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Thursday
Jul222010

A Look at the Progress City Model- Then and Now

The Progress City model was once a spectacular site. Housed on the second level of the Carousel Theater at Disneyland above The Carousel of Progress, it was often visited but not-so-often photographed or filmed.  It was a large model with many moving parts and electric lights.

What you see today while riding the Magic Kingdom’s TTA  is only a piece of the original model. Not only did a relatively small section of the model survive, a very small amount of movement and lighting remain today. There are fewer houses, far fewer cars and the landscaping is almost nonexistent compared to the original. The thing was literally sliced up in various places to fit it’s new space at Walt Disney World.

The blue lines below indicate the area of the model you see today.

 

A Chance to Restore the Model

A few years back I was asked if I’d like to help restore this old model city.  I wet my pants a little and said, “Sign me up!  I’ll come in early and stay late if I have to, just don’t change your mind”.  Life stinks sometimes, the lousy bums changed their minds.

– “It’s a matter of ownership.  We don’t actually know who ‘owns‘ the model”.

Yeah well I’d been up there a few times before to climb around and my old model train city I made as a kid with my mom’s hot glue gun and little hobby shop fake trees was in better shape.

The model as seen within the last several years. Viewed from catwalk above the TTA track.

– “WHAT DO YOU MEAN WE CAN’T RESTORE IT NOW??”

– “Well we think it belongs to Decorating and they ain’t interested in doin’ notin’  wid it.”

 – “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  Give me their number.  You are saying that even if I volunteer my time to save this piece of history, you aren't gonna let me because no one wants to deal with the thing??  IT’S OLDER THAN ALL OF DISNEY WORLD!”

- “Yeah well, we isn’t interested in the best interest of stuff around here.  Go finish yurr work on that Small World doll.”

Good thing I like working on Small World dolls.  As it turns out, ‘Decorating’ had already been there. No need to clean the model or fix the broken buildings. Definitely no need to fix the double ferris wheel that once moved round and around.

Now that brings me to something that not everyone seems to quite understand.  Imagineering doesn’t maintain everything you see at the parks.  Hardly. There are loads of other departments who are assigned to various pieces of the attractions and parks in general (Engineering Services, Decorating, Artist Prep, Creative Costuming, Buildings, Custodial, even Buena Vista Construction Company, etc.).

 

The Fantasy of EPCOT-style Living 

I’d always loved the WEDWay PeopleMover at Magic Kingdom (now TTA) in large part due to the view of Progress City.  I liked to dream of the life I could have had in the low-density residential outer rings of a city patterned after EPCOT.


Concept art for Medallion City, 64-65 New York World Fair, meant to showcase (at full-scale) the residential life in Progress City

While riding past the model I’d spot nifty looking mid-century modern ranch-style houses with PeopleMover stations out the back door and with views of the towering cosmopolitan hotel and convention center.  A little amusement area and schools for the kids, pedestrian walkways separate from the motor ways, a Monorail traveling through the center of town... What could be better?

The wife and I could meet up for ethnic food while she shops in the retail district just below my office building. Once inside, weather conditions good and bad would be safely out of reach, yet visible though the domed glass skylights. Walt Disney would be walking around pointing at stuff and I’d say ‘hi’ to him. Herb Ryman would be at the next table sketching on a napkin.  Then he’d give me his sketches and we’d discuss the look of transportation systems of the future.

 

Why the Tiki Lounge in the City of the Future?

Tiki building as seen in the model's original state

The same tiki building on current model

Doesn’t seam to fit in, or does it? Remember, the peak of America’s fascination with all things ‘tiki’ was the 1950s and 60s.  The phenomenon began with returning WWII soldiers who had served time in the Pacific. Hawaii had not been opened to tourist travel by jet plane for all that long. The war ended in the mid 40s and i presume many of the W.E.D. staff had spent time in Polynesia. And remember that Progress City focussed on all areas of life, including leisure. What better way to relax than in some tike restaurant on the marina?  Maybe someone just liked tiki stuff and added it to the plans??  Either way, this piece is still on the model and boy is it cool to think about.

 

A Hacked Model

You can compare the model in its two locations and the pieces that still stand today.  You’ll notice the little PeopleMover tracks no longer have moving PeopleMover cars on them.  The tracks were hacked, therefore no longer operational. They appear to have been made of simple slot car technology.  Just like the slot car tracks you had as a kid.

Let's give give credit where credit's due.  Though the model is in a very dilapidated state after all these years, it's presented in a way that makes it look pretty good. I'd love to see moving parts and fewer broken pieces, but from a moving WEDWay car, in a dark tunnel, behing glass, the thing doesn't look half bad.  

Some of these photos were taken without show lighting and with the use of flash.  Some are with show lighting, no flash.

 

I'd Give My Right Eye

I’ve been looking for video or imagery of the upper level of Disneyland’s Carousel of Progress forever now. After the final act of the show, guests would exit though the stage area and ascend to the second floor to see the Progress City model.  I’ve found very little.  I would love to see exactly what that experience was, including the viewing area of the model.  

So PLEASE send anything you have showing these things.

 

Photos by Fritz, Mitch and Hoot. A special thanks to Hoot who has done a heap of research and investigation involving the model. He was the one who showed me door to get to the model and the catwalk above. Photos were taken on assignment and with permission. Please don't attempt to access the model. 

 

Related posts:

Tomorrowland '67 [Part 3]
EPCOT City Model [Part 1]
Lake Buena Vista: The Other Prototype City with a Peoplemover

 

Reader Comments (34)

very nice, considering how much you looked around and how little you could find. i love things like this. I had no idea the model had been that large! it's amazing! it's one of the reasons i love disney so much are the amazing details, especially in the models and actual works.

btw, I don't know when the last time you came by to look at the model, but alot of the lights and moving parts work again. I know the double ferris wheel (and something else I can't recall) mover very well, but i would love to have seen the trains and people movers move. that's a shame.

I'm starting to realize how much wasn't made of the worlds fair, video or photo. it's a shame! I've been looking up some world's fair videos on youtube. I posted some that have brief glimpses of the GE pavallion. I'd look up the GM FUTURAMA one; it's so much like a disney one, without having been one.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zuIY06Hyc4

a site a local group at my school has been working on:
http://mclserver.eecs.ucf.edu/nywf/

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterderek

You'd think that Dave Smith and the Disney Archives folks would be interested in this being restored to its original version, not just Imagineering. We all know that "Disney(land||World) is not a museum", but there is an audience and interest in seeing these types of displays and history of where the company as a whole - and the parks in particular - came from.

While a permanent exhibit in Epcot on park history would appease those fanboys who would salivate over these types of things - and goodness knows there's room for it there - creating such a museum or exhibit in an external facility would probably be a better idea. The WDFM seems like a logical choice, but I don't think they have the room for something like this.

All that said, there needs to be a balance between "moving forward" and "preserving history". Some things aren't meant to be (or should be) kept in their original state. Converting America Rocks characters for Splash Mountain, for example, works. The original Progress City model, on the other hand, does fit into a larger picture and should have an advocate for its restoration...even if the restoration is just of the piece seen on the TTA.

July 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWG

I never realized it was so big originally! When I worked at WDW I spent a lot of time trying to sneak into places I shouldn't have been. Why didn't I try to walk on the catwalk above the TTA??!!!

July 23, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdonnie

i love that i all ways wanted to look at that like that way! thank you i love the blog

July 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTrey

While a permanent exhibit in Epcot on park history would appease those fanboys who would salivate over these types of things - and goodness knows there's room for it there - creating such a museum or exhibit in an external facility would probably be a better idea.

I don't know. I think there's already a perfect place for the restored model at WDW -- One Man's Dream at DHS. EPCOT literally was one man's dream, and was at the very center (no pun intended) of Walt's dream for the Florida Project.

July 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Thank you for this great post and wonderful pictures. Did I see this model first at the New York World's Fair perhaps? I think so. In any case, ever notice the similarity between this original model and the Burj Dubai? Of course the scale is different, but the central tower, the surrounding lake, the radiating transportation systems, and the smaller buildings around it--they are all there in the Disney model.
Take a look:
http://weeklydrop.com/2008/07/burj-dubai-opening-tower-2009/

July 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMike Linton

Nice one Fritz! I remember trying to get the devil to approve the restoration too. She told me that "it just wasn't important" because,clearly, Popeye's chicken had clouded her vision.

It's a miracle that this model wasn't replaced by a half assed robot scene in the 90's. Maybe a robot hitchhiker who's thumbing a ride to stupid-ville.

It amazes me that the company scrapped EPCOT saying it just wouldn't work. Ever drive down I-4 just south of Disney? There's a resort community (can't recall the name) with a central tower, business, retail, and restaurant space. Housing and recreation around the city center...... sounds familiar and it's working today on a grand scale. If you're driving East at night, the central tower (from the side) looks just like EPCOT! Maybe Walt was ahead of his time and MAYBE his staff should have listened.

July 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHoot Gibson

For the record it would take Cagel 450 years to complete the restoration. He'd be stuck on the grass for at least 425 years.

July 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHoot Gibson

Hahaha!

And really it is a shock there isn't some crappy robot beauty parlor or something stupid. I hate those things.

Is the neighborhood you speak of called "Champions Gate"?

July 24, 2010 | Registered CommenterFritz

Well, speaking of epcot and museums, they did have that brief one for the 25th anniversary in one of their small halls in innoventions; had artifacts and many goodies from past attractions, etc from the park's history. I think it would be perfect to have had it there. I still wish they'd bring back the other museum. it's still there, always closed, being used as a segway training room, so much still in there. i always take a look under the door and wish...

They did end up creating Celebrations, which was their try on the EPCOT feel. it's still there, while no longer owned by disney. I'm not sure if thats what you might have meant.

and hoot, I didn't know you frequented here! i love following you and chief on mesa verde times!

July 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDerek

Thanks Derek. Fritz and I go way back. We even served together in the war for quality. We lost.

I think it is Champions Gate. There's also Reunion, Bella Colina (sic?) etc Anyway, they're huge and clearly show that EPCOT the city would certainly have worked.

July 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHoot Gibson

Hoot and I got in all sorts of trouble. Like all the times we tried to make things look and work better- heaven forbid anyone do that!

July 25, 2010 | Registered CommenterFritz

So, it's something I've wondered while reading up on it; were you in WDI then? or at least some facet of disney that controls things?
Either way, i salute you and fritz for the fight; it's one I'm openly sad has lost. I lament it, and hope for the better in the long run :) I really hope to join in in my coming years, time will tell.

and no, i think it's quite awful you tried to do anything better! that's an impossibility! you have to keep your nose to the grindstone and never try anything different!

and i've heard of champions gate, i just never realized thats what it was meant to be. and of course it would work, hoot, think of the man who imagined it ;) but yes, I'm sure in would be very successful with the right workings and planning. :)

July 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDerek

So does the slide projector and mirror airplane effect still work, or is that busted too? It's been a long while since I've been on the TTA.

July 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHow Bowers

How Bowers! Damn man! We snuck up there together early on!

When Fritz and I were there it was working. Not sure if it is anymore.

July 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHoot Gibson

I fell in love with this model city at the World's Fair in 1965. My own model "Magic Kingdom" in my basement has it's roots in Progress City. I'd love to see the entire model restored. It was iconic.
Cheers,
Don W.
Barrington IL

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdon731

Man oh man oh man, am I impressed! This is the best collection of Progress City photos I've ever seen. I've been fascinated by the thing for decades, but there's really very little to be found online about it, and what there is lacks detail. This is amazing. Please do post more!

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRepublibot 3.0

I would very much love to see this restored to it's former glory. As a child I only got to see this once and was amazed at seeing Progress City and it's workings. Oh how I would have loved to had such a city like this as a child to play in with my matchbox and hot wheel cars. I really hope there could be someway that a petition could be made or something to encourage Disney to bring this back for display. As much as I understand that the times and technology have changed, I long for the days of how Tomorrowland use to be and look.

November 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Molina

This made a HUGE impression on me as a small child when we visited Disnayland as a child. I certainly liked it more than the other parts of the ride.

December 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJim A

So cool, I love the photos. I wish they would allow you to rebuild this model, as you said this is such a huge part of Disney history.

January 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAl

This post has taken my breath away. I've been obsessed with this model for years, and I would love to hear more about it's history in both parks. Is there anything further that could be done to see this model restored to it's former glory? Surely the Disney Archives must have the original plans somewhere that could be followed?

I've contacted Jim Korkis by email to see if he has any 'untold' stories about the model that would be of some use, we need to make this happen! One of the reasons that I love the model is that was commissioned (but never seen) by Walt at the time he was thinking about EPCOT. There's so much crossover of ideas between the World Fair, EPCOT, Carrousel of Progress, Tommorrowland, it's a shame that none of them were fully realised. I would love to see this model properly document and restored.

February 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristian

"Restoration" would be super-cool and shiny and all, but probably kind of impractical for the same reasons they tore up the original model in the first place. In lieu of that, what I'd really love to see (Actually, what I'd really like to personally have) is a CGI model of the original model that I could zoom through, look at stuff, examine from a zillion different locations, etc.

February 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRepublibot 3.0

I stumbled across this page while trying to describe to my wife the coolest thing I had ever seen as a child at Disneyland. It was very nearly my favorite part of the trip.. And I had absolutely no problem sitting through the somewhat boring show in order to get to gaze at this gem. I certainly hope it gets fully restored one day.

Thank you for this page and the memories.

December 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterroger-write

I just read this article. I know if I had the time I would totally voluteer my time and talent to help restore something so important to the Disney name and company... So when you have had enough I have a great fishing spot just below Yellowstone. It is magical and all your cares just float down the river... Consider yourself invited!

Thanks Andrew

March 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

I just read this article. I know if I had the time I would totally voluteer my time and talent to help restore something so important to the Disney name and company... So when you have had enough I have a great fishing spot just below Yellowstone. It is magical and all your cares just float down the river... Consider yourself invited!

Thanks Andrew

March 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

If you want to know how to get there, it's pretty easy if you have a key or happen to find an unlocked door. Just go into Cosmic Ray's and next to the restrooms there is a door, open the door and there is a stairway, go up the stairway and it leads to an air handler room and then on the left hand side there is another door, open the door then climb under the beams and then you are underneath the model.

April 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTom Morrow

Just came across you on Facebook; and this was one of the first articles I stumbled across. Wow! Our family did a SoCal vacation in June 1971, I had just graduated from high school. The Progress City model would become my life's obsession and inspiration for my career as a landscape designer and city planner. I kept a color photocopy of the original watercolor rendering above my desk all through college, graduate school and work. I keep a second copy here at the home office. I recently visited the WDFM in San Francisco. Not surprizingly the Ultimate Disneyland model was the highlight of the trip and brought back all the memories of my 1971 Disneyland visit. It would be wonderful to restore/recreate the model and place it where everyone could see it. Possiblly Imigination at Epcot...

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRic Catron

I visited Disneyland several times in the early 70s and I loved the Carousel of Progress and this model. It was awesome. I hope that someday the entire artifact can be restored and displayed with the dignity it deserves.

May 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark Randall

Looks like the model is getting some TLC. Did WDI-FL finally get control of it?

March 28, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterab

Seems like WDI in Florida may have gotten control after all, or at least another department came to its senses. I was just in Magic Kingdom last week and the window for viewing the model from the PeopleMover was boarded up. I asked a CM what was going on and after contacting his manager, they said they were fixing it up/refurbishing it. Hopefully this means good news!

April 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterZachary

I remember seeing this at Disneyland and being horribly disappointed when the Carousel Of Progress attraction closed. The city was, to my young self, the coolest thing EVER! 40 odd years later, I finally made it to WDW and was disappointed when this was not part of the exit walk-through as it was in California. My wife didn't understand the excitement (and sadness) when seeing the remaining pieces.

If I remember correctly, photography of Progress City was discouraged. this was likely due to glare and reflection from the glass bothering other guests.

April 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterC. Scott

I remember Walt Disney talking about Progress City when I was a mere lad. I was captivated with his dream and the model. It would be years before I'd see the small piece that is hidden away along the WedWay People mover track at Walt Disney World.
I have read a lot of info about WDW and some of the construction Blogs. The Epcot of today was not intended to be Walts EPCOT. The powers that be were afraid of problems with guests living on the Disney Properties and legal problems. And they simply stated, they just did not know how to create Walts dream.
EPCOT Center was a weak attempt at Walts idea but never intended to create the actual dream. If you can still find the construction blog, you should read it, it is very interesting.
Celebration was yet another attempt to appease the guests that were asking about Walt's Epcot but it never succeeded to take on all of the dreams Walt had invisioned.
From what I see, Progress City will always be Walts dream but we won't ever see it built.
The WedWay has already been retired at Disneyland, last I heard the tracks still exist but entrances are closed. WedWay is alive and well at WDW and it's always great to see that model of Walts dream.

I hope you can actually be a part of saving and reconstructing the model to it's original condition one day. We can't lose the dream....

June 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSprite

I remember Walt Disney talking about Progress City when I was a mere lad. I was captivated with his dream and the model. It would be years before I'd see the small piece that is hidden away along the WedWay People mover track at Walt Disney World.
I have read a lot of info about WDW and some of the construction Blogs. The Epcot of today was not intended to be Walts EPCOT. The powers that be were afraid of problems with guests living on the Disney Properties and legal problems. And they simply stated, they just did not know how to create Walts dream.
EPCOT Center was a weak attempt at Walts idea but never intended to create the actual dream. If you can still find the construction blog, you should read it, it is very interesting.
Celebration was yet another attempt to appease the guests that were asking about Walt's Epcot but it never succeeded to take on all of the dreams Walt had invisioned.
From what I see, Progress City will always be Walts dream but we won't ever see it built.
The WedWay has already been retired at Disneyland, last I heard the tracks still exist but entrances are closed. WedWay is alive and well at WDW and it's always great to see that model of Walts dream.

I hope you can actually be a part of saving and reconstructing the model to it's original condition one day. We can't lose the dream....

June 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSprite

I hate that the original model was cut up and has not been cared for. I remember seeing the original model when I was about 3 or 4 years old. It made such an impression on me! What can be done to save this piece of history? who do we call? I've been a Disney fanatic my whole life. to see that people in charge don't seem to care about how important this is really disturbing!

September 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterwperryford

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