Monday, March 29, 2010

Backstories: Discovery Bay

Discovery Bay, a magnificent project by Imagineer Tony Baxter, has never been built, but its backstory was the first thing to hook me on these prose tales behind the attractions and lands. Discovery Bay would have been located north of Big Thunder Mountain, bordering the Rivers of America, where Big Thunder Ranch now sits. It's design later lead to Discoveryland at Disneyland Paris (included the massive zepellin), and influences Mysterious Island at Tokyo DisneySea. There is a possibility the land may yet be built; apparently Tony Baxter and John Lasseter have been surveying the land north of the Rivers of America in recent months, hoping to expand Disneyland to alleviate the busy crowds that fill the park.

This backstory comes from a memo distributed amongst Walt Disney Imagineering (or WED as it was then known) dated October 12th 1976, made available online by Jim Hill Media.

Discovery Bay: Themed Expansion Area for Disneyland

Along the Rivers of America in the northen portion of Frontierland lies Discovery Bay. Having as its roots a "San Francisco of the 1850-1880s", the theme area would bring to life a time and place that climaxed an age of discovery and expansion.

Discovery Bay would reflect the influx of opportunists, dreamers and adventurers that poured into this cultural melting pot after the discovery gold. The railroad link with the East had brough with the beginnings of culture and luxury, and the area was now earning its reputation as a "city of myths and eccentricities".

With these parameters established, a Western port city would be a logical and exciting addition to Frontierland.

Such a debarkation point would be a natural for many of our exciting show concepts, as well as some exciting new ones. The flexibility of this once-only-place in time can best be demonstrated through brief sketches of some attraction possiblities.

The area would fan out around a bay inlet from the Rivers of America. Standing on a rock outcropping, the old lighthouse keynotes the styling for this age of mechanical marvels. Here the Columbia would dock, as well as several "set piece" crafts, giving a feeling of international adventure to this frontier port.

Along the docks would be a traditional Chinatown. This version would recreate a Chinese settlement in the days of the Western Frontier, with its exotoc food dishes, merchandise, and an unusual attraction called the Fireworks Factory. Here guests could test their marksmanship - bursting skyrockets, pinwheels, and various firecracks as they move through a whimsical assembly line.

In another corner, a group of opportunists have set up shop. Among the promises and allures offered are those a French aerial explorer. He promises brave adventurers a trip aboard a fantastic flying machine to an island of paradise located at the top of the world.

With this set-up, we could effectively integrate a very exciting show that has been difficult to fit into the logic of the Park's existing realms. This "Island at the Top of the World" adventure and several others are not really fairy tales for Fantasyland, nor backwoods frontier adventures. But they do date from the late 19th Century, and could use the Discovery Bay location as a debarkation point for adventure.

Another example, the motion picture "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" has its beginning in exactly this type of place. Perhaps a new version of the old Disneyland attraction could be developed. Guests might view the workings of the Nautilus and Nemo's secrets, before dining in an undersea Grand Salon.

A time machine or "dimensional" adventure also works nicely with this 19th Century port, so often the period of time depicted in the writings of Verne and Wells.

Returning now to the streets of Discovery Bay, the facades might include elaborate gaming halls with crystal chandeliers and plush interiors, while the shop windows could reflect the runaway inflation of the golden economy (eggs - $18 a dozen, Room & Board - $100 a day) -- a parody on today's economic situation. Actual shops might include "The Model Works" featuring Disney oriented scale reproductions, and a scientific supplies office.

At the other end of town would be the Railroad Station and the site of Discovery Bay's most unusual attractions. Dominating this area is The Tower, a wild structure that takes guests down a dizzy spiral and into a giant magnetic structure where the forces of magnetism are demonstrated in a most exciting manner.

Also a part of this sector is the great Western Balloon Ascent and Professor Marvel's Gallery, a fascinating visit with the foremost collector of the exotic, weird and whimsical from all over the world.

The cornerstone of this development would be the completion of Big Thunder Railroad. This will allow access to the new area and provide a glimpse of the gold rush fever that paved the way to the land of adventurers and dreamers -- Discovery Bay, Frontierland.

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