By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2019, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The ABC Studio Commissary



By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE ABC STUDIO COMMISSARY

By Jim Korkis

Imagineer Eric Jacobson explained, “A commissary is really just a studio cafeteria, a place on the lot where everybody involved in making movies has their meals, but it has become glamorized in the public mind because of that association and the possibility of meeting movie stars.

“We wanted to give guests a commissary that would fulfill those expectations. We wanted to play on the enduring myth of the glamour and excitement of a Hollywood movie studio.

“However, there was also a more operational need for the restaurant. Disney MGM Studios [now Disney’s Hollywood Studios—Dave] was originally designed for five million guests per year but we were amazed at how many came just that first year. We were insufficient in facilities almost right away. In food alone, we needed another thousand meals per hour so we had to make that happen quickly.”

The ABC Studio Commissary opened under budget December 1990, roughly a year and a half after the theme park itself, after an aggressive design phase of two and half months.

The concept was to use classic, sleek Art Deco stylings popular in the 1930s to create a timeless sense of classic Hollywood where guests might reasonably expect that a movie star could nonchalantly stroll in during a break in filming. The building was located on a newly created street dubbed Commissary Lane.

“One of the biggest challenges was the site,” said Imagineering architect Joe Kilanowski. “It had to be a long horizontal building with the center in the middle of the mass. Our design solution came from a beautiful old hotel in Miami that breaks up its entrance with a tower and receding tiers. The large, soaring marquee is a bit overstated for a working commissary but it gives a feeling of excitement.”

The building is decorated with film posters from the past and present, props and autographed photos and television monitors that promote the latest ABC television shows since the 1996 merger with that company.

On its opening, both Michael Eisner and Frank Wells proclaimed it “the best we’ve ever seen” although it probably never matched Paramount’s Café Continental or MGM’s Lion Den commissaries in their heyday.

(c) easyWDW. Used without permission but it’s ok.

The marquee was designed by Jim Bockstall, juts thirty-five feet into the air, and is polished stainless steel to echo the Art Deco condensed-type style.

Once past the faux palm-tree lined atrium entrance, there is always plenty of seating and air conditioning. The palms are ten feet tall and are meant to frame the ordering counter. There is a fifty foot long mural that features many of the major landmarks of the original Disney MGM Studios designed by Han Woo Lee. It was painted by Bill Anderson to look like copper bas-relief, a popular Deco design motif.

“We envisioned this as a place where we could focus on the company’s movie and television divisions,” said Barbara Dietzel who was the principal interior designer. “We placed etched glass panels featuring the logos of those divisions along the entryway and posters on the walls feature our latest movies and television shows.”

For the interior, landscape designer Joe Parinella brought in palms and added planters with a variety of seasonal plants to establish a “garden-like” atmosphere that would seem more inviting than the stark, functional interiors of some traditional studio commissaries.

“I think this project is a great showcase of the Imagineering team process,” said Jacobson. “Even though it’s not a high-profile, marketing-driven attraction, the entire team gave it every bit of the same attention to detail. In this restaurant, we’ve created an experience we can all be proud of.”

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! Menus are here. My co-author Josh has reviews of lunch at ABC Commissary (at the end of the post) and dinner at ABC Commissary (keep going through the “it used to be terrible” section).

And here’s the note on ABC Commissary from the mighty-fine The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit:

And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Call Me Walt, and his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

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2 comments

1 GrumpyDad4 { 05.01.18 at 1:56 pm }

I don’t recall if this was done in the past, but I wonder if the Citizens of Hollywood made an appearance to offer authenticity to the theming.

2 Dave { 05.02.18 at 10:22 am }

🙂 Not that I know of…

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