An Indoor Disneyland? The Story of The Cancelled Riverfront Square Park.

The concept of an indoor theme park isn’t a new one as there have been many in the past, but none have been as big as what this could have been. While Walt was working on his Florida Project, which eventually became Walt Disney World, he was also planning what would have been his second domestic theme park, that would be unlike any other.

After the construction of Disneyland, Walt Disney publicly stated that he had no intentions of building any other parks, but of course that was not the case. He had partnered with Kenzio Matsuo on “Nara Disneyland” for the first international park in Japan but famously those talks fell through and turned into Nara Dreamland. Walt was also developing his Florida Project but he had previously considered New York before deciding on Florida.

This project was also a concept that he came up with in 1963 when the Mayor of St. Louis Missouri approached him and proposed something for the Mid-West. Though Walt was born in Chicago he spent much of his childhood in Missouri and considered it home.

Riverfront Square

At that time the city of St. Louis was going under major developments and wanted Walt Disney to develop a Circle-Vision attraction for a shopping center on the Mississippi River, but Walt said that he had a bigger idea in mind, and big it was. Riverfront Square would have been a five story building, covering two city blocks, which would have featured multiple rides, attractions, shops and restaurants in the vein of Disneyland–a full indoor theme park.

The building would have costed $40 Million to build and expected to see about 25,000 guests per day. The overall theme for the park would have been cities along the Mississippi River like St. Louis and New Orleans and have a number of attractions themed after folk heroes and a few Disneyland classics thrown in. The park’s layout was designed by Imagineer Marvin Davis, the designer of Disneyland.

Some of the attractions planned included:

– Louis & Clarke Adventure Dark Ride
– Blue Bayou Boat Ride (Which later became part of Pirates of the Caribbean) 
– A Haunted House Walk Through Attraction (Which later became Haunted Mansion)
– A Jean Lafitte Walk Through Pirate Attraction (Which later became Pirates of the Caribbean)
– Davy Crockett Attraction
– Roller Coaster themed after the Meramec Caverns (Later inspired Thunder Mountain Railroad)
– An Aviary Exhibit
– Peter Pan’s Flight
– Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
– Snow White and Her Adventures
and more…

So how come this project didn’t come to be?

Well before that we need to address the rumored reason, which was said to be a dispute between Disney and the Busch’s Beer company who were mad that Disney wouldn’t sell Beer at the park as Walt saw alcohol as inappropriate for a family focused center. This has since been debunked as Walt would have legally had to have designated areas that sell alcohol since the chairman of the civic center redevelopment corporation requiring restaurants and other appropriate entertainment facilities to serve alcohol.

The true reason why the park wasn’t built was down to Disney wanting the city of St. Louis to provide the building for them, that means paying for most of the land development, construction of the building and parking garage, and building it themselves while afterwards Disney would buy the property from them and simply theme the center. But the city said that they would only pay for and build the outer shell, while Disney would pay for and provide all the facilities required to run and operate the park. After not being able to come to an agreement the project was scrapped in July of 1965.

Walt Disney himself said: 

We were asked to develop a major attraction, having the impact on the St. Louis area of a Disneyland. We suggested at the outset that a project of that scope, in size and cost, might well prove difficult to accomplish, due to a number of imponderable factors. Such has proven the case.

A few months later Walt would publicly unveil the Florida Project, but only a year later Walt Disney passed away from Lung Cancer.

It is a shame that his project fell apart, the idea of an indoor theme park that ran all year could be an interesting concept for parts of the world with seasonal weather, perhaps a Disney Park in a place like New York would be possible. But even though the park never came to be many of its concepts were reused in rides at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion started out as simple concepts here which later became key parts of the Disney Parks.

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