LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Walt Disney World is set to celebrate its 50th Anniversary on Friday with joyous celebrations, major renovations, and new attractions. But the theme parks were originally slated to be located in Palm Beach Gardens.
"I want to say just a word about the site of our Florida Project," said Walt Disney in a 1950's film strip to stakeholders. "Welcome to a little bit of Florida here in California."
The "Florida Project" was the working title of what would become Walt Disney World. Walt Disney Productions wanted a second theme park east of the Mississippi River. They felt it would be far enough away from Disneyland that the two venues wouldn't compete with one another.
Disney toured land owned by billionaire philanthropist John D. MacArthur, who had just founded Palm Beach Gardens. He shook hands with MacArthur to build the theme park on 320 acres along PGA Boulevard. Wednesday, Chopper 5 flew above where the parks would be located, above the PGA National and Mirasol neighborhoods.
The agreement called for Disney to provide the entertainment and MacArthur the land and the financing. But the deal fell through when Disney's brother, Roy, wanted more land. Roy Disney handled the business side of the company and didn't want to be crowded out by other businesses like they were at Disneyland in Anaheim. Roy Disney asked for more land, which infuriated MacArthur, and the deal fell through, according to reporting from the Palm Beach Post.
"As you can see on this map, we have a perfect location in Florida, almost in the center of the state," Walt Disney said.
Walt and Roy Disney turned their sights on Orlando because of cheap swampland (just over $80 an acre) and a climate farther away from the chance of hurricanes -- and location, location, location.
"And the important thing is that Disney World is located just a few miles from the crosspoint from Interstate 4 and Sunshine State Parkway," Walt Disney said.
He showed plans of what the "Florida Project" would look like, but admitted they were ever-evolving.
"We know what our goals are," Walt Disney said. "We know what we hope to accomplish."
Tou can just imagine how different the landscape of Palm Beach and Martin counties would have been if Walt Disney World was based in Palm Beach Gardens instead of near Orlando.