The Tall Tale of the Domed City – Walt Disney’s EPCOT

In 1966, Walt Disney presented his plans for EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, and showed an accompanying film that started the rumors that the city would be built under a 50-acre dome

New York Times, 1966: “Walt Disney Productions today announced it would build the world’s first glass-domed city in central Florida amid Disneyworld, a $100-million entertainment center.

Chicago Tribune, 1966 “Plans for the world’s first glass domed city, a Disney World five times bigger than the Disneyland in California, were unveiled here yesterday.”

St. Petersburg Times, 1966: “Plans for a $600 million Disney World, complete with a bubble-top City of Tomorrow, were unwrapped here yesterday. The planned development includes an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) planned for 20,000 permanent residents. The city would be completely enclosed with a dome covering 50 to 75 acres and completely air conditioned.”

How did all of these rumors start? In 1966, Walt Disney presented his plans for EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. He showed an accompanying film that started the rumors that the city would be built under a 50-acre dome!

Walt Disney, 1966

In November of 1965, Walt Disney announced that the Walt Disney company had acquired almost 28,000 acres in Central Florida. Disney was going into the city-building business, but there were no details yet.

Flash forward to February of 1966, when Walt invited journalists, business leaders, and government officials to a movie theater in Winter Park, Florida. It was here that Walt presented his plans for the “Florida Project”. The presentation featured Walt’s final movie, filmed just 6 days before he was diagnosed with cancer. Walt died in December of that year.

Walt Disney presenting EPCOT, 1966

In his presentation, Walt put most of the focus on EPCOT. He briefly mentioned there would be “another amusement park in Florida similar to the one we have in California”, but devoted most of his portion of the film to EPCOT.

“The most exciting, by far the most important part of our Florida project – in fact, the heart of everything we’ll be doing in Disney World – will be our experimental prototype city of tomorrow. We call it EPCOT, spelled E P C O T – Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow”.

The Film

After Walt presented on Epcot in the film, the second half included concept art with a narrator. This was where the confusion happened.

The film showed different images of Epcot with the accompanied narration explaining what they were. The narrator discussed EPCOT’s ‘dynamic urban center’ which would include office buildings, restaurants, nightlife, and shopping areas. This urban center would have been at the very core of the city. There would be public transportation leading to and from the city, with residential areas, churches, and parks on the outskirts of the city.

Epcot Domed City Rumor

Concept Art of Epcot, courtesy of Disney

The film showed a closeup of the city center, showing what the area would look like without a roof. The picture below shows the bottom half of the city center without a roof.

City without Roof Epcot

Courtesy of Disney

The narrator then flipped to a second image with a roof on the city center and said “This entire 50 acres of city streets and buildings will be completely enclosed. In this climate-controlled environment, shoppers, theatergoers, and people just out for a stroll will enjoy ideal weather conditions, protected day and night from rain, heat and cold, and humidity”.

In the image below, you can see what the city center would look like with the roof on it. Note that the parks around the city center, as well as the sidewalks, did not include this roof. The narrator meant that only the city center would be climate controlled, like an indoor mall. If you look back at the overall view of Epcot, you can see that the city center is covered by a roof, but the rest of the city is not.

Domed City with Roof Epcot

Courtesy of Disney

The Dome

It was the next image that confused the film guests the most. The film flipped to an image of the city center, seen from one of the skylights on the roof above. However, at a quick glance, and if you weren’t paying close enough attention, it was easy to think that EPCOT would be completely enclosed in a dome.

Domed City Skylight Epcot

In hindsight, this may not have been one of the best images to use. However, if you watch the film now and pay attention, is clear that the city is not in a dome.

Furthermore, if you look at some of the other concept art, a dome is not shown anywhere else. The image below shows a cross section of the city center. The roadways and parking were planned to be on a lower level of the city, completely underground. At the top of the image, you can see the ceiling of the city center. Note that the ceiling is flat and does not resemble a dome.

Epcot Concept Art Domed City

Courtesy of Disney

The Aftermath

So, this is how the rumors started that EPCOT would be enclosed under a dome. It may seem hard to believe that people in the 60s actually believed this could be done. But, this is not the case. A huge dome would not have seemed that out of place in the 1960s.

At the time, the Houston Astrodome was new and stood 18 stories tall, covering almost 10 acres. Likewise, the New York World’s Fair president had vetoed a temporary dome that would have stretched a mile in diameter to cover most of the 646-acre fairgrounds. And, in 1960 an engineer and architect had proposed a two-mile diameter dome across Midtown Manhattan, which would have covered 2,000 acres.

Dome Covering Manhattan, similar to the EPCOT Center concepts

Disney historian Jim Korkis noted, “By the time the film was shown, the idea of domed cities was fairly common in science fiction literature and films, which is why big news reporters leapt to that conclusion of this look of the future.”

Wrapping It Up

So there you have it! That’s how the rumors started that EPCOT would have been built under a dome. A special thank you to Forbes and the New York Times for some of the information, as well as the Walt Disney archives.

Do you think EPCOT would have worked as a city? Would you like to see an “Epcot dome”?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Interested in learning more about the creation of EPCOT? Click here to head over to our history of Epcot article!