When Hollywood Studios opened as MGM Studios, Sunset Boulevard did not exist. It was the first expansion of the park, opening in 1994. The featured attraction of this expansion was the Tower of Terror as Rock ‘ n’ Rollercoaster did not open until 1999.
The Hollywood Tower Hotel is by far one of the most impressive buildings on Disney property. The details in the gardens, the building itself, and the ride mechanism took years of construction and planning. Read below to learn more about the creation and construction of the Tower of Terror!
Imagineers had many ideas they threw on the table for the new section of the park. One early and prominent idea was a “Castle Young Frankenstein” attraction, complete with Bavarian village and drawbridge leading to the castle. This idea later became the “Mel Brooks’ Hollywood Horror Hotel”. Early in the park’s development, Imagineer Bob Weiss had pursued the idea of an art-deco high end 1930’s-style hotel near the park’s entrance. Mel Brooks left the project, but the idea of a spooky hotel had stuck. Disney’s team looked at available movie and TV licenses and found a perfect match: The Twilight Zone.
The fictional Hollywood Tower Hotel is set in the realm of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. The seven-story hotel was built in 1917 and featured a striking view of the famous Hollywood sign in Hollywood Hills. It was an upscale 1930s hotel with bold geometric shapes, and a slightly Southwestern inspired design. The top floor of the hotel housed the Tip-Top Lounge. On October 1st, 1939, the hotel was tragically struck by lightning causing a guest elevator, part of the structure, and several guests to mysteriously vanish. Today, the hotel looks just like it did on that fateful night the hotel closed its doors. Luggage is still on the rolling carts, mail is in room slots, and an unfinished card game rests on a table in the lobby.
Site clearing for Sunset Boulevard and the Tower of Terror began in 1992. A sinkhole caused the location to be shifted slightly, but did not cause major delays. It took two and a half years to complete the construction project. The building is 199 feet tall, just 1 foot below the limit where Florida requires a flashing light at the top for planes.
When the construction first began, large walls were put up blocking the future entrance of Sunset Boulevard. Guests could get a peak of the tower from the parking lot and from various areas of the park. However, Disney Imagineers took the majority of the construction photos.
The Tower of Terror contains two independent tracks, and three major components: the ride vehicle (an AGV – automated guided vehicle), and two freight style elevator shafts (one for the show, and another for the drop sequence). From 1994 to 1996, there was only one big drop on the ride. This was later changed to two drops, then three, until 2003 when the drop sequences went “random”. Today, the Tower’s computer randomly selects a drop sequence from a set of four different presets. All four sequences include at least one full drop from the top to the bottom of the elevator shaft. Depending on the elevator shaft or the drop profile you get, your elevator may stop at a scene along the way – lightning, a blue ghost, the original elevator guests.
Scroll through the photos below to see some of the best shots of the construction of the Tower.