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.
– “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.
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?
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.