WW GOES TO WDW at Yesterland.com Disney’s Pop Century Resort
The Legendary Years





These are phrases you’ll never see emblazoned on buildings at Disney’s Pop Century Resort. The partially-built Legendary Years phase, representing the first five decades of the 20th century, will never open.

Good bye, Legendary Years. Hello, Art of Animation.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, June 4, 2010

Disney's Pop Century Resort
Guests can easily see the abandoned Legendary Years construction site across Hourglass Lake.

At Walt Disney World, a year can last 27 months, but a century is only 50 years. The 20th century consisted of five decades: the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. At least that’s how it is at Disney’s Pop Century Resort.

That wasn’t the original plan. As the year 2000 approached, Disney announced plans for a huge value resort. The still-unnamed resort would have 5,760 rooms—as many rooms as all three All Star Resorts combined—spread across 20 buildings to open in two phases. Borrowing the successful formula from Disney’s All Star Resorts, the theme would be conveyed through giant decorations rather than period architecture. According to the press release, the new hotel would “send guests on a trip through American popular culture with larger-than-life icons that recall the way we lived, played and communicated during each decade of the 20th century.”

Disney's Pop Century Resort
The Generation Gap Bridge, built to connect the two phases, has been a bridge to nowhere since the resort’s opening.

In January 2001, Disney released concept art showing that the resort would not only have giant decorations, such as a three-story-tall Big Wheels tricycle, but giant phrases extending above the roof level, such as “Platform Shoes.”

Disney's Pop Century Resort
The shells of two Legendary Years buildings have doors and windows.

Although Disney had announced that the Pop Century Resort would open before the end of 2001, in June of that year Disney postponed the opening until March 2002. Officially, the delay was because Disney had “concerns over the appearance of the partially completed property.” By waiting until March, the main pool and more of the resort would be complete. Some Disney observers suggested that Disney just didn’t need more hotel rooms in the slow economy of 2001.

Disney's Pop Century Resort
Temporary wooden safety railings make the incomplete buildings look worse than they are.

Also, by mid-2001, details emerged that the two phases of the Pop Century Resort essentially would be two hotels, each with its own registration desk and food court. The first phase, to be called the Classic Years, would feature the second half of the 20th century. The Legendary Years would add the first half of the century, probably in 2003.

Disney's Pop Century Resort
Legendary Hall was supposed to house the registration desk, food court, and shop for the second phase.

Then came the horrible events September 11, 2001. Florida tourism plummeted. The following month, Disney announced that Pop Century’s March 2002 opening was canceled, and there was no new date. Guests with reservations would be assigned to other Disney resorts.

Disney's Pop Century Resort
Weeds grow around the utilities that were meant for future buildings.

The Pop Century Resort, which was supposed to open in December 2001, finally opened two years later on December 14, 2003. All work on the Legendary Years phase had long since stopped. Presumably, the work would resume when Disney’s forecasts showed a need for more value sector rooms.

Disney's Pop Century Resort
A glimpse at the 1950s

Guests seemed to like the new resort. It was cheap—as little as $77 per night. Sure, the rooms were small. But the grounds were spacious. The buildings were colorful. The oversized decorations were fun. The swimming pools were huge. There were plenty of fun details (such as giant 45 r.p.m. records with fake song titles such as “Records Wrecked my Rec Room”). And it was on Walt Disney World property.

Not everyone was impressed. Where was the tradition of design, imagination and quality that Disney is known for? One critic wrote, “In my opinion a giant ‘Do the Funky Chicken’ sign stapled to the top a four story cellblock just doesn’t fit with that tradition.”

Disney's Pop Century Resort
A glimpse at the 1960s

“Would you like a pool view, parking lot view, or ghost resort view?” No, that’s not really a question that front desk cast members ask guests. But it could be. From the buildings that face Hourglass Lake and the walkway along the lake, the abandoned construction site is easy to see. There’s no way to hide it. (All Legendary Years photos in this article are from the Classic Years side.)

Chain link fences and warning signs keep guests out of the Legendary Years site. A pedestrian bridge crosses the lake. The bridge is open, but when you get to the other end, tall, dense plantings successfully block the view.

Disney's Pop Century Resort
A glimpse at the 1980s

The unfinished half of the Pop Century Resort has been a popular subject on Disney-related discussion boards. The consensus can be summarized as, “Either finish Pop Century or demolish the eyesore that’s there now.”

For years, Disney did neither of those things. Finally, on May 12, 2010, Disney announced their plans. But they’re still doing neither of those things.

Disney publicity photo © Disney
Disney Imagineer Joni Van Buren sculpts a model of King Triton from Disney’s animated classic “The Little Mermaid.” King Triton, in his final form, will be 35-feet-tall and tower over guests at Disney Parks newest resort hotel, “Disney’s Art of Animation Resort.” The new resort will feature themed building exteriors and room interiors that bring to life famous Disney and Disney-Pixar animated feature films like “The Lion King,” “Cars,” “Finding Nemo” and “The Little Mermaid.” Disney’s Art of Animation Resort is expected to open by the end of 2012. (publicity photo and caption © Disney)

Disney is going to build a different value resort with a different theme, presumably using infrstructure and buildings from the Legendary Years to the extent possible. Instead of showcasing five decades, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort will showcase four animated features: The Lion King, Cars, Finding Nemo, and The Little Mermaid. The other big change is that the new resort will include 1,120 family suites, in addition to 864 themed rooms (which will be in the Little Mermaid section). Although Disney has tested family suites in other properties, this is the first time that Disney had made a large commitment to families who are too large for conventional rooms or who simply want more space.

Excerpt from 1964 souvenir map of Disneyland
The 1964 souvenir map of Disneyland shows The Art of Animation in the space that later became Circlevision 360, the queue for Rocket Rods, and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters.

Disney Imagineers like to honor Disney’s heritage. For the new resort, they’re reusing the name of a Disneyland attraction. Located in Tomorrowland from 1960 to 1966, The Art of Animation showed the history of animation and how animated films are made, using Walt Disney’s 1959 feature Sleeping Beauty to explain the process.

Disney's Pop Century Resort
The existing Pop Century Resort is already a Disney animation resort to some degree.

Unanswered in Disney’s announcement is why they chose not to complete the Pop Century Resort. There is no reason why the Legendary Years phase could not have included family suites.

Most likely, the decision makers at Disney feel that the animation theme is more attractive to guests, especially families with children. And that’s better business. The Pop Century Resort includes some Disney animation characters in the context of the decades when the films were made. But with animation as the theme, the designers can go well beyond that, extending the theme throughout the exteriors and interiors.

Also, the percentage of Walt Disney World guests who have personal memories from before 1950—who would be nostalgic for those decades or would even recognize the icons—is ever shrinking.

Disney's Pop Century Resort
Does Disney’s Pop Century Resort need a new name?

That brings up one more issue. What does the Art of Animation Resort mean for the Pop Century Resort? Will Disney simply leave it as it is? Does it matter that it only includes five of the ten decades? Will Disney somehow explain away the missing decades?

Or is the Pop Century Resort destined to rethemed as the second phase of the Art of Animation Resort? After all, over time, the percentage of Walt Disney World guests who have personal memories from before 2000 will be ever shrinking.


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© 2010-2012 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated June 8, 2012.

Photographs of Disney’s Pop Century Resort Classic Years and Legendary Years: Werner Weiss, 2010. Disney publicity image of artist working on King Triton sculpture: © Disney.
Excerpt from 1964 souvenir map of Disneyland: © Walt Disney Productions.
“Photoshopped” photograph of Disney’s Pop Century Resort sign: Werner Weiss, 2010.