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 Disney World Gateways



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 DISNEY WORLD GATEWAYS

By Jim Korkis

For those of us who live in the Walt Disney World area, roads and traffic have been a major mess for the last few years, especially around the Magic Kingdom where the roadways are constantly shifting and familiar routes no longer exist. [A new flyover is expected to open in a couple of weeks—Dave.] Disney’s Hollywood Studios will soon have a new entrance as well, once construction has been completed on roadways being built in anticipation of the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Even Disney Springs has become so crowded that a third new parking garage is almost completed, and additional roadwork on Buena Vista Drvie continues seemingly on a never-ending schedule.

However, an important entrance icon that we usually take for granted still exists as a landmark to announce that we have arrived on WDW property.

The original concept for Walt Disney World was that guests would unexpectedly discover the vacation destination, so there was only minimal signage along the roads.

By the time Michael Ovitz was hired as president in 1995 to take the role previously held by Frank Wells, attendance at the parks had grown so large that this intriguing conceit was no longer effective. When Ovitz and his wife visited the Walt Disney World property, Judy Ovitz complained that she couldn’t tell where Disney property truly began.

Michael Ovitz approached CEO Michael Eisner with the complaint and, as a gesture to show his willingness to work with the new president, authorized the building of three gateways on the perimeter of Walt Disney World property.

Groundbreaking ceremonies were in April 1996 for three colorful gateways that would define when guests had arrived on WDW property. One gateway was planned for World Drive, another for Epcot Drive and the final one at the far northeast end of Hotel Plaza Boulevard.

Ovitz had suggested that they be decorated by huge iconic smiling figures of Mickey and Minnie because the primary audience was families with children.

The gateways were officially completed in September of that year and were similar but with slight variations in size. Each gateway was thirty feet high, with sixteen foot high characters and a purposely bright color palette of red, yellow, purple and green, to match already existing property signage.

Now retired Disney artist Don “Ducky” Williams told me: “Yes, that is my artwork of Mickey and Minnie but I didn’t do it specifically for those entranceways. I did a lot of work of the Disney characters in poses that could be used on material and it was in the Disney Design Group files. Imagineering just took it which they often did and never told me and used it. That was not a problem. It was just part of my job to do things like that.”

The images of Donald and Goofy were done by Disney Design Group artist Darren Hunt.

Arches with colorful flags adorned the World Drive and Epcot Drive entrances but there was no arch on the one at Hotel Plaza Boulevard, so there were no height restrictions for delivery trucks.

According to Hal McIntyre, vice president of WDI Planning and Infrastructure in 1996, the goal of the collaboration between Imagineering (that designed the gateways) and Walt Disney World was to “create a first class, high quality image that marks the resort’s boundaries. The gateways’ message is simple: You have arrived at Walt Disney World!”

McIntyre pointed out that the idea of a prominent gateway to the property had continually been brought up over the years beginning as far back as 1988. At that time, gateways had been designed and were ready to move forward when for undisclosed reasons they were shelved at the next to last minute sometime in 1990.

Senior show designer Michale Warzocha emphasized that the gateways were meant to represent WDI’s “tribute to the WDW Resort front door.” He acknowledged the contribution and support of Ovitz to finally getting these gateways done.

It turned out to be one of the few contributions by Ovitz to Walt Disney World. Ovitz was let go in January 1997 after being very vocal about being frustrated with his interactions with Eisner and the vague definition of his authority.

A challenge quickly arose where the gateways were so distinctive and attractive that guests were stopping their cars in order to take their pictures next to the entryway.

However, Imagineers had not created a space for this to happen, so it became a major safety issue. Instead of designing an area where this could be done, WDW put up warning signs, barriers and occasionally parked police cars to discourage this practice.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, More Secret Stories of Disneyland, 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 Jeff { 08.03.18 at 7:57 pm }

I love those things!
It takes everything I have to keep from bursting out every time my Magical Express bus drives under them.
I’m always pleased when other people start cheering, then I can let it out. Lol

2 Dave { 08.05.18 at 11:59 am }

🙂 Jeff

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