaking, land along those neighboring streets was quickly snatched up, transforming Disneyland’s surroundings from a pastoral haven to a bustling urban area of buzzing motels, restaurants, gas stations, and more, each vying for the attention of sedan-traveling tourists.

As we know, the encroaching threat of reality on his dreamy park frustrated Walt. Determined to more fully control the experience of his guests and keep the real world at bay, Walt took the funds he’d recouped in the decade since Disneyland’s opening and began scouting for more land.

His “Florida Project” was meant to right the wrongs of Disneyland and to bestow “the blessing of size” upon his design team. It was hoped that, in this new “Disney World,” Walt could create something entirely new – his long-imagined E.P.C.O.T., a prototype city powered by corporate innovation – and a built-out, expanded Disneyland East, all on unlimited land.

The Disney Dark Ages

Unfortunately, Walt Disney passed away in December 1966 – long before any of his “Disney World” actually came to be. But “Disneyland East” – the Magic Kingdom – opened in October 1971. Aside from the Experimental Prototype Community (deemed an impossibility without him), that meant that Walt’s “to-do” list was posthumously completed. And that left Walt Disney Productions unsure of what they should do next. 

Which is why when industry historians look back on the 1970s, they think of the decade as Disney’s Dark Ages. A string of misses at the box office more or less meant that Walt Disney Productions hadn’t had a hit since… well… since Walt Disney. More than a decade out from his death in 1966, a number of leaders had tried – and inevitably, failed – to fill Walt’s shoes. Worse still were Disneyland and Magic Kingdom – parks whose investments in the ‘70s more or less amounted to bare steel coasters rather than the grand, spectacular dark rides of Walt’s time.

Then came EPCOT Center. A “Hail Mary” attempt by former leadership at moving the needle at the studio, Walt Disney World’s unprecedented second gate had been a total reinvention: a completely original concept melding the powers of American industry with the showmanship of Disney, crafting a quasi-intellectual World’s Fair of monumental ‘80s architecture. Designed from Disney’s darkest moments (amid talks of hostile takeovers and corporate sell-offs), the promise of EPCOT Center felt like an impending dawn…


Split into two “realms” – the industrious Future World and the international World Showcase – EPCOT Center’s attractions were grouped into “pavilions” showcasing technology, innovation, culture, and corporate power. The park was grand, enormously-scaled, hyper-ambitious… and incredibly expensive. No doubt, the gamble made by then-studio-president Card Walker (who kicked off the project) and Ron Miller (president at its completion) was to redefine Disney and evolve “The Vacation Kingdom of the World” into something new. 

It worked… at first. By the year following its 1982 opening, EPCOT Center had helped transform Walt Disney World into the nation’s most-visited recreation resort. But in its first year, the $1.2 billion Disney invested in the gargantuan theme park of exhibits yielded a return of only about 8%… A troubling metric for analysts at the time. In September 1983, the New York Times revisited EPCOT Center a year out from its inauguration as part of a critical look at the state of Disney:

Plagued by costly movie flops and high development costs for its newest extravaganza – the one-year-old Epcot Center at Florida’s Walt Disney World – Disney is struggling through its third consecutive year of declining earnings. For the first nine months of the fiscal year, profits fell 5 percent, to $68.7 million. In the most recent quarter, which ended June 30, net income plummeted 35 percent, to $21.4 million, as losses in the movie division and high start-up costs for its new cable operation dragged down earnings.

The 1983 feature ends with a chilling comment by entertainment analyst at Bateman Eichler, Dennis Forst: ”Disney used to be a terrific company. But they haven’t made a good move in a long, long time.”

A good move

It’s practically impossible to tell the story of any Disney Parks attraction built after 1980 without reintroducing the preeminent figures who made Disney’s expansion in the ‘80s and ‘90s possible: Michael Eisner and Frank Wells. Longtime executives at Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox, respectively, the pair were brought in by Walt’s nephew (and member of Disney’s board) Roy E. Disney in 1984. Their mission? To reverse the slow disintegration of Walt Disney Productions.

One major piece of the puzzle: EPCOT Center.

Wells and Eisner inherited the two-year-old park at the height of its now-heralded age: a park still stocked with epic, educational, ambitious dark rides like the Lost Legends: Universe of Energy, Horizons, World of Motion, Journey into Imagination, Kitchen Kabaret, and The Living Seas. And though Imagineering fans worship the park for its spectacular scale and its brazen attempts to educate and entertain all at once, EPCOT Center did have a few mounting problems. Chief among them might’ve been that Eisner seemingly had no idea what to do with it.

The still-fresh CEO had been tasked with improving the park’s attendance, but the subtle, educational, intellectual nature of the park seemed entirely at odds with the modus operandi Eisner had been hired for: to bring excitement, thrills, pop culture, and (gulp) teens into Disney Parks. So while revisiting EPCOT would become a continuous marker of Eisner’s time with Disney, he had another idea of how to redefine Walt Disney World.

It’s sometimes said that Walt Disney World’s primary business isn’t really theme parks at all; it’s hotels and real estate. Eisner saw the potential to use Disney’s massive landholdings in Central Florida to do just that, which is why the ‘80s mark the start of an aggressive and unprecedented expansion of Disney World’s shopping district, entertainment offerings, and hotel room supply – the beginning of the “walled garden” we know today that features no less than two dozen resort hotels… and still growing. 

By the late 1980s, Walt Disney World had become a booming, international resort far exceeding the initial promise of the “Vacation Kingdom of the World.” From the deluxe Grand Floridian Beach Resort to the more moderately-priced Caribbean Beach, Eisner’s confident moves into lengthening guests’ stays proved that Disney could dominate central Florida’s hotel industry. (From 1990 to 1992, the resort would open five more deluxe resorts – Disney’s Beach Club, Yacht Club, Port Orleans Resort, Old Key West Resort, and Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, each with a prominent architect attached).

Adding in Magic Kingdom, EPCOT Center, the Disney Village Marketplace, and a growing list of dinner shows, recreational activities, and a water park and it stood to reason that a trip to Disney World could expand to infinite length-of-stays.

Like so many of Eisner’s bold and audacious moves early in his tenure, the reinvention of Walt Disney World worked. And as we know, Eisner’s cinematic, pop-focused, “Ride the Movies” mantra would end up yielding a third theme park, 1989’s Disney-MGM Studios.

And just there, at the dawn of the 1990s, Eisner saw a similar opportunity, back across the country in California… What would it take to turn the tiny Disneyland into a multi-day, multi-park resort like its younger sister? You might be surprised… 

Meanwhile, at Disneyland…

In 1986, Michael Eisner officially renamed “Walt Disney Productions” to “The Walt Disney Company,” reflecting (and anticipating) its growth into the international media conglomerate we know today. With new hits via the adult-oriented Touchstone Pictures banner and the revving up of the Disney Renaissance, by the ‘80s Eisner had defined himself as few other Disney leaders to that point had. And heading into the ‘90s, Eisner announced the Disney Decade – a period of unprecedented investment that was meant to continue the company’s upward trajectory. Chief among the projects announced were a slew of expansions to Disney’s theme park division, including a project Eisner expected to be his legacy landmark: The EuroDisney Resort.

And back at Disneyland, Eisner had high hopes of transforming Walt’s original theme park using the same multi-day, resort-based model that had evolved in Orlando. But when he turned his attention to Disneyland as a candidate for Disney Decade expansion, he found a find a park that looked… well… approximately as it had in 1955. Though new rides and attractions had joined its lineup, Disneyland was still a single theme park (landlocked by surrounding streets and brash overdevelopment), and a massive blacktop parking lot occupying an adjacent, equal plot.

But wait… Just across the street stood – a-ha! – The Disneyland Hotel! That was it! As if in anticipation of Eisner’s visionary resort-based strategy, the Disneyland Hotel had stood since 1955, emblazoned with the park’s logo. In 1961, Walt himself had even had the foresight to reroute the park’s Monorail to the hotel itself, creating a deluxe-resort-in-the-waiting… and at least a starting point for bringing Disney World’s M.O. to Disneyland. There was just one problem… Disney did not own or operate the Disneyland Hotel.

Why? Once Walt had gotten construction started on the park, he realized that folks who traveled to and spent the day touring Disneyland would need a clean, safe, hospitable place to stay nearby that would meet his high standards. But of course… Walt was out of money. He appealed to his trusted friend and millionaire Jack Wrather Jr. (made rich by investments in oil, but made famous as producer of Disney’s Lassie and The Lone Ranger) and offered him 60-acres of land near the park… and the exclusive rights to the Disney name for any hotels in California for 99 years.

In other words, not only did Disney fail to profit from the Disneyland Hotel; now Eisner learned that Disney could neither build nor operate any hotel in California using the company’s name until 2054. So much for his Disneyland Resort dreams, right?

Almost. After Wrather’s death in 1984, his company fell into decline. Eisner moved quickly, and by 1988 (for a meager $161 million and $89 million in Wrather’s debt), Disney purchased the Wrather Corporation outright. Jack was posthumously awarded Disney Legend status even as Disney set out selling off most of Wrather’s business assets. Except one. In 1988, Disney had finally acquired the Disneyland Hotel… and more importantly, the rights to build Californian resorts of its own.

In 1990, Eisner officially announced Disney’s interest in “reinventing” the Anaheim “Disney experience” for the ‘90s. All they needed now was a concept that could transform the theme park into a resort worth staying at. Eisner empowered the Imagineers to think big… and boy did they…

The Possibilityland Resort

The year is 1991 It’s been nearly 40 years since Walt Disney’s “original magic kingdom” first opened to guests in Anaheim, California. And today, standing on the horizon of a New Millennium, it would change. Soon, Disneyland would be both the name of that original theme park and the name of the new, expanded Disneyland Resort. And outside the berm of Main Street, pretty much everything would change.

The public-facing Master Plan developed for the new Disneyland Resort highlights seven guiding principles for the expansion and reimagining, all of which we bet you’ll see in action as we step into this never-built version of the resort:

  1. Project Unity will create an environmental design experience that is more powerful than its parts. Everything will support everything else. Visual contradictions will be eliminated.
  2. Integration with the Anaheim Commercial Recreation Area will make sure that the entire community benefits and not just Disney.
  3. A Dramatic Entry Sequence will provide notable gateways and create a sense of place.
  4. Parking on the Perimeter is the innovative way to deal with the tens of thousands of cars that will be descending upon the project everyday.
  5. Transportation Linkages is a reminder to make it easy for people to get around and to be connected with the region.
  6. Pedestrian Orientation means the resort will become a series of unfolding spaces that encourage walking.
  7. Diversity of Guest Activities helps to define the project programming by insisting on a wide variety of activities that appeal to a wide range of demographics.

Though precedent had long ago established a visual intrusion height limit for the surrounding area (so hotels couldn’t be seen from inside Disneyland), four decades of otherwise-unrestrained development had turned Harbor Blvd., the nearby Orange County Convention Center area, and pretty much every street southwest of the Santa Ana Freeway into urban sprawl.

As part of Disney’s agreeing to build in Anaheim, that would all be cleaned up. A massive area encompassing Disney’s property and the Convention Center would be rezoned as the Anaheim Commercial Recreation Area District – a visually integrated and highly regulated area, sweeping through the streets to remove urban clutter, visible electric lines, and mismatched signage. Instead, the newly rebranding Recreation Area would be a carefully-curated entertainment district with matching signs, master-planned pedestrian paths, and the general appearance of a purpose-built resort district.

The new, all-encompassing Recreation Area would – it was hoped – blur Disney’s showmanship and quality into the surrounding streets, creating one large entertainment complex with the new Disneyland Resort at its heart. For example, the art above shows an elevated, high-capacity Peoplemover track crossing a curving and tree-lined Harbor Blvd. en route to enormous parking decks constructed on Disney-acquired property southeast of the parks… 

On property

After all, Disneyland’s massive blacktop parking lot is long gone. Today, guests are diverted off of Anaheim’s streets and into massive auxiliary parking decks in the northeast corner of the resort and behind Harbor Blvd.’s infamous lineup of hotels and motels.

From either parking deck, moving sidewalks would whisk guests along the garage’s perimeter to board those pollution-free, continuously-loading Peoplemovers (an evolution of Disneyland’s own Lost Legend: The Peoplemover) to the heart of the Anaheim Resort… Disneyland Plaza.

You have to imagine that this new Disneyland Resort (pre-September-11th, mind you) would’ve been the public centerpiece of Anaheim’s entertainment district; the place from which all other offerings flow; a true hub of activity open to the public.

For example, you might take in a concert at the 5,000-seat outdoor Disneyland Bowl, or explore the sprawling Disneyland Center shopping, dining, and entertainment district built around a six-acre man-made lagoon. 

Further west, Disneyland Drive (which separates the parks from the resorts today) would be redesigned as a curving, pedestrian-friendly boulevard based on the West Coast, mission-influenced look and feel of Santa Barbara in the 1930s; a gentle street of mission-stylized architecture, fountains, gardens, and more.

And that leads to the real motivation for the project: a from-scratch Resort District aligned along the new Disneyland Drive, now comprised of four deluxe and moderate resorts, all connected via dedicated Monorail stops:

  • The original Disneyland Hotel, reimagined inside and out, including a 300-room 4th tower to bring the resort’s room inventory to 1,400.

  • The New Disneyland Hotel. Like the regal Grand Floridian Resort at Walt Disney World, this elegant, Victorian, 800-room resort would’ve been based on the Hotel Del Coronado in California, picturesquely and symmetrically set beyond the Disneyland Center’s lake.
  • The Magic Kingdom Hotel, set along that newly-stylized Disneyland Drive, would be a Santa Barbara, mission-revival influenced moderate hotel offering 960 rooms.

  • The enormous, 1,800 room WESTCOT Lake Hotel would be modeled after Pasadena’s Hotel Green and the ultra-luxurious Beverly Hills Hotel. Like Disney World’s Boardwalk Inn, one side of the hotel would overlook the Disneyland Center shopping district with embedded boardwalk-style shops in its street level. The other side of the hotel would look into the resort’s new theme park, offering the chance to sleep “inside” a Disney Park!

With over 4,600 new rooms, the redefined Disneyland Resort would finally achieve Michael Eisner’s long standing dream; it would be a multi-day resort borrowing from Disney World’s luxurious, expansive, sprawling deluxe and moderate hotel business. And as for what would make guests want to stay at Disneyland? 

Returning once more to that central Disneyland Plaza, our journey really begins… Because here, those classic wrought-iron gates of Disneyland and the hilltop Main Street Train Station that’s been the park’s beloved entrance for years would be joined by something new… Across the Plaza and the landscaped gardens and fountains of the resort would stand something much different: the entrance to one of the most ambitious parks ever designed. Let’s step inside….


Disneyland has Sleeping Beauty Castle with its forced-perspective turrets reaching 77 feet high. EPCOT Center’s Spaceship Earth is a glowing white geodesic sphere seemingly floating atop angular legs, rising 180 feet above Future World.

But this is a first. Long before guests even set foot in Westcot, its iconic central feature looms over the resort… and all of Anaheim. Spacestation Earth is not only meant to represent this park’s connection to EPCOT, but its differentiation from it. Unlike its white, Ray Bradbury-stylized, ’70s-influenced central sphere covered in triangular panels, Spacestation Earth is nearly twice as tall – an unthinkable 300 feet – and glowing, pulsing gold, surrounded in a supernaturally-hovering lattice of reflective metal.

The absolutely gargantuan icon is meant to send an immediate message that this park has diverged from the squeaky-clean EPCOT, criticized even in the ’90s for its vast expanses of concrete, its monumental ’80s architecture, and its cold, almost-sterile view of tomorrow. After all, this is the dawn of the New Millennium, where our view of tomorrow is much different. 

As guests enter the park, they’re pulsed across a bridge toward Spacestation Earth, arriving at last at Ventureport – the heart of Westcot. Boarding outdoor escalators descending to the icon’s base, they’re carried down into a lush, entrenched central isle alongside waterfalls and otherworldly rockwork covered in trees and moss. Water pours from beneath the globe into the surrounding waters. This is a future at one with nature, not opposed to it, and as guests ascend into the heart of Spacestation Earth, they become part of the story of humanity’s progress in an updated reimagining of EPCOT’s own thesis attraction.

Perhaps most brilliantly, placing Spacestation Earth at the center of the park more clearly reveals its relationship to the two realms of Westcot – as in Florida, Future World and Showcase. After all, the glowing sphere here not only exemplifies the future with its spectacular design and color, but of our globe… And in fact, what surrounds this Earth is exactly that: the corners of our world…

World Showcase

During the development of World Showcase at EPCOT Center, Disney had intended for the “World’s Fair” sponsorship model to be front-and-center, with governments from around the world stepping to sponsor cultural pavilions representing their countries (as well as housing their representative Cast Members and the design and installation of any attractions within). The number of countries that took Disney up on their offer? Zero. Instead, many of World Showcase’s pavilions were sponsored by foreign corporations tasked with representing their countries of origin.

Perhaps that’s why Westcot’s World Showcase looks quite a bit different. Rather than discrete pavilions for different countries, this World Showcase is meant to represent the Four Corners of the World in jumbled villages of international flavor. Here, there are four enormous and interconnected pavilions to explore.

  • The World of Africa would be the first pavilion encountered traveling counter-clockwise around the park. Fittingly, this area would celebrate the origins of civilization, with guests’ first stops being the ancient kingdoms of the region. Passing through Egypt, guests could participate in demonstrations of agriculture, sailing, and more. The area was meant to contain a white water rafting ride down the fictional “Congobezi River,” as well as spectacular entertainment via African drummer and dance troupes. The land would gradually transition to the Middle East, and into the next corner of the globe…

  • The World of Asia would reportedly blend elements of China, Japan, and India into a timeless village of entertainment and action. In fact, it’s supposed that one of the park’s more substantial thrill rides might’ve been here, as a dragon-themed roller coaster set among the rolling Great Wall of China and traveling through “Dragon’s Teeth Mountain.”

  • Continuing onward, guests would find themselves in The Old World – representing the cultures, cuisines, and legends of Europe. This was rumored to be a potential landing place for the Lost Legend: The Timekeeper, tracing great European writers and philosophers in a time-traveling journey. Otherwise, the pavilion would feature a Russian show originally planned for EPCOT’s never-built pavilion, a Greek Amphitheater, and the area’s biggest draw: a “high-speed” Trans-European train simulator (an evolution of a never-built Bullet Train ride for EPCOT’s Japan) potentially set up as a James Bond-esque thrill ride across the continent. And then, Spain would transition into…

  • The New World – a pavilion dedicated to the cultures, customs, stories, and styles of North and South America. Departing Spain, guests would arrive in “the New World” via the land of the Mayan and Aztec cilivizations, then explore the cultures of Mexico and Central America. A region dedicated to Canada would explore the indigenous peoples of the Great North, then on to America, where a copy of EPCOT’s American Adventure show would act as a capstone to our world travels. Meanwhile, the streets of America – perhaps represented in colonial style – would theoretically bend back toward the park’s exit, acting as a clever “prologue” to Main Street, U.S.A. – the continuing American journey!

As you can see, Westcot’s World Showcase was a clever reinvention; a way to adapt the idea of celebrating humanity and culture into a much more cohesive and collaborative style. While we could debate the “rightness” or “wrongness” of the implied “advancement” from Africa to the U.S., the idea of this exceptional World Showcase was not to advertise countries or the products of their economies, but to show how the human story is one of sharing and by the movement of people and ideas; betterment by connection.

And no ride told that story like The River of Time. This ultra-attraction would’ve been the longest Disney had ever designed – 45 minutes from start to end. But most cleverly, the waterways of this “Pirates” style boat ride would bob and weave through each of the Four Corners, passing elaborate Audio-Animatronics scenes showcasing the cultures and innovations and advances of each. Imagine sailing through Africa and witnessing scenes of ancient Egypt, then sailing on through the painting of the Mona Lisa and the burning of Rome…

And like the Disneyland Railroad, the boats would dock momentarily in each pavilion, allowing guests to exit and explore… or stay on board to see the entire story unfold in one telling. And that river would flow through the park’s other realm, too…

Future World

As with World Showcase, the EPCOT mainstay of Future World was entirely reimagined for this West Coast park. Rather than discrete pavilions sponsored by mega-corporations, Westcot again developed a new way of seeing the future. Tucked away beyond the Four Corners of the Globe lie three self-contained and indoor pavilions:

  • The Wonders of Life (marked by a glass pyramid) would be the park’s most imaginative pavilion, celebrating the human body, mind, and spirit. Naturally, its ride lineup would include clones of EPCOT’s Lost Legend: Body Wars, but a surprisingly clever fit for the park would’ve been a copy of the beloved Lost Legend: Journey into Imagination
  • The Wonders of Earth pavilion (with a glass greenhouse entry) would likely expand on the original idea set forth for EPCOT’s Land pavilion, focusing on biomes and habitats of our world. It likely would’ve had a version of Living with the Land, and for all we know it might’ve even been the birthplace of the Lost Legend: Soarin’!
  • The Wonders of Space (topped with a glass dome and rocket) would finally provide Disney with a space-themed pavilion (planned – but never built – at EPCOT since the mid-’70s!). While we don’t know exactly what this pavilion would’ve contained, the promised “journey through the cosmos” sounds like the never-built concepts we explored in our Possibilityland: Future World feature.

There’s a real, staggering simplicity to Westcot. Reimagining (and arguably, improving upon) some of the foundational elements of EPCOT, the park’s purpose was to reinvigorate Disneyland and reinvent the tried-and-true elements of EPCOT from the perspective of the ’90s. And in that regard, it seems to have succeeded. Admittedly, the park would’ve been a true departure from Disneyland – as Epcot had been from Magic Kingdom – and would represent one of Disney’s most ambitious projects ever.

But there is no Westcot today. Why?

The writing on the wall

The official Master Plan for WestCOT and new Disneyland Resort was released publicly on May 8, 1991. The massive expansion was to break ground in 1993, assuring a fully operational system by 1999. Disney’s analysis asserted that the project would have led to over 25,000 new jobs and around $40 million in direct tax revenues for the city. By the New Millennium, Peoplemovers, Monorails, and shuttles would be connecting the various elements of the Disneyland Resort and its two theme parks… ! Except that the problems began before a single shovel of dirt had shifted. 

Though it’s hard to imagine, Disneyland is surrounded by local, long-standing housing developments whose residents (deservedly or not) tend to resent it. The stifling traffic, the nightly fireworks, the busy holidays… It’s easy to see why in practice, Disneyland might not make the best neighbor. Adding insult to injury, several locals got ahold of the new Disneyland master plans only to find that Westcot or its accoutrements were placed on top of their homes or businesses. After all, Disney would need to acquire 100 additional acres to make this Resort a reality… something the people living on those acres hadn’t yet been asked about.

A local action committee of concerned residents (Anaheim Homeowners for Maintaining the Environment, or HOME) arose, picketing the park, passing out anti-Westcot leaflets, flooding city council meetings, and fighting back against the park. HOME took issue with Disney’s long-standing precedent of offering free tickets to employees of Anaheim’s Mayor’s Office, raising the issue as bribery. 

Locals balked at the idea of increased traffic clogging the region’s streets, and Disney’s promises of building gargantuan, gas-guzzling parking garages and direct highway ramps to the resort that would rise over their backyards only worsened their tastes. To make matters even worse, Disney turned around and lobbied for $400 million in public funds to bring those garages and infrastructure improvements to life, inciting a significant pushback.

Famously, nearby residents rallied against Spacestation Earth itself… And perhaps rightly. They argued that the massive, 300-foot globe (that’s two Matterhorns stacked on top of each other) would dominate the city’s skyline, looming ominously and obnoxiously over their neighborhoods (and, if we’re being honest, Main Street, too). Disney reacted by revising the plans for the park.

In a second batch of announcements and artwork, Disney had recrafted Spacestation Earth into a single, slim spire, slicing into the sky like a knife’s edge – a more palatable icon for locals at least… In a vague indication that they’d been too hasty, Disney released a statement in December 1991:

“Our excitement about the decision to proceed with the Disneyland Resort is tempered by the realization that many hurdles remain. Developing a project of this magnitude in southern California is expensive and extremely complex.”

And without a doubt, the park’s expense and complexity were beginning to dawn on Michael Eisner, too. Disneyland had exactly one shot at expanding into a resort, with the second gate filling its available real estate (and then some). He had to get this right… Westcot’s estimated price tag allegedly ballooned to over $3 billion (with another billion needed for resort and infrastructure alone). As seemingly insurmountable hurdles collected one on top of another, the light at the end of the tunnel seemed to be getting farther and farther away…

Could Disney have plowed through? Probably… But then something happened that changed everything at the Walt Disney Company forever…

The Paris pitfall

In 1992, Disneyland Paris opened. Those may be the most grounding, reality-check words any Imagineering fan can hear.

No one would accuse Disneyland Paris of being a creative cop-out. Just the opposite, the European park is popularly considered the most beautiful and detailed and romantic Disneyland-style park on Earth; a true masterclass in merging the comfort of Disneyland with the grandeur of Magic Kingdom, layered with incalculable levels of storytelling and detail. In fact, the most damning thing about Disneyland Paris might’ve been that it was too ambitious…

The French public famously protested the park’s very existence, and set down amid a culture hostile towards it, the “Euro Disney Resort’s” opening years saw massive financial losses. Overbuilt and undervalued, Disneyland Paris descended into financial strain so severe, it still hasn’t recovered, and feels perpetually 20 years behind Disney’s other resorts.

And in what must have been a sobering realization for Eisner, the very resort-based formula that he’d been trumpeting as the new standard for Disney Parks might’ve been the reason for the French resort’s failure. After all, its seven built-in, gargantuan resort hotels opened to abysmal occupancy rates. Altogether, the resort was overbuilt (and undervalued), meaning his attempt at a massive, built-out resort infrastructure… failed.

In 1994 – two years after the park’s opening – Eisner was quoted in the French magazine Le Point saying of the resort, “If the engine of an airplane falls out in full flight, what are the options? Anything is possible today, including closure.”

But worse than the immediate impacts on the resort’s own budget was the shift Disneyland Paris allegedly made to Michael Eisner’s philosophy. Made worse by the unexpected and tragic death of Frank Wells in 1994 (often cited as the financially-minded Roy to Eisner’s creative and ambitious Walt), Eisner seemed to fundamentally reconfigure his outlook on the business of Disney Parks. Surrounding himself in analysts and “penny-pinching” executives, Disney Parks entered one of its darkest periods yet – an era of closures, cop-outs, and cancellations.

As for the $3.1 billion Disneyland Resort and Westcot?

“Were at a crossroads,” Eisner told the LA Times in 1993. “We had a very big investment in Europe and it’s difficult to deal with. This is an equally big investment. I don’t know whether a private company can ever spend this kind of money. I don’t even know if there’s going to be WestCOT.”

Golden dreams, golden nightmares

The new Disneyland Resort was quietly cancelled in 1995. Westcot was dead.

As we know, though, Michael Eisner wasn’t ready to let the idea of a multi-day destination in Anaheim die. He famously gathered a group of a few dozen executives from the Walt Disney Company on a three-day retreat in Aspen, Colorado.

One of their primary missions was to figure out the Disneyland puzzle. It wasn’t just that Disneyland needed to become a multi-day destination for much, much less money that originally imagined; the potential resort also faced a much tougher challenge: unlike Disney World’s destination status and “walled garden” setup, Disneyland was inherently a more regional attraction! After all, Southern California is not Central Florida. How could any expansion to Disneyland – no matter how grand – convince travelers not to visit the state’s beaches, boardwalks, redwoods, movie studios, and wineries?

… Wait a second.

Naturally, this is where we discover that the in-depth story of Westcot is merely the prologue to our epic explorations into Disney’s California (Mis)Adventure – the two-part history of the park Disneyland got instead. A criminally underdeveloped second gate adhering to Eisner’s new cost-cutting strategy, California Adventure opened with four “districts” as a “celebration” of modern Californian culture: Sunshine Plaza, Hollywood Pictures Backlot, The Golden State, and Paradise Pier (none of which remain today). Originally, its icon was to be… yep… a golden spire, now recast as an extention of a metallic sun.

Woefully short on rides, creatively starved, and lacking Disney characters or identity, the $600 million dollar park would, of course, go on to need about $2 billion in redevelopment since (ironically, approaching Westcot’s alleged $3.1 billion budget). 

Along the park’s production, Eisner was allegedly infamously hands-on, helping to develop its unique focus on food over rides; its in-jokes about Hollywood elite, and its irreverent, satirical tone. A revealing piece on Eisner just before its opening in the LA Times showed just how invested in California Adventure – and the reconfigured Disneyland Resort – he was. 

As planned, the second gate (and two new hotels – one purchased and one constructed) did turn the single-day Disneyland into a multi-park destination, but the Disneyland Resort we know today doesn’t have much in common with the one once planned around Westcot. Much more pared down and lacking much of the infrastructure and transportation that would’ve made the Westcot strategy such a home run, Disneyland is still bursting at the seams in its cramped campus with piecemeal solutions for parking and moving guests. 

Westcot 20/20

For many fans of entertainment design, Westcot is imagined as the one that got away; the pivotal project that would’ve changed Disneyland and the entire creative catalogue of Disney Imagineering forever. With the rosy, 20/20 view of hindsight, Westcot is often positioned as the inherent “right” choice opposite California Adventure’s “wrong;” the closest the U.S. might’ve ever come to a built-out, fully-loaded, big-budget, from-scratch Disney Park.

But we offer this challenge: removed from the glowing concept art and the mythological language used around Westcot, and looking back at the early ‘90s park from our lofty 21st century perspective… would it really be the best Disney park in the U.S.? As “timeless” and “evergreen” as it was meant to be? A fitting complement to Walt’s original park?

Or would Westcot be inherently out-of-scale with the historic, idealized, romanticized mini-lands of Disneyland? Would its realms be as anchored to the dated ‘90s aesthetic as Epcot’s was to the ‘80s? While we can’t argue with the infrastructure plans – the hotels and transportation – that would’ve defined the new Disneyland Resort, was Westcot a fitting counterpart and complement to Walt’s dreamy, timeless magic kingdom? How would this Disneyland Resort have handled the (in retrospect, inevitable) requirement that Marvel, Pixar, AVATAR, and Star Wars make their way to Disney Parks? Would they have flooded into Westcot the way they’re currently moving into Epcot? Or worse, would they have been pushed into Disneyland instead?

While it’s absolutely impossible to tell what final form Westcot would’ve taken or how its evolution (or lack thereof) over the decades would’ve made it relevant, relatable, and attractive in the year 2020 and beyond, one thing is certain: even if Westcot had slipped through to completion before Disneyland Paris’ opening, the inevitable financial collapse of the European resort probably would’ve stranded Westcot in a state of suspended ‘90s animation it might never have crawled out of. In fact, in some alternate universe, it may very well be that Westcot – not Disneyland Paris – is the over-indulged, over-budget project that completed construction, but stymied Imagineering for decades. 

One argument worth considering? Three decades (and lots of blood, sweat, and tears) later, the reimagined Disney California Adventure may actually be a better complement and companion to Disneyland Park than Westcot would’ve been in the 2020s. Of course, anything’s possible in Possibilityland.