Saturday, February 01, 2020

Space Mountain Construction, Orlando 1973

By pure happenstance, I managed to acquire a few slides that were taken in 1973, during the construction of the Magic Kingdom's Space Mountain - the first Space Mountain ever! Walt Disney World had only been open about two and a half years.

First up is this neat aerial photo, date-stamped "June, 1973", looking down on this former swampland. I'm sure that there are many details that escape me because of my lack of knowledge, but I can see things like the large parking lot on the other side of the Seven Seas Lagoon; the Polynesian resort is also visible on the far side of the lake, while the Contemporary hotel is to our left. One of the WDWRR Trains can be seen in the lower right, and we get a glimpse of a backstage area. I'm not sure if there is anything significant about the three islands in the Lagoon.

Zooming in, there's the early stages of Space Mountain construction. When you compare it to what's nearby, you really get a sense of how huge that structure is. Just to the right of the center of this view (near the Skyway terminal) is what appears to be a tent -  though it might be a permanent building. Any idea what that was?

The next two are date-stamped "July, 1973", though they look like they were actually taken a few weeks apart at least. I assume that they were both taken from the Grand Prix Raceway or its queue. There's the crude structure to our left, with those (pre-stressed?) concrete columns, probably cast on-site. 

Things are moving right along, though it still is a far cry from the sleek white cone of the finished attraction. It's fun to see the Skyway gondolas and Grand Prix Raceway cars, "business as usual". Space Mountain turned out to be one of the most iconic roller coasters of all time, it's almost hard to imagine a time when it wasn't there.

I hope you have enjoyed your visit to Orlando, Florida!


TokyoMagic! said...

These are super-neato, Major!

I wonder how many alligators are just "hanging out" on those three islands, today!

"Lou and Sue" said...

Great pictures/slides! The more you look at the first picture, the more things jump out at you. There's a 5-car monorail that really blends into its surroundings.

The castle looks like a toy . . . and the sub lagoon looks rather small, from this angle.

I'll be back to look at these more!

Thanks, Major!


Nanook said...


I'd like to think that 'tent' is version #2 of the Mickey Mouse Club Circus-!

You can also spy the airstrip, above, and to the right of the Contemporary Hotel. Those three islands are Blackbeard Island, Castaway Cay, and Beachcomber Island. "Castaway Cay has been used as the launching point for perimeter fireworks", according to Disney.

Thanks, Major.

"Lou and Sue" said...

One last thought (before I call it a night), I just googled to see how many people the Magic Kingdom can hold and it said 100,000. When you look at the first picture, it doesn't seem possible to squeeze that many sardines into that area, does it?!?


K. Martinez said...

WOW!! The "Vacation Kingdom" aerial is amazing. Love how in the foreground you can see the show buildings for "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", "It's A Small World" and the "Haunted Mansion".

Also visible in Adventureland are "Swiss Family Island Treehouse" the pagoda tower for "Tropical Serenade" and the top of the Cambodian ruins of the "Jungle Cruise".

There is so much to see and I can recognize every bit of it. Today's post is extra good. Thanks, Major.

Andrew said...

Really cool stuff - the first pic puts into perspective how crazy it is that these few specific acres mean so much to the memories of millions. Space Mountain did look really weird as it was being built, and not in a good way. Even when they eventually put the roof beams in, I think it still looked very unfuturistic (I was there). The thing that really makes the "Space Mountain look" to me are those funky angled disks on the roof. Oh, and that picture with the Contemporary and the dark clouds is my favorite.

If you look in the background of the first pic, I believe you can glimpse the short-lived WDW STOLport airstrip. As for the islands, I one of them had a wave machine (for surfing) on it in the early years, although I'm not sure if it's one of the ones pictured.

And if these pictures were from June, 1973, Walt Disney World wouldn't have even been open for two years yet! Thanks for the post!

Pegleg Pete said...

These are some swell photographs today – thanks, Major. That aerial view is particularly great. In addition to the Space Mountain construction, you can see the construction for Caribbean Plaza at the far right edge of the photo. My first trip to WDW was in the summer of '73 but, as a child, I suppose I was too overwhelmed by the experience to notice the construction going on all around. Tomorrowland was pretty sparse at that point and a trip on the Grand Prix is my only memory of that particular land from that first visit. As that last photo shows, the building work would have been unmissable from the attraction.

stu29573 said...

Great photos today! The large white building on the bottom right is the Haunted Mansion. The building to its left is Its a Small World. You can see the 20000 Leagues lagoon on the bottom left, with the huge white show building that housed the "deep water" part. The "circus tent" is actually...the teacups! They were covered due to the frequent (read almost daily) quick afternoon downpours.

Scott Lane said...

Boy it's not often I get to answer questions around here but I gotcha covered.
The "tent" is the newly built roof over the Mad Teacups.
In the first picture the island to the right seems to have some man made construction on it. I think it may have been the early wave machine. It wasn't in operation very long, and the beach area was long ago swallowed up by the Grand Floridiab, but I can remember seeing it's remains from rented mini-speedboats back in the later 70's.

Chuck said...

Lots of cool details in the first photo that other sharp-eyed readers have pointed out already, but I'll add a few more...

The last commercial flight into DWS had already come and gone in late 1972, although the airfield was still open until EPCOT construction ran a monorail line close to the south end of the runway.

Directly below the STOLPort is the "water bridge" that connects the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake. Staying at Fort Wilderness on my first visit, I thought it was the coolest thing to ride a boat to the Magic Kingdom over a road.

That "circus tent" is probably related to Tomorrowland construction and occupies part of what is now the footprint for the Carousel of Progress, which will open with Space Mountain in January of 1975. The Star Jets, which doesn't even appear to have started construction yet, will open in November of 1974.

Nice views of the back side of show buildings. In a line across the back of the Magic Kingdom, from left-to-right there's the 20,000 Leagues building, it's a small world, and the Haunted Mansion.

To the right of the mansion, we can see a solitary keelboat plying the river. Despite the proximity to the HM, I think the trees were tall enough by this point to obscure the show building from that angle, although maybe not quite yet. There's the suspension bridge that connects the northern and southern parts of Tom Sawyer Island and Southern Tom Sawyer Island, and if you follow the island's shoreline the building on the island's southeastern tip is Aunt Polly's.

Directly above Aunt Polly's, I believe that's the Admiral Joe Fowler that's just pulled out of the riverboat dock. Her sister ship, the Richard F. Irvine (today's Liberty Belle) entered service in May of 1973, so if this batch was processed immediately after being taken, I could be wrong, but I think I see a stack to the immediate right of the pilot house, which would mean there's another one in a corresponding position on the other side of the boat.

If you look to the extreme right edge of the photo, you can see Pirates of the Caribbean and Caribbean Plaza under construction. Pirates opened in December of 1973, and based on the stage of construction it looks like that baby went up a lot faster than Space Mountain.

Looking across the Seven Seas Lagoon at the Transportation and Ticket Center, you can make out one of the ferries that went into service in July of 1972 when it was found that the monorails couldn't handle all of the traffic to get guests from the parking lot to the Magic Kingdom. There's also one of the steam launches that provided service to Fort Wilderness.

And I choose to believe that one of the nondescript blobs tied up at the Polynesian Resort pier is the Chinese junk the Seven Seas

I think your second photo was taken from the WDW Railroad rather than the Grand Prix Raceway.

Andrew, the wave machine was located on Beachcomber Island, the island to the far right.

Neat set today, Major. Thanks!

Chuck said...

Well, that's what I get for writing a long response - several of you beat me to the punch! :-)

There also seems to be a misunderstanding about which "tent" the Major is referring to. The tent-like structure that is in line with the entrance to Tomorrowland, just to the left of center in the zoomed-in image, appears to be an actual tent. The tent-like structure to the left of center in the first, zoomed-out image is the Teacups.

I missed the Indian Village on my first viewing - it's the tan area in the lower right of the first image that the train is passing through. If you zoom way in you can see the teepees. Unlike at Disneyland, the tracks actually pass through the village.

For what it's worth, it's also nice to see Center Street crossing Main.

Aaaand because it seems like I've set up some sort of expectation from my friends here, you'll note the bus in the parking area behind iasw. Hard to tell from here, but the general shape suggests a Highway Products-era Twin Coach bus. WDW Transportation had both TC-25s and TC-31s in this era, so it's not outside the realm of possibility.

There's also a bus on Center Drive (not to be confused with Center Street in Main Street, U.S.A.) below and to the left of the 20K show building, but I couldn't tell you what it is at this angle and resolution.


Chuck: the Chinese Junk who’s home port was the Polynesian Village was called “The East Wind”.

Chuck said...

Mike, you're absolutely right. Seven Seas is Steven Spielberg's former yacht.

I think a dusty part of my brain grabbed Southern Seas, the name of one of the early steam launches at WDW, mixed it with the Seven Seas Lagoon and Spielberg's tub, and called it good. This is why I shouldn't post before my second cup of decaf.

Thanks for the correction.

Major Pepperidge said...

TokyoMagic!, I actually wonder that too… do they even try to remove unwanted gators from the various waterways?

Lou and Sue, I’m sure that a knowledgeable person can glean all sorts of fun things from that big aerial view. Meanwhile, I wonder if the pic was taken from a helicopter, or an airplane? No idea of course.

Nanook, I thought that looked like an airstrip, but as usual I don’t know anything about park details. Thanks for the info about Castaway Cay and the fireworks!

Lou and Sue, I think Disneyland can hold 80,000 on an ungodly crowded day, and since I keep hearing about how much larger The Magic Kingdom is, I suppose it’s not that crazy to think that they might cram an extra 20,000 people in there. I sure wouldn’t want to be there on one of those days though.

K. Martinez, I only just noticed a little waterway outside of the 20,000 Leagues building (just below the main lagoon), you can see a Nautilus submarine sitting there. I’m also noticing that the Skyway terminal near the Grand Prix Raceway seems to leave guests kind of in the middle of nowhere - maybe looks can be deceiving. Glad you liked these pix!

Andrew, didn’t the Florida Space Mountain always have those exterior roof beams? And how could you have been there, you’re too young! I suppose it’s unfair to blame a building for not looking futuristic while it’s still under construction, but it does look like kind of a mess. I have no idea what “STOLport” stands for.

Pegleg Pete, thanks for the ID on the Caribbean Plaza construction, I had no idea what that was. I think that even now the human brain tends to ignore the stuff that is “behind the scenes”, unless one is a true blue Disney parks geek. I’m going to post a photo coming up with some construction at Disneyland, and everyone walking past is looking away from the construction, probably completely unconsciously.

stu29573, now I want to compare the shape of the WDW Haunted Mansion show building to the Anaheim version. I think they’re pretty much the same. The “Small World” show building looks a bit different, as does the 20K building. I think I did a bad job describing where that tent that I am mystified by is located; it is a little bit to the right of the Skyway terminal, on my monitor it’s only about an inch away on the large view - it’s a rectangular tent.

Scott Lane, see my comment to stu29573! Sorry to have been so vague. See that striped, rectangular tent right next to the Skyway terminal? It even appears to be behind walls as if it might not be open to guests. Still, I do see the Mad Tea Party tent, which in Mr. X’s photos (from a while ago) was not there. Is Disney World’s “Dumbo” attraction under a rain covering as well?

Chuck, “DWS”? Still don’t know what “STOLPort” means either. Thanks for pointing out the water bridge, I saw it, but didn’t quite get what was going on. What an unusual feature. If sure does look like there is some Tomorrowland construction going on, somehow it surprises me that the Star Jets weren’t there from opening day. Thank you also for pointing out so many of those other fun details!

Chuck, that happens to me all the time - I’m replying to a dozen comments, and meanwhile three or four other comments have been left! The Indian Village is something I’ve seen in many photos, and often attributed to Disneyland, for some reason. I was going to point out that bus to you, but you beat me to it! Amazing that the little blue blob can be ID’d by you.

Mike Cozart, OH SNAP!

Chuck, how in the world do you know the name of Spielberg’s former yacht? And what’s the name of his current yacht?

steve2wdw said...

Awesome pictures and some great comments, too! The third picture was actually taken aboard the WDWRR. There appears to be a little jog in the track to accommodate the construction of the tunnel (under the tracks) which houses the Space Mountain queue. The second picture has a clear view of the minor detour that brought the train VERY close to the first sweeping turn of the Raceway, as well as the Tomorrowland Skyway terminal. I had always assumed they'd just closed the train down for a time, but with so few attractions in the park during this time, they obviously opted for a slight reworking of the track. The last picture looks like it's from the grandstand area of the queue, as that concrete pad in the foreground is the parking area for the cars when not in use.

Nanook said...

STOLPort stands for: Short Takeoff & Landing. DWS is the airport identifier [IATA code], as in (LAX, SFO), etc. And IATA stands for: International Air Transport Association.

(And WED stands for.... Oh, never mind-!)

Chuck said...

Major, I know all sorts of useless things, although today I seem to have tangled some of them up. Wonder if I got hit in the head with a frying pan.

It appears that Spielberg may still own Seven Seas. I remember it being for sale a few years ago because Spielberg was interested in trading up to an even larger one ("We're gonna need a bigger boat") and I assumed the sale had gone through.

stu29573 said...

The rectangle tent seems to be behind a construction wall. I'd vote for equipment storage for the SM construction? Just a guess, though...
And yes, animal control does relocate troublesome gators when they get reports.

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Anonymous said...

Come for the photos, stay for the comments!

Classic GDB here.

Yes, Major, those tees are prestressed concrete, but could be made up in a plant and trucked in.

Wonderful construction photos, thank you.


Melissa said...

It's like an early park map come to life!