Disney theme park almost a reality in St. Louis

9:14 AM, Nov 19, 2012   |    comments
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Wait, what? A Disney theme park in St. Louis?

By Pat McGonigle

St. Louis, MO (KSDK) - Sadly, the Magic Kingdom isn't expanding to St. Louis anytime soon. But not so long ago, Disney's world famous Imagineers labored over blueprints for a massive downtown theme park just north of Busch Stadium.

Walt Disney made several trips to St. Louis in 1963 to discuss plans for "Riverfront Square," a five-story, fully enclosed park with a St. Louis and New Orleans theme.

You can see blueprints and a computer animation of what the park was supposed to look like by clicking on the video player on this page.

The "Lewis and Clark Adventure" and "Meramec Caverns" rides never materialized, but the plans reflect Disney's deep affection for Missouri. Disney spent parts of his childhood in Marceline, Missouri and Kansas City.

In advance of the St. Louis bicentennial celebration (planned for 1964), city leaders approached Disney about producing a film about the city, according to "Walt Disney's Missouri" (Burnes, Butler, Viets).

Forget about a movie, Disney countered, why not build a massive park based on Mark Twain, westward expansion, and the Mississippi River?

In addition to his Missouri roots, Disney was impressed with the new plans for the St Louis downtown area in the early 1960's, which included a new Busch Stadium and a nearly complete Arch.

This local Disney misadventure is the first in an occasional feature we're calling "Wait, they did what?!" a look at intriguing and long-forgotten episodes stored in the KSDK film archives.

So why didn't it happen?

The most popular version of the legend holds that Disney knocked heads with August "Gussie" Busch, Jr. over-- what else? -- beer.

Disney was firmly opposed to serving beer inside "Riverfront Square". It's an issue KSDK asked Disney about during one of is visits to St. Louis in 1963.

The following exchange comes from the KSDK archives (you can also watch it on the video player).

Reporter: "Then it's your idea Mr. Disney that none of these places in this development will serve liquor?"

Disney: "Not within this complex, no. I mean there can be things outside if people want to go there, I mean tied in. But not within the same area. At Disneyland we don't even serve beer at Disneyland. At the hotel yes."

Reporter: "Is it a personal feeling with you about liquor?"

Disney: "Oh, no! I'll have a drink with anybody. Thing is, a lot of people don't believe in drinking and I respect their wishes."

The beer issue may not have been the only thing preventing "Riverfront Square" from happening. Differences over who would pay for the construction and an offer of cheap land in central Florida may also have heavily influenced Disney's decision to build in Orland instead, according to "Walt Disney's Missouri".

Even though St. Louis didn't get a Disney theme park, the plans for "Riverfront Square" live on in some of the most famous Magic Kingdom attractions in Orlando and elsewhere.

Which ones? Find out Tuesday, in the next installment of "Wait, They Did What?"


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