Disney’s Abandoned Hotel: The History of Art of Animation Resort

If you’re a junkie for abandoned places, you’ve probably heard about River Country or Discovery Island – Disney’s famously infamous abandoned attractions. But did you know that for nearly a decade, there was an abandoned Disney hotel, easily seen by guests for nearly a decade?

The Concept

During the 1990s, Disney began developing and opening their first value resorts: the All-Stars. This concept proved successful and in 1999, construction began on a fourth value resort, which was to be called Pop Century. The concept was to have ten sections, each of which would be themed to a different decade from the 20th century. The first half of the century (1900s – 1940s) would be called the Legendary Years, while the second half of the century (1950s – 1990s) would be called the Classic Years. Each half would have its own check-in building with a food court and store, and in between would be Hourglass Lake, which could be traversed by Generation Gap bridge.

Pop Century Resort map in 1999, showing both the Classic and the Legendary Years. Photo courtesy of DIS.
Concept art for the 90s section of Pop Century – the Classic Years. Photo courtesy of WDWMagic.
Concept art for the 30s section of Pop Century – the Classic Years. Photo courtesy of DIS.

Due to the success of the All-Stars, Pop Century was meant to be much larger – each half would have ten buildings with 2,880 rooms, giving the resort a grand total of 5,760 rooms. This meant that was a whole, Pop Century would have as many rooms as all three All-Star Resorts combined (which each have 1,920 rooms).

Construction

Disney broke ground on the new resort in 1999 and for three years, construction was steady on both halves of the lake. Both main buildings (which were to house the front desks and food courts) were structurally completed, along with a handful of room buildings on each side. However, after the events of September 11th, 2001, construction came to a halt. The economy was in a decline and the tourism industry was particularly affected, so with their existing resorts already experiencing partial closure, Disney had no need for an enormous new hotel. Over time, work slowly resumed, but the economy was still in a slow rebound – which meant that there was no need for 5,760 rooms. As a result, Disney only continued construction on the Classic Years side of the lake, and left the Legendary Years buildings untouched.

When Disney’s Pop Century Resort opened on December 14, 2003, it was referred to as Pop Century – The Classic Years. The Legendary Years, whose empty buildings were visible across the lake, was slated to open in 2007.

Left Abandoned

However, work on the Legendary Years buildings didn’t start. The structures continued to sit untouched, all the while easily visible by guests staying on the other side of Hourglass Lake.

In the below aerial shot, you can see the completed, themed Classic Years half of Pop Century on the right, as well as the abandoned Legendary Years on the left. The building on the bottom left was meant to be the main, check-in building, and the two buildings at the top were planned to be the 1940s section. You can also see T-shaped markings on the ground, which were going to be sites for the other Legendary Years buildings.

Aerial view of the abandoned Legendary Years buildings. Photo courtesy of Disdom.

The Legendary Years main building was the most complete, as it already had both windows and initial decor. The large century numbers had already been cut and placed, although they appear to be missing any paint or color.

Some of the large decorations for the Legendary Years main building was already in place at the time of abandonment. Photo courtesy of the Disdom.
The main building of the Legendary Years sits abandoned. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

From across the lake (and from Generational Gap bridge), guests could clearly see the shells of the 1940s buildings. Although the interior of the rooms had not been completed, the shells of the buildings stood tall.

The abandoned 1940s buildings from across Hourglass Lake. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Those with a zoom lens could see that doors had been fitted and walls were painted, although the windows had not yet been installed and cinder block was still visible in the stairwells.

A close up of the abandoned 1940s buildings. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Art of Animation

In October 2005, Disney began testing a new set of family suites at All-Star Music. According to rumors, if the test was successful, the Legendary Years would soon open as an all-suites resort. There were mixed opinions on whether or not the existing structures would remain or be rebuilt, but fans were hopeful that the Legendary Years would soon come to be.

Unsurprisingly, the test was successful and in February 2006, the family suites officially opened for reservations at All-Star Music. Sales continued to boom and in April, rumors continued to florish, saying that family suites at the Legendary Years would soon come to be and that the existing buildings would be reused. However, once again, these rumors never panned out.

In 2010, the Walt Disney Company finally announced Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. This new concept would sit on the site of the Legendary Years, meaning that the second half of Pop Century would never come to be. The already completed front desk building would be re-themed into Animation Hall and the shells of the 1940s buildings would become the Little Mermaid section.

However, there was one hitch. In their testing, Disney decided that family suites should be configured as buildings with interior hallways (similar to the style of a classic hotel). However, the 1940s section had already been built in the style of the Value Resorts (i.e. with exterior hallways, similar to the style of a motel). As a result, the Little Mermaid section is the only part of Art of Animation with this old style – the other buildings were all erected with interior hallways. It is this discrepancy that allows Art of Animation to be labeled as a “value resort”, when the majority of the rooms are really in the price range of moderate to deluxe.

The Little Mermaid section, built with outdoor facing rooms. Photo courtesy of xtns.org.
The Cars section, built with indoor facing rooms. Photo courtesy of WDWMagic.

In the photo below, you can see the Little Mermaid section today. Note that since they wanted three buildings in this section, they had to add a third in the old, motel style.

Aerial view of the Little Mermaid rooms. A third building was added in the same, motel style (which is clearly visible due to its much whiter roof). Photo courtesy of Disdom.

Pop Century Today

Pop Century is obviously now considered a completed resort – but there are still remnants of the old, full century concept. Perhaps the first and most obvious is its name. Pop Century was appropriately named to represent the 10 decades the resort would showcase. Many guests jokingly refer to it as “Pop Half-Century”, since the resort’s theming now only reflects 50 years.

Another remnant is the use of the Classic Years terminology. Without the other half of the resort, there is no need to distinguish the existing half as the Classic Years, since it implies that somewhere there is another set of years that are not the Classic Years. These of course are the Legendary Years, but since they never came to fruition, that naming convention becomes unnecessary and somewhat confusing – it seems as though today, everything should just be called “Pop Century”. However, when you enter the check-in area at Pop Century, you’ll clearly see that the building is marked as “The Classic Hall”.

Current Classic Hall sign. Photo courtesy of Travel and Tourism.

Featured image courtesy of courtesy Nomeus, the founder of Flurbex “The Home Of Florida’s Urban Explorers”

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