Monday, June 24, 2024

Contemporary Resort Hotel, April 1973

When I was a kid, I saw plenty of advertisements for Walt Disney World; if they didn't feature the Magic Kingdom park, or people golfing or water skiing, they probably featured the then-amazing A-frame Contemporary Resort Hotel, designed by Welton Becket. I have three photos taken by a guest in 1973 who must have been duly impressed by this structure. 

Here's a view as seen from an automobile, somehow it seems wrong to be in a mere automobile. We should be in a "Jetsons"-style flying ship with a bubble dome!

The fact that guests could take the Monorail from the Hotel directly to the Magic Kingdom seemed so cool to me! I'm not sure if the Contemporary Hotel falls into the category of Brutalist architecture, but it sure seems like it does. Kind of blocky, all straight lines and rectangles, with plenty of concrete. I only just noticed the use of different colors of concrete, which is interesting.

The suites that would be on the ends of the hotel appear to have large balconies, perfect for enjoying a cocktail in the evening, or for throwing pennies at the passing Monorails (I would never do that, but you have to admit that it would be perfect for it). Red seems to have been a very popular car color in 1973!


Nanook said...

In the 2nd image we can see four guests poking their heads above the roof parapet checking out the view.

"The suites that would be on the ends of the hotel appear to have large balconies, perfect for enjoying a cocktail in the evening..."
As nice a thought as that is, those are actually the emergency exit stairways. (But don't let that stop you from tossing out pennies [or solid quarters] towards passing monorail trains-!)

Thanks, Major.

JB said...

Well, no Jetsons flying car, but at least we can see the Monorail from this car's-eye-view. Actually, it's a nice you-are-there photo. What is that big black vehicle ahead of us? It looks like a dump truck filled with Tang.

This is a really nice photo of the Contemporary. It looks very impressive here. On "How Disney Built America" Bob Gurr tells us that the Monorail track isn't connected to the building at all, to eliminate any vibration and noise on the inside of the Resort.

Ooh, another great photo! Catching the Monorail just as it's leaving (or is it entering?... Seems like it's leaving.) In 1976 (or was it '77?), my brothers and I rode the Monorail around its circuit, de-training in the Contemporary to look around, then continuing on to the Polynesian for dinner. We had excellent Boston cream pie for dessert.

Nice views of the Contemporary, Major. Thanks.

TokyoMagic! said...

In that first pic, we are actually very close to where the road dips down into a tunnel, which runs under the waterway connecting Bay Lake with the Seven Seas Lagoon. The tunnel is just before you reach the hotel.

JG said...

Major, you’re right, I would call this a species of Brutalist design, although not as overwhelming as some by Paul Rudolph or others. More in the line of John Portman’s Hyatts and LA Bonadventure hotels. The inward leaning guest room floors resemble the San Francisco Hyatt Regency which stood in for the Towering Inferno.

I have been fascinated by the chutzpah required to run the monorail right through the building. Was the lobby air conditioned? How did the cool air not escape through those big openings? Or was it like Space Mountain in Anaheim where they just didn’t care? I’m imagining the initial concept meeting “…and the train will run straight through!! Wow, love it how soon can you finish?”

I’d love to stay here a short time just to see the layout. I guess we can’t cross from one side to the other except at ground level and rooftop? What is on the roof level, a restaurant / bar maybe?

Thank you for these pics, always have enjoyed this building.


Nanook said...

@ JG-
"I guess we can’t cross from one side to the other except at ground level and rooftop? What is on the roof level, a restaurant / bar maybe?"

The elevator 'lobbies' on each floor connect each side of the structure. The original dining, drinking and entertainment location on the 15th floor was the - Top of the World. To quote Dave Smith: Nightclub/restaurant on the 15th floor in the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World: open from October 1, 1971 until September 30, 1993. The view over the Seven Seas Lagoon toward the Magic Kingdom is spectacular. The longtime dinner show presented twice nightly was “Broadway at the Top,” with talented performers singing hit numbers from Broadway shows, and the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch was also popular. The restaurant was replaced by the California Grill in May 1995".

Chuck said...

Ladies and gentlemen, behold - the back side of a stop sign!

The Top of the World always makes me think of Karen Carpenter (but not Richard; why is that?). I ate lunch there once with my family in 1979; there was some kind of meal coupon that came with our Magic Kingdom Club package. I remember they had a table tent that listed a series of cocktails all named after different monorails - Monorail Red, Monorail Green, etc. The view was spectacular. I don’t recall going inside the building since (other than riding through).

JG, you can also cross from one side to the other via jet pack.

Thanks again, Major!

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, those are actually the emergency exit stairways, I guess those are good too!

JB, that certainly is a truck, other than that, who knows. It makes sense that the Monorail track isn’t connected to the building, though I never thought about it before. With the WDW Monorail system being considerably larger than Disneyland’s, I could see just riding around on that for a while, taking in the nice elevated views.

TokyoMagic! so that tunnel would have been just behind us in the photo??

JG, huh, I did not know that the LA Bonaventure Hotel was considered “Brutalist”. I guess I think of Brutalist as not being so shiny! It used to be fun to see it pop up in movies and TV shows that took place in “the future”. It’s hard to believe that the Contemporary Hotel was not air-conditioned, so I can only assume that they just had to deal with the loss from those Monorail openings. Like you, I’d love to stay at that hotel, though they have added a high-rise next to it, which probably affects the views from many of the old rooms.

Nanook, maybe I am in the minority, but if I go to eat dinner, I prefer that there isn’t any musical entertainment. I like to talk to the person/people I’m with! “Broadway at the Top”, sounds like it was loud! “ONE! Singular sensation…”. No thank you. A guy strumming on a guitar is tolerable.

Chuck, nobody thinks of Richard Carpenter! Cocktails named after monorails, kind of makes it hard to know what you’re getting. “I’d like a Manhattan”. “A what>”. I mean, a “Monorail Green”. They keep building hotels on the Florida property, but most of them seem pretty “meh”, even the Dolphin and the Gopher (or whatever it is) don’t do much for me.

Nanook said...

"It’s hard to believe that the Contemporary Hotel was not air-conditioned, so I can only assume that they just had to deal with the loss from those Monorail openings".

The 'openings' where the Monorail trains entered/exited the Contemporary passed thru what amounted to rather glorified air curtains or air doors, that traditionally use adjacent, conditioned air as the make-up source, which feeds the inlet-side of [in this case] a rather large (concealed) fan or fans, blowing a 'curtain' of air across the opening(s). If properly designed, the flowing air is strong-enough to stop dust, bugs, exterior air and debris from entering the building.

Bu said...

"Then-Amazing" is still really amazing, and I continue to be impressed by this building...I would give it a "Brutalist" title...and the public spaces inside, continue this style...which is why the Mary Blair murals are completely out of context, yet completely IN context. The marriage works! I wish they would bring in the original "trees" that were in the coffee shop/restaurant/ They did complete the entire look. The place actually is quite "cold"in nature and not "House of Mouse", which is actually a plus...not a minus... It's interesting to note...that when you see photos of this hotel, it seems like it would be miles away from the Magic Kingdom, when in reality it's quite on top of it, and it's a "longish" but do-able walk to the park. When you are in the rooms facing the park, and in the rooftop Club (forget what the original name was...but it was a cabaret club rather than "restaurant/bar" which it is now...) it is like you are on top of everything...with views that you would THINK the Disneyland Hotel has...but alas...does not. I stayed at the Contemporary once in '81...and have very little memories of it: the Monorail, etc. make for an exciting venue...and the views are fantastic...the building: important in the world of architecture...but I think I'd rather stay at the Polynesian if I had the cash and the time...IF I were to stay on property. I'm not a gigantical fan of "on property" as a business traveler ... but I'm not the target audience... I think at one point they DID want my executive money, but now: not so much. Single dudes don't spend too much money while working, I guess.. I would like to stay at the Contemporary some point...I can dream :) Thanks Major for the trip to Florida!

Anonymous said...

That first one was is extra fun as I remember that view myself, from a few months earlier. My father had a business trip to Florida in spring of 1972, and so we had to go to Walt Disney World! The drive over from Hollywood Fl. seemed to go on forever…seemingly thousands of miles of flat swamp forrest…eventually passing a tiny brown sign saying “Welcome to Walt Disney World”, and that was it…for more miles of plain trees…until THAT view came into place. We needed a room, not entering the park, so drove to the hotel not the parking lot, so THIS was the first real view of what Disney World actually WAS when finally arriving in 1972.

There were no vacancies at the 6 month old hotel, but with their help managed to get the last available room over on Hotel Plaza Boulevard, not to far away. I did however get to come back and swim in the Contemporary pools. Good times.


Anonymous said...

Nanook, thanks for the info. I'm still looking at this building with my 13 y.o. eyes and questions and not applying my next 43 years of architecture practice to think it through.

Of course, also I didn't know air curtains were that old. They have recently been required on a wide range of food service applications in CA. Disconcerting to hear the blower go on and your hat fly off as you step into Starbucks. I guess that widespread plague of fly-borne diseases makes the expense worthwhile .

I'm still befuddled by the way the air-conditioned Space Mountain Front of House complex seems completely open to the weather, although the CA climate is less humid, it still seems wasteful. There's an impressive array of cooling towers on backstage rooftops of that complex that can be seen in aerial view. Of course, some of that is accounted for by the huge show building with the coaster inside.


Anonymous said...

We thank John Hench once more for his good taste, great imagination, and sticking to his vision, when the usual suspects saw, and wanted to settle, for less.


Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, I am aware of “air curtains”, but wasn’t sure if such a thing existed back when the Contemporary Hotel opened. Remember the “Backdraft” attraction at Universal Studios? The only thing between the guests and the explosions was an air curtain - it worked, but we could still feel some heat!

Bu, I’m sure somebody decided that those potentially-cold and sterile spaces inside the CH needed Mary Blair’s touch. The tile mural is an impressively huge accomplishment! It’s a shame that Mary did not live longer to bask in the worship of her many fans. I did like those odd acrylic (?) trees, and the very 70s look of the original decor, which of course went out of style, but would be charming now. My buddy Mr. X far prefers the Polynesian, and even the Grand Victorian, to the CH. If I was to visit WDW and was willing to stay on property, I really would like to be at the original, iconic Contemporary Hotel!

MS, wow, you got to go to that park EARLY, which is the best. I am jealous. Funny about the “tiny brown sign”, they hadn’t gotten to making things grand (too grand?) yet. No vacancies at the hotel, no surprise there. Though looking at Lou and Sue’s photos from the first year or so, there were some days when the Magic Kingdom was virtually empty.

JG, like you I didn’t know that air curtains had been around for so long. I don’t really go to Starbucks much, but am surprised to learn that they use some sort of pressurized air situation. I can only assume that rides like Space Mountain are designed to lose a certain amount of cold air, maybe they use some sort of not-obvious technology to minimize the loss.

MS, hear hear!

"Lou and Sue" said...

My first time to WDW (September 1972), we (my dad and I) arrived with reservations-in-hand for the Contemporary, but the front desk had no record of our reservations. Since we had the paperwork to prove it, they gave us a suite [with multiple rooms] in the "adjoining" building, on the end overlooking the waterway. At no extra charge. I do have pictures of the suite, somewhere (I've shared the details of the suite, in a past post, so I won't bore you, again).

Yes, Major, I recall the park not being crowded, but they only had the two hotels at the time - so that probably explains why MS found "no vacancy."

In 1983, my parents and my dad's brother and wife were eating at the Top of the World. Probably at that brunch/buffet Nanook mentioned, because my dad told me that, while they were there, a guest took a bite out of some cactus thing (I have no idea if it was a display piece or food item), but they had a medical emergency when a cactus 'spine' got stuck in their mouth or throat. I wasn't there, so I don't know any other crazy details.

I still have some items purchased at the gift shops from the early years of the Contemporary. They carried unique items for your home and some pretty jewelry, too. I was last there in 2019, and recall seeing the usual, in those shops...backpacks, stuffed animals, sweatshirts, etc. Nothing very exciting, and definitely NOT unique.

During the 90s, I recall eating in the restaurant at the top of the Contemporary, seated by the window during the night when the Christmas season fireworks were going off. At one point the fireworks were shot up from 10 [if memory serves me right] different locations in the Magic Kingdom, simultaneously. What a vantage point! Probably the best fireworks display I ever enjoyed.

I love all the info about the building, shared here, today. I never realized the monorail was "separate" from the actual hotel building. That explains why the monorail just seems to 'rather quietly' and smoothly glide into the building. When you're inside, the monorail seems to magically appear out of nowhere.

Thanks, Major.

"Lou and Sue" said...

^ I should add that when we arrived at the Contemporary [in September 1972], when they didn't have a record of our reservations, the hotel clerk also stated there were no available rooms left. That's why we got the huge suite...they goofed and had to give us something.


Chuck : those table tent signs with the Monorail series of drinks were actually from THE OUTERIM and the COCONINO ROOM LOUNGE. THE GULF ROOM was also high end and did not use table or tent cards. The TOP OF THE WORLD did not use tent cards at the tables —- EXCEPT —- for a short time to showcase that evening’s performer . TOP OF THE WORLD used drink only menus and of course wine lists . The cards featured a line drawing of the headliner performer and the times the shows would be . performed . Of course dinner jackets are required for men in both the GULF ROOM and THE TOP OF THE WORLD….. it was a very different time.

Another note: the MONORAIL cocktails featured some colors not used on actual WDW monorails!


I used to have copies of all the menus and printed materials ( table top cards , tent standees etc) for the CONTEMPORARY RESORT from 1971 to 1979 …they were samples kept by the person in charge of printing menus for the Contemporary, Polynesian , Golf Club and a few other locations - the printing department was located on the “basement” ( really ground level) of the Contemporary Resort … eventually it was moved backstage and the shipping /receiving department took over the space as conventions expanded and became more elaborate. Unfortunately I didn’t keep all the items and over the past two decades sold or traded about 1/2 of the collection. You can’t keep everything .. right MAJOR? Lol

Dean Finder said...

I'm surprised the road is so stained after only a few years. I guess cars really did leak a lot and leaded gas left more residue. Or maybe it was from all of the construction vehicles over the previous 7 years.

It's hard to get rooms in the A-frame part of the hotel, even harder to get ones with a park view since many of the rooms are in the low-rise "Garden Wing"

I've had dinner or cocktails at the California Grill a few times to catch the fireworks or Electrical Water Pageant in the lagoon below. Very much worth the trouble to get a reservation. Pro tip - you do not need a reservation for the Lounge, but it's best to be dressed appropriately when you walk up to the reservation desk at the elevator lobby to ask if seats are available.

In the second photo, you can see there's a balcony above the dark concrete near where the monorail beam enters the building. That's a pretty good place to see the fireworks if you can't make it into the California Grill, as are the landings for the stairs Nanook mentioned.


Actually I should clarify the the contemporary probably used table cards or tent cards by the 80’s and 90’s. But not during the “dinner jacket “ era .


That railing on the lowest level of the Grand Canyon course was once part of the GULF COAST ROOM ( the Gulf Coast Terrace) … the Gulf Coast Room was once more high end than anything on WDW property and made TOP OF THE WORLD look like a Dennys price Over time THE GULF COAST terrace became supper /dinner only after brunches and lunches didn’t go over well … the evening dress crowds were busy elsewhere in the resort … and I’m not sure if the exterior terrace level is used for anything …

"Lou and Sue" said...

OF COURSE[!] Mike had some of those exact table/tent cards that you were talking about, Chuck! Why doesn't it surprise me/us?!?

Just yesterday, I asked Mike about one of my dad's collectibles from Disneyland (a Main Street lamp post placard/banner used in 1984) - what the value was, etc. Not only did Mike instantly know it's current value, but also what it originally sold for, where it was sold, what was stamped on the back of it, etc., etc. AND, *insert drum roll here*, he had one, also! Surprise, surprise, surprise! (Though he sold his.).

Mike, WHEN are you opening your museum??


Sue : I actually no longer have that lamppost placard … I sold it or traded it a long time ago … but it was the VERY FIRST Disneyland park used sign /prop I ever purchased or had. There was a time the Disneyanna shop would randomly put things like this out for sale. One time they sold all the retired Main Street USA mailboxes and the old stamp dispenser boxes ( ornate oiled oak with reverse painted glass fronts!) at the time Main Street had 3 kinds of mail boxes … the rectangular Disney built boxes used today ( there was once 2 sizes) then there were the cast iron arched top antique mailboxes. The Disneyanna Shop literally had them displayed on the floor!! At h the time the shop has just finished relocating from the emporium/arcade over to the old Rings & Things shop : I didn’t realize they were for sale . But they were all sold before the end of the day as lucky castmembers and guests bought them up!

TokyoMagic! said...

TokyoMagic! so that tunnel would have been just behind us in the photo??

Major, no...the tunnel is just ahead of us in that photo. I know it doesn't look like it in the photo, but the road turns slightly, and once traffic goes underneath those Monorail beams, the road dips down into the tunnel. You also can't tell from that photo, that there are bodies of water just beyond those grass lawns, on both sides of the road. The bodies of water are connected by a canal, that runs over the roof of the tunnel. Check out the view below and advance "forward" a little bit. You still won't be able to see any water from the "street view," but if you then click the "X" in the upper right corner of the screen, it will take you to "aerial view," and you will see Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon, and the connecting waterway over the road!,-81.5755402,3a,47.5y,350.87h,86.58t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sStSQXdItFg31-dOLh_5U2g!2e0!!7i16384!8i8192?coh=205410&entry=ttu