History Stories


A Trip through Neverland: 8 Unbuilt Disney Attractions

From a downtown St. Louis theme park to the world’s largest aquarium, take a virtual trip through eight Disney attractions that never got off the drawing board.

1. Riverfront Square

the gateway arch, the gateway to the west, jefferson national expansion memorial, st louis, missouri

The Gateway Arch is often referred to as the Gateway to the West and is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and is a prevalant landmark for St. Louis. It spans both 630 feet tall and wide.

Before building his Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Walt Disney considered opening his second theme park in a slightly less tropical clime—St. Louis. A native son of Missouri, Disney drew up blueprints for a five-story indoor theme park, dubbed Riverfront Square, that would fill two city blocks. Planned attractions included re-creations of old St. Louis and New Orleans and rides inspired by the Lewis and Clark expedition, Davy Crockett and the nearby Meramec Caverns. The project ultimately collapsed in 1965 as development costs proved too high for the city and Disney began to turn his eyes to Florida for his next project. (Legend has it that Disney’s insistence that Riverfront Square be free of beer also did in the project in Budweiser’s hometown.) A pair of rides first planned for Riverfront Square—the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean—eventually became mainstays at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom.

2. Disney’s America

The logo for Disney's America. (Credit: The Walt Disney Company)

The logo for Disney’s America. (Credit: The Walt Disney Company)

As if there was not history enough for visitors to the nation’s capital, The Walt Disney Company announced plans in 1993 to build Disney’s America, “a unique and historically detailed environment celebrating the nation’s richness of diversity, spirt and innovation” 35 miles west of Washington, D.C. Historically themed attractions that were planned included re-creations of Ellis Island and a Native American village, a roller coaster ride through a steel mill, hangars filled with aircraft that fought in both World Wars and a live-action showdown between Civil War ironclads. From its announcement, Disney’s America encountered protests from local residents of Prince William County, Virginia, concerned about congestion and from historians and preservationists concerned about the theme park’s impact on attendance at nearby historical attractions, in particular Manassas National Battlefield, only five miles away. The opposition led to the history-themed project being scrapped a little more than a year after it was announced.

3. Liberty Street

Mickey and Minnie Mouse in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle. (Credit: Mark Ashman/Disney/Getty Images)

Mickey and Minnie Mouse in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle. (Credit: Mark Ashman/Disney/Getty Images)

After the initial success of Disneyland and the 1957 Disney film “Johnny Tremain,” Walt Disney proposed an expansion off Main Street that would transport visitors back to the time of the American Revolution. Scheduled to open in 1959, Liberty Street was to feature cobblestone streets and 13 buildings, one for each of the original colonies, that included an apothecary, print shop, glassblowing studio and blacksmith shop with craftsmen practicing their trades. The attraction would end in Liberty Square, home to a lantern-lit Liberty Tree and a scale model of the U.S. Capitol owned by Disney himself. Plans called for a Hall of the Declaration of Independence and a Hall of the Presidents, with life-sized animated wax figures of America’s Founding Fathers and chief executives. Liberty Street was never built, but the Hall of Presidents came to fruition in Walt Disney World in 1971 once animatronic technology developed sufficiently.

4. Edison Square

Another planned expansion in the early years of Disneyland, Edison Square was proposed to branch off Main Street and feature exhibits on science and technology behind 19th-century brownstones. The signature attraction was to be Harnessing the Light, in which visitors would walk through four theaters and view how electricity and Edison’s inventions altered the American home from 1898 to 1958 and get a glimpse at how they would impact the future. Disney tried unsuccessfully to get the company co-founded by Edison, General Electric, to sponsor the new concept, which ultimately died, but Disney did use some of the ideas from Edison Square in General Electric’s Carousel of Progress attraction at the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York that used an animatronic family to showcase the company’s appliances and the technological advances brought by electricity through the decades. Once the fair closed, the attraction moved to Disneyland and then to Walt Disney World.

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5. Lilliputian Land

Photo of Walt Disney on train similar to one planned for Lilliputian Land. (Credit: Gene Lester/Getty Images)

Photo of Walt Disney on train similar to one planned for Lilliputian Land. (Credit: Gene Lester/Getty Images)

For those who think It’s a Small World isn’t small enough, the original 1953 prospectus for Disneyland included Lilliputian Land, “a miniature Americana village inhabited by mechanical people 9 inches high who sing and dance and talk to you as you peek through the windows of their tiny shops and homes.” Visitors to Lilliputian Land, which was inspired by “Gulliver’s Travels,” would ride on an Erie Canal barge to tour famous canals of the world and sit atop a miniature train—like the one Walt Disney engineered around his backyard—as it steamed around scenic wonders of the world writ small. Concessions stands would feature true finger food—miniature ice cream cones and “the world’s smallest hot-dog on a tiny bun.” The animatronic technology wasn’t advanced enough to build Lilliputian Land when Disneyland opened, however. An adapted Canal Boats of the World ride did premier on Disneyland’s opening day and quickly proved one of the park’s least popular attractions. It closed in just months and was rebranded as the Storybook Land Canal Boats.

6. DisneySea

Tokyo Disneysea. (Credit: Kurita KAKU/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images)

Tokyo Disneysea. (Credit: Kurita KAKU/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images)

Proposed in 1990 as Disney’s second California theme park, DisneySea was to be part of a $2 billion, 350-acre Port Disney entertainment complex along the Long Beach waterfront that included a 400-boat marina, a port for Disney Cruises, five luxury hotels and retail shops. The centerpiece of the ocean-themed amusement park plan was Oceana, the world’s biggest aquarium in which marine habitats from around the globe were re-created. Visitors would be able to surf and snorkel through tropical reefs and even be lowered in a steel cage into a tank filled with sharks. In addition to a research center for oceanographers, DisneySea was to include attractions such as Mysterious Island where visitors could discover the lost city of Atlantis and search for buried treasure on Pirate Island. Port Disney ultimately shipwrecked over finances, and Disney decided instead to build its new California amusement park adjacent to Disneyland. A Japanese version of DisneySea, however, opened next to Tokyo Disneyland in 2001.

7. Mount Fuji Roller Coaster

Views of Mount Fuji. (Credit: Shin Okamoto/Getty Images)

Views of Mount Fuji. (Credit: Shin Okamoto/Getty Images)

Conceived as a Florida counterpart to the popular Matterhorn Bobsleds ride at Disneyland, a roller coaster proposed for the Japan pavilion at Epcot Center would have roared visitors around and through an enormous replica of iconic Mount Fuji. While the Abominable Snowman terrorized riders at the faux mountain in Anaheim, a Godzilla-like monster would have done the scaring in Orlando.

8. Disney Persian Resort

The impressive Agha Bozorg Mosque in Kashan at sunrise. (Credit: traumlichtfabrik/Getty Images)

The impressive Agha Bozorg Mosque in Kashan at sunrise. (Credit: traumlichtfabrik/Getty Images)

Seemingly ripped from the pages of “Arabian Nights”—and foreshadowing Disney’s “Aladdin” by two decades—the design of the proposed Persian Resort at Walt Disney World was inspired by the ancient mosques of Iran. The attached monorail was slightly out of place, however. Featuring white columns and a 24-foot blue dome, the Persian Resort was put on hold along with a planned Venetian Resort and Asian Resort after the oil crisis of the 1970s took a bite out of tourism. The overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the subsequent hostage crisis in 1979 ultimately slammed the door on the project along with a proposed Iran Pavilion at Epcot Center.

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