As the story goes, back in the 1960s Walt Disney, who had archived success in Southern California with his splendid Disneyland, wanted to double the experience by establishing a second magic kingdom, this one to be located somewhere in the eastern part of the country.
Every so often, especially when there is renewed talk about what to do with the site in Eastern New Orleans near Bayou Sauvage (formerly known as “Jazz Land” and then “Six Flags”), someone will inevitably mention that when Disney was planning his new location, he looked at Eastern New Orleans, and the Slidell area, but ultimately left in a huff because there were so many local politicians that wanted to shake him down. Instead, he settled for Orlando, at the time an also-ran among Florida vacation destinations. The town would develop into a boomtown as Disney made its mark there first with Disney World, which was even larger than its California predecessor, to be followed by Epcot Center.
New Orleans, as the legend concludes, was left with a barren plot of land – which, after all these years, is yet to be fully productive. Were it not for the shakedown, New Orleans could have had a whole new element to its growth flowering on the east side of the Industrial Canal.
Several years ago, as Six Flags was preparing to open a park at the Eastern New Orleans site, I mentioned the legend to a local reporter who responded matter of factly, “You know that’s not true.” She did not recall how she knew it was not true but was confident with her information. I decided to try to find out for myself.
From that day on, anytime I have talked to folks who might have been in a position of power back then, from former Mayor Moon Landrieu, to others in the line of information, I posed the question. The response has been the same. It never happened
Since the interviews were off the record, I maintained anonymity but the comments were thought-provoking.
As one person pointed out, from Disney’s perspective locating in New Orleans would have never made sense. Florida’s Atlantic coast was the perfect path for the huge population that lives between Montréal and Miami; plus, many former Easterners already lived in Florida. It was like having a Disney highway, just as the Anaheim-based California Disneyland had the Pacific highways as their magic carpet.
Plus, there is the weather, New Orleans averages 64.48 inches of rainfall per year, for Orlando it is 52.9. (As an aside, both towns are susceptible to hurricanes but the hypothetical location of “Disney New Orleans” would have been near the epi-center of Hurricane Katrina. Dumbo might have been sent flying.)
How the rumor got started no one knows. It could be that someone heard a conversation somewhere and it spread with the speed of a roller coaster in those pre-Twitter days. Walt Disney knew where he wanted to be. Tellingly though, for a man who allegedly faced the city’s tough guys he obviously maintained a good feeling about New Orleans. Both of his parks have New Orleans related sections (New Orleans Square in Anaheim and, later, Port Orleans resort in Orlando.) The Disney developers have seen charm and wonderment about the city.
We all know that New Orleans has other treasures worth discovering. It is a great place to visit as an actual town and not just as a re-creation. Truth is, it would have been flattering for New Orleans to have been part of serious discussion about the location site, even if it was just Fantasyland.
WHAT DO YOU KNOW? If any of you have information about the either the Disney legend of how the story go started, please let me know. email@example.com. For the subject line use: DISNEY LEGEND. The sleuthing continues.
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