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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Pleasure Island

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


By Jim Korkis

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the opening of Pleasure Island in May 1989 and the 10th anniversary of its final closing in September 2008. It was a Disney nighttime entertainment venue in an area that is now part of Disney Springs.

There were two real life inspirations for Disney’s Pleasure Island. Chris Carradine, who was Vice President of Design Development for Concept and Design at Walt Disney Imagineering, was impressed with Granville Island in Vancouver, a manufacturing village that had fallen on hard times that had its buildings transformed into restaurants, theaters and shops and became a popular destination for both the residents and tourists.

The second inspiration was the Church Street Station area in downtown Orlando. By 1985, it had become the fourth most popular tourist attraction in the state of Florida, right behind Walt Disney World, Sea World and Busch Gardens.

Its colorfully themed clubs and shops were a favorite nighttime spot for both locals and tourists. Eisner felt that creating a similar entertainment venue would keep guests and their money on Disney property.

Image (c) Disney

When Pleasure Island opened, there were twenty-six plaques placed at the entrances of the island and on the individual buildings by the Pleasure Island “Histerical” (sic) Society to explain the mythology of the island in elaborate detail.

Walt Disney Imagineering created a back story of a Pittsburgh entrepreneur named Merriweather Adam Pleasure who arrived with his family on a Mississippi side-wheeler that steamed into Lake Buena Vista in 1911.

He envisioned a manufacturing center, research lab and development facility, as well as a social gathering spot for the famous and well-to-do. When Pleasure and his daughter disappeared on a voyage in 1941, the island fell on hard times with Hurricane Connie in 1955 inflicting near-total destruction.

The once bustling harbor community became a ghost town. But in 1987, Disney Imagineers re-discovered the island. Some buildings were renovated, and some, like the Adventurers Club that had survived disaster, were reopened.

Those new businesses included Mannequins Dance Palace (with a large rotating floor and overhead mannequins attired in a variety of theatrical costumes), Neon Armadillo Saloon (a country and Western location inspired by the Cheyenne Saloon and Opera House at Church Street Station that Eisner visited and saw a huge line waiting anxiously to enter) XZFR Rockin’ Rollerdrome (a dance club with a skating rink on the upper floors), Videopolis East (a non-alcoholic club catering specifically to people younger than 21), the Fireworks Factory (a restaurant specializing in barbecue to match the “burnt” theme of a stray spark from Pleasure’s cigar that had set off fireworks and blackened the interior of the building), the Portobello Yacht Club (an authentic Northern Italian cuisine restaurant), Merriweather’s Market (a food court with four distinct sections where everything was cooked to order), the Comedy Warehouse and the Adventurers Club.

In addition, there were many shops unique to the location including Avigators Supply (featuring aviation and clothing merchandise with a winged alligator who was supposed to be another mascot of the Island besides the half moon-faced Funmeister), YesterEars (selling Disneyana items), Suspended Animation (selling Disney artwork) and Jessica’s of Hollywood which opened in 1990 and showcased a giant two-sided neon sign of Jessica Rabbit with sequined dress and swinging leg who sat atop the light purple colored building to entice customers inside to purchase jewelry or nightgowns that featured her logo.

Disney faced many unexpected challenges running nightclubs and changes were made almost immediately including celebrating New Year’s Eve every night. Operational issues including rowdy youth gangs resulted in the location closing in late September 2008.

“Our decision is largely based on guest feedback,” said the official Walt Disney World, “We are seeing more demand for shopping and dining experiences and less demand for clubs.”

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

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, The Unofficial Walt Disney World 1971 Companion: Stories of How the World Began, 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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