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The Disney Dish with Jim Hill - Released on 4/3/2023                                        This episode is sponsored by Betterhelp.

OPENING

Normal Open: Welcome back to another edition of the Disney Dish podcast with Jim Hill. It’s me, Len Testa, and this is our show for the week of Shmursday, April 3, 2023.

ON THE SHOW TODAY

On the show today: News! Listener questions! And surveys! Then in our main segment, Jim continues talking about the relationship between Disney and TWO famous architects, Michael Graves and Robert A.M. Stern.

JIM INTRO

Let’s get started by bringing in the man who asks why we approximate large numbers as infinite when every number is closer to 0 than infinity. It’s Mr. Jim Hill.   Jim, how’s it going?

SHOW DEDICATION A quick shout-out to our friend Bioreconstruct, who’s on the mend.  We hope he gets well soon.

SUBSCRIBER ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

iTunes:  

Thanks to new subscribers  Cap'n JellyBones, Brandon Smith, Braden Macher, and Cameron H,  and long-time subscribers ES Menken, Phillip Schwab, David B, and Donna Quack.  Jim, these are the Disney castmembers who have to explain the dessert rules to guests at Roundup Rodeo BBQ, the new sit-down restaurant at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  These folks say that while you can eat however much you want of the blueberry cheesecake, apple pie, strawberry-peach pie, silk pie, or cupcake a la forky, your entire table has to place in the top 8 in the team barrel racing, team roping, or breakaway roping competitions to qualify.  True story.

NEWS

The Disney Dish News is brought to you by Storybook Destinations, trusted travel partner of Disney Dish. For a worry-free travel experience every time, book online at storybook destinations dot com.

                 

News

  • Jim, last week we mentioned that Disney was testing a 30% discount on Galactic Starcruiser voyages for DVC members.  And this morning Disney announced an extension of that 30% discount, to whatever’s left of the annual passholder base.  Available most dates in April, May, and June of this year.
  • And Disney’s announced more hotel discounts:
  • Save up to 25% on stays most nights July 11 to August 20
  • Save up to 30% on stays most nights August 21 to September 14, 2023
  • Save up to 25% on stays most nights September 15 to September 28, 2023
  • Disney announced the first of 7,000 planned layoffs this week.  Among the initial wave was the entire ‘metaverse’ division.  And that’s a little surprising, Jim, because we’ve heard that Disney is supposed to be one of the big initial players for Apple’s upcoming Virtual Reality headsets.
  • Last news item is going to be important to folks who’ve listened to the show for a while.  Remember, Jim, back in 2021 we did a show on the earliest known script for The American Adventure?  That script came to us courtesy of Ted Linhart, who runs the website DisneyDocs.net.  
  • It turns out that Ted now owns the original pitch document for The American Adventure. It’s dated March 10, 1976, and it’s titled “USA Show in World Showcase.”  The pitch comes from Marty Sklar (and John Hench) and it’s addressed to Card Walker.  It says it’s “a beginning idea for a USA show in World Showcase.”
  • It describes a “space-themed grand finale called ‘Challenge of the Future’”
  • Ted’s agreed to give us access to the document as soon as it’s delivered. Looking forward to that.

Surveys

  • Kate sent in an annual passholder survey she got.  

Listener Questions

On last week’s show we read a Disney survey from Lauren that asked why she didn’t use Disney’s MinnieVan service, which is a partnership with Lyft.  And I pointed out that for most rides, point-to-point, Minnie Vans are about three times as expensive as a regular Lyft ride, so why would *anyone* use Minnie Vans?

  • The most common answer, Jim, appears to be “because car seats”.  Steve writes in to say “while sometimes ride share services have car seat options available, there are a lot of unverified questions.. Are the car seats expired? Have they ever been in an accident? When not in use, are they stored in a way that doesn't jeopardize the integrity of the seat? Is the driver trained to install them? When were they last cleaned?”

  • And Bill from NJ wrote in with this: “The Minnievans use Disney cast members and are themed on the outside with themed music on the inside. On top of that, they always have two car seats, which we need with two young children. Finally, and most importantly, we prefer not to leave the bubble whatsoever if we can help it.”

Patents:

COMMERCIAL BREAK

We’re going to take a quick commercial break.  When we return, Jim wraps up the history of Disney’s collaborations with architects Michale Graves and Robert A.M. Stern.

MAIN TOPIC

Robert A.M. Stern feature piece

Part Two of Two

Where we left off:

Turkey & the Tuna nickname. Joke that all of the rooftops of the pavilions around World Showcase should have their country’s national animal placed up on the top.

Eisner continued to support Graves’ endeavors. Michael designed the post office at Celebration. Likewise the Hotel New York at Disneyland Paris (recently rethemed / relaunched at the Hotel New York – Art of Marvel). But when it came to WDW and entertainment architecture, Eisner now embraces another vision. One that largely flowed off of the design table of one Robert A.M. Stern.

Robert A.M. Stern feature piece

Part Two of Two

Before we get started here today … On last week’s show, we mentioned that Michael & Jane Eisner had put their 5-acre Malibu compound (featuring 9 buildings designed by Robert A.M. Stern, which then overlook the Pacific Ocean) for a mere $225 million. The Eisners first listed this property back in May of 2022.

Michael & Jane may have been looking to simplify their lives. Also looking to avoid Measure ULA (which got voted on back in November of 2022 and then goes into effect on April 1st. Also known as the “mansion tax” bill, Measure ULA imposes a 4 percent tax on all property sales above $5 million, and a 5.5 percent tax on all properties above the $10 million mark. More importantly, this “mansion tax” must be paid by the seller.

Monies raced by levying this tax will reportedly be used to fund the creation of affordable housing project in the Los Angeles area as well as create resources that tenants who are on the edge of being unhoused can then tap into. Measure ULA is projected to generate $900 million a year.

Interesting to see what will happen here. How successful LA’s “mansion tax” will actually be. Area does have a serious homeless problem. Likewise thousands of older area residents are in danger of being priced out of their apartments & homes due to continual rent increases.

Not a problem that Jane & Michael Eisner have to worry about, of course. In addition to their compound at the edge of the Pacific, they also have  their Spruce Lodge home up in Colorado (which was also designed by Robert A.M. Stern). Huge hotel-like estate. Described as “ … a log lodge built on a stone foundation combines the rustic forms of an Adirondack camp with a Rocky Mountain ranch.”

Which brings us to how Robert A.M. Stern actually connected with Michael Eisner / how Stern came to design so many projects for The Walt Disney Company in the late 1980s / early 1990s. Among them:

  • The Casting Center at Walt Disney World – which opened in March of 1989
  • Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Resorts – which opened in November of 1990
  • The Newport Bay Club Hotel at Disneyland Paris – 1,098 room resort opened in April of 1992
  • The Roy E. Disney Feature Animation Building in Burbank – which opened in December of 1994
  • Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and Villas – which opened in July of 1996
  • Stern helped create the master plan for Celebration, Florida as well as designing several key buildings for this project – Founders Day November 12, 1996
  • Disney Ambassador Hotel – first Disney branded hotel at the Tokyo Disney Resort – opened in July of 2000

Amazing 11 year run. Especially when you consider – out ahead of Michael Eisner taping Robert A.M. Stern to create buildings for the Mouse House – this American postmodern architect was largely known as someone who designed striking private homes and villas (rather than hotels & resorts) which then incorporated a variety of historical styles.

Born in May of 1939, Stern studied at Columbia and Yale in the
early 1960s. He first worked in partnership with John Hagmann from 1969 to 1977 before then striking out on his own by establishing RAMSA (i.e., the firm known as Robert A.M. Stern Architects) in the late 1970s / early 1980s.

Again – at this time, anyway – RAMSA was known for creating striking private homes. Which were often built in resort areas like the Hamptons & Quoque, likewise the Cape in Massachusetts. And it was reportedly during this period that Robert A.M. Stern first met up with Michael Eisner.

And as we mentioned on last week’s show, Michael Eisner – almost from the moment he came on board as the new CEO of The Walt Disney Company – was determined to have the enormous entertainment company that he was now in charge of building entertaining buildings. Structures that – when people saw them – would then make them smile.

Fun idea in concept. Hard to achieve in reality. Seeing that Disney Studios really needed more office space, Michael actually talked about building a Mickey shaped building that people could then see from the 134 as they drove by on that highway in Burbank. This 11-story-tall building was to have straddled Riverside Boulevard (cars below would have driven between Mickey’s leg. You got to the upper floors by taking elevators that had been built into Mickey’s legs. This building’s welcome center / main lobby area was to have then been located inside of Mickey’s enormous crotch. The jokes just write themselves here, folks.

Thankfully Frank Wells was ultimately able to persuade Michael Eisner that a giant Mickey-shaped building was a bad idea. Which is why it might be a good idea to bring in some real architects to shape & mold this new CEO’s notions. Which is when Robert A.M. Stern first came through the door and began having conversations about possible projects.

Case in point: Walt Disney World was in the middle of a construction boom in the mid-1980s. Work had just begun on the Disney-MGM Studio Tour. Likewise all sort of new on-site hotels (like the Swam & the Dolphin we discussed on last week’s show). The Resort was really going to need to staff up if it was going to properly operate & then maintain these new enterprises. Which is why it was decided that Walt Disney World now needed a new Casting Center. One that wasn’t hidden towards the back of property out behind the Magic Kingdom. But – rather – one that would be built along I-4 for the whole world to see. A building that would say “Walt Disney World is a fun place to work. You should come apply here.”

Those were Robert A.M. Stern’s marching orders back in 1987 when he and his 300 employee company were handed the assignment to come up with an interesting new take on the WDW Casting Center.

Given that RAMSA (at this point, anyway) was famous for designing striking private homes that then fit into historic New England resort communities, Stern & Associates opted to go a whole different way with the Walt Disney World Casting Center. Robert decided to use the Doge’s Palace in Venice, Italy as the thing that would inspire the design of this 61,000 square foot structure. Which – again – was supposed to be built along the Westbound land of I-4 in the vicinity of the Resort’s nighttime entertainment, shopping & dining district. Which – back then, anyway – was known as the Walt Disney World Shopping Village (Pleasure Island was a year or two away at this point).

Want to stress here that the original Doge’s Palace was built along the canals in Venice back in 1340. Kind of an interesting choice when one thinks of the inspiration for Walt Disney World’s then brand-new casting center. But as Robert A.M. Stern once explained, his design philosophy was to take work from the past and then re-interpret it for a modern audience.

"Architecture is a dialog with the past carried on in the present with an eye toward the future," claimed Stern when he was once asked to talk about how he created those striking private homes with an American postmodern aesthetic that still managed to fit right into this historic New England resort town. Robert called this his “interpretation rather than innovation" approach.

Exterior of building may have taken its inspiration from the Doge’s Palace in Italy. But as soon as job applicants walk up to the front door of the WDW Casting Center, they know just who’s in charge here. The world that they’ll soon be entering. The bronze doorknobs on the entrance of the casting center are modeled after the talking doorknobs people see when they watch Disney’s hand-drawn animated version of “Alice in Wonderland” (which was first released to theaters in July of 1951).

As you enter the actual lobby area of the WDW Casting Center, one now finds themselves in a small oval rotunda. Where – atop the sorts of pillars you’d expect to find inside of an Italian palace – there are 12 gold leaf-covered statues of Disney characters. There’s also an 150-foot long ramp that then takes applicants up to the second floor. Which is where the actual job seeking process begins.

on pillars just as you might find sculptures on pillars in an Italian palace. They are also placed there to make applicants less fearful and to remind them of Disney magic. At this point, the pathway turns to the left so that applicants can ascend a ramp 150 feet long.

As one walks up this ramp, they are flanked by paintings on either side that mimic the sorts of murals one might find in an actual Italian villa. The one to the right depicts a toony version of I-4, with all sorts of Disney characters from the late 1980s driving into work at the Resort. You can spy Roger Rabbit car-pooling with his wife Jessica. Likewise Mickey Mouse getting a speeding ticket from Pete.

The mural on the left side shows various characters enjoying the Resort circa 1989. So there’s no Animal Kingdom. Kind of interesting to have an image of Walt in Epcot enjoying that theme park along with Jiminey Cricket. Pose very similar to the one that will soon appear in statue form at Dreamers Point in World Celebration.

Look up to the ceiling over this ramp, and you can see Peter Pan flying off to Neverland. Which is supposed to compel would-be job applicants to continue up this ramp. When you finally reach the second level, there – over the check-in desk – is a scale model of Cinderella Castle. Which works as a weenie to draw people forward in much the same way as the full-sized Cinderella Castle does in WDW’s Magic Kingdom theme park.

When Michael Eisner saw Robert A.M. Stern’s plans for WDW’s Casting Center, he saw a kindred spirit. Someone who actually got Eisner’s order … Well, request that “ … when I come into work in the morning, I want a building that makes me smile.” And by the time this 61,000 square foot structure first opened to the public back in March of 1989, Eisner had already begun to steer all sorts of additional architectural assignments RAMSA’s way.

And Len & I will be talking about a number of these buildings later this week when we go for a walk from the Skyliner station over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and stroll over to Epcot’s International Gateway. Look for that walk & talk to be offered up as a Bandcamp Exclusive in the coming weeks here at Disney Dish.

Have to admit that I’ve long been a fan of Robert A.M. Stern’s work. Though – that said – I guess I should also mention the reaction that the many artists & animators had when they first toured the Roy E. Disney Feature Animation building (which was about to become their new home / the center of worldwide animation production at the Mouse House in December of 1994). At that time, those folks referred to this well-designed-but-not-exactly-user-friendly structure as “ … a post-modern gas chamber.”

To Disney management’s credit, they eventually listened. Though it took a decade or more. But beginning in the mid 2010s, this 240,000 square / $70 million structure was gutted. And its interior was redone to make it more like the interior of Pixar Animation Studios up in Emeryville. The remodeled building then re-opened in February of 2017.

Corrections Corner:

When Jim Shull and I were talking about the “Dream Machine” (that thing that was installed in Disneyland’s Hub that then rose up and awarded a lucky Guest a brand-new car each day of this year-long presentation), we talked as if this were done for Disneyland’s 30th birthday celebration in 1985. When it was actually done for Disneyland’s 35th birthday celebration. Which was held in 1990.

Robert Spence reached out to point out this error. Which keyed off of a feature piece that I did for the Disney Dish earlier this month where I talked about what ultimately inspired Marty Sklar to place the “Partners” statue in the Hub on November 18, 1993. That timeline now makes much more sense, what with the “Dream Machine” being in the Hub for much of 1990 and the “Partners” statue being dropped into place just three years later. Thanks again to Robert for pointing out my error.

WRAP-UP

That’s going to do it for the show today.  You can help support our show and JimHillMedia by subscribing over at DisneyDish.Bandcamp.Com, where you’ll find exclusive shows never before heard on iTunes.   Jim and I just recorded two exclusive shows in Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood, with Jim Shull.  Until recently, Jim Shull was Executive Creative Director at Walt Disney Imagineering, so you can imagine what it was like for Jim and I to walk through a park with Jim Shull.  So if you want to hear me say “Jim, what were you thinking here?” for two hours, subscribe over at DisneyDish.Bandcamp.com.

NOTE: You can find more of Jim at JimHillMedia.com, and more of me at TouringPlans.com.

PRODUCER CREDIT

iTunes Show: We’re produced fabulously by Aaron Adams, who’ll be the special guest on “To Sir with Love” with Natalie Merchant as she stops at the St. Augustine Amphitheater on her Keep Your Courage tour, on Friday, April 28, 2023, on A1A South, in beautiful, downtown, St. Augustine, Florida.

CLOSING

While Aaron’s doing that, please go on to iTunes and rate our show and tell us what you’d like to hear next.

For Jim, this is Len, we’ll see you on the next show.

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  • Great chatting with you today.  Fascinating and interesting on all counts. I’m excited about coming on to your podcast.  I spoke to my team about joining me on the show.  They are in and excited as well.  They will nail it with your audience. I’ll be in New Zealand Jan 5-22. Other than those dates, I can be flexible and available to record the show. I look forward to staying in touch and connecting when our paths cross in the same city.  Thanks.
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  • Dane Chapin
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  • Email: dane@usaopoly.com