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Walt Disney World Then and Now
World Showcase at Epcot, Part 2

Five weeks ago, I ran Part 1 of a three-part series comparing photos of World Showcase in 1983, when Epcot Center was just a few months old, with similar photos that I took this year.

The tour began with Mexico through China. Today’s installment is Italy through Morocco. Watch for France through Canada.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, August 19, 2011


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Campanile di San Marco at Italy (1983 photo)

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Campanile di San Marco at Italy (2011 photo)

We begin this part of the tour at Epcot’s Italy. The two most striking structures here are both from Venice.

The World Showcase versions of both structures are smaller than the originals. They really haven’t changed between 1983 and 2011. The color differences in the two photos are primarily due to the weather and differences between how film and a digital cameras capture images.

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Campanile di San Marco from within Italy (1983 photo)

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Campanile di San Marco from within Italy (2011 photo)

The real Campanile di San Marco (the bell tower of St. Mark’s) in Venice was originally built around 900, rebuilt several times taking its current form in 1513 or 1514, collapsed in 1902, and faithfully rebuilt in 1912. At 323 feet in height, it’s the tallest structure in Venice.

According to The Imagineering Field Guide to Epcot at Walt Disney World (2006, Disney Editions), “the Campanile clock-bell tower [was] built one-fifth the size of the original.“

The façade of the building behind the tower is based on the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) in Venice. Originally built between 1309 and 1424, the original has a spectacular interior not reproduced at Epcot. In Venice, there’s a piazza between the tower and the palace.

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Northern Italy building (1983 photo)

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Northern Italy building (2011 photo)

Although Venice dominates Epcot’s Italy, Northern Italy is represented by a structure that is “reminiscent of a typical market-square city hall of the fifteenth or sixteenth century (and modeled perhaps most closely on a similar building in Bergamo),” according to the book Walt Disney’s Epcot, Creating the New World of Tomorrow (1982, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York).

The same book also reveals that the original plans for Italy were bigger, but, “the area which was originally to represent Southern Italy—not to mention a splendid replica of Roman ruins—may not be completed until 1983.”

Southern Italy and the “splendid replica of Roman ruins” were never added, but Epcot’s Italy was finally expanded in 2010 with a 300-seat pizza restaurant. According to the Disney Parks Blog, the exterior design is based on traditional Florentine architecture. The restaurant is called Via Napoli, even thought Naples is around 300 miles southeast of Florence.

Take a look at the sculpture atop the column in both photos above. Then take a look at the zoomed-in detail photos below.

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Zooming in on Saint Theodore and the dragon (left: 1983 photo; right: 2011 photo)

The subject is Saint Theodore of Amasea (San Todaro) vanquishing the dragon, and it’s a replica of a statue atop a column at Piazza San Marco in Venice. In the 1983 photo, St. Theodore is facing into the piazza. In the 2011 photo, he’s facing World Showcase Lagoon. That’s why the dragon’s tail is pointing in the opposite direction and St. Theodore’s spear has moved to the other side.

One explanation is that Saint Theodore now looks better in photos of the Italy pavilion taken from the World Showcase Lagoon side—a much more common photo angle than from back in the piazza.

Our next stop will be The American Adventure.

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The American Adventure (1983 photo)

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The American Adventure (2011 photo)

The American Adventure is the biggest show at Epcot. The pavilion occupies a site at the halfway mark around the World Showcase Promenade, directly across World Showcase Lagoon from Future World.

Comparing the 1983 photo and the 2011 photo, the most obvious difference is the huge tree in the 2011 photo. Other differences include how bushes have replaced grass, the coffee kiosk, the light column with the blue World Showcase banner, another quick service kiosk mostly hidden behind the banner— and how the baby stroller in 2011 is holding twins instead of just one baby (but we can’t give Disney credit for that).

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America Gardens Theatre across from the The American Adventure (1983 photo)

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America Gardens Theatre across from the The American Adventure (2011 photo)

The two photos above both face Italy from the walkway betwen the America Gardens Theatre (left) and the The American Adventure.

The first difference that jumps out is the bus in the 1983 photo. Yesterland has an article about the World Showcase Buses, which used to transport guests around World Showcase Lagoon. Those buses stopped running a long time ago.

The next big difference is that the curved colonnade at the back of the America Gardens Theatre is gone. Finally, in the photo from 2011, notice the quick-service kiosks and DVC booth along the Promenade toward Italy.

Our next stop is Japan.

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The 83-foot tall pagoda at Japan (1983 photo)

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The 83-foot tall pagoda at Japan (2011 photo)

The first landmark here is the pagoda, with its five tiers of blue roofs and its bronze, nine-ringed sorin (top spire) topped by a “water flame” (a charm to protect the structure from fire).

The pagoda is modeled primarily after the five-story pagoda at Hōryū-ji Temple near Nara, Japan, although the lower level more closely resembles that of the five-story pagoda at Kōfuku-ji Temple in Nara, Japan.

In 1983, the pagoda at Epcot looked quite tall from the ground. Designed to faithfully capture the proportions of actual pagodas, the succeedingly smaller roofs had the effect of forced perspective. Now that evergreen trees adjacent to the pagoda are so much taller, the pagoda at Epcot looks smaller.

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The great Torii Gate at Japan (1983 photo)

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The great Torii Gate at Japan (2011 photo)

Another landmark is the vermillion Torii Gate, based on the magnificent 53-foot-tall Torii Gate in Hiroshima Bay.

The Torii Gate looks appropriately old and weathered in both photos, even though it was brand new in 1983. In the 1983 photo, across World Showcase Lagoon, the two Disney Traders stores have not yet been built. Not surprisingly, in the 2011 photo, the trees are bigger on the island and around the lagoon.

Now it’s onward to Morocco... sort of.

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Trash can at the future site of Morocco (1983 photo)

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Trash and recycling at Morocco (2011 photo)

In 1983, there was no Morocco at World Showcase—only a sign announcing it:

OPENING 1984

Visit the Ancient City
of Fez—and
the Exotic Bazaars
of Marrakech and
Casablanca

Morocco

There were similar signs announcing Spain and Israel. (Morocco opened October 1, 1984, but Epcot guests are still waiting for Spain and Israel.)

The custodial Cast Member costume in the 1983 resembles a French Foreign Legion uniform. The costume is appropriate not only because the white fabric is cool and protects the wearer’s neck from the Florida sun, but also because Morocco was a “French protectorate” from 1912 to 1956.

In the 2011 photo, the custodial Cast Member is wearing a generic Epcot custodial costume. Also, notice how the trash receptacle artwork has changed.

Watch for a future “Then and Now” article at Yesterland, traveling the rest of the way around World Showcase Lagoon, from France to Canada.

 

 
Do you want to see more? Yesterland has five other articles comparing Walt Disney World in 1983 and 2011. If you missed them, or you’d like to take another look, here they are:

 

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World Showcase Then/Now, 3
World Showcase Then/Now, 1
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© 2011 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated December 9, 2011.

Photographs of World Showcase at Epcot Center in 1983: Werner Weiss and Dennis Derr, January 1983.
Photographs of World Showcase at Epcot in 2011: Werner Weiss, February 2011.