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  • Saturday, August 8, 2020
Unbuilt Disney: Walt Disney’s Riverfront Square

Unbuilt Disney: Walt Disney’s Riverfront Square

There are currently 11 different Disney parks scattered around the world, from our very own Walt Disney World in Orlando all the way to Shanghai Disneyland. However, a 12th Disney location almost popped up in a pretty unexpected location in the 1960’s. Walt Disney’s Riverfront Square, planned to open in St. Louis Missouri, would have been Walt’s second foray into the theme park business. Although he publicly admitted that he had no interest in expanding his theme park empire after the opening of Disneyland California, Walt Disney took a meeting with the mayor of St. Louis in 1963 to discuss the potential of a future Disney project in the city.

Originally the conversation was led by the mayor, who wanted to enlist Disney for help with the city’s big bicentennial makeover because he was the most famous Missouri native at the time. One of the features for the new dining and shopping district that was being built as part of the bicentennal project was a state of the art 360 Theater. The Chamber of Commerce wanted Walt to create a St. Louis-themed film to play in the new theater.

Despite his original feelings on expanding the Disney parks brand, Walt was interested in the idea of working with the city due to his love and nostalgic feeling towards his hometown. However, “small project” was never in the creative genius’ vocabulary. He countered the original request by proposing a whole new vision for the entertainment district: Walt Disney’s Riverfront Square.

Original Plans

Development for the new Disney project took place over a few years, from the initial conversations in 1963 through 1965. The idea was quite unlike what had been done at Disneyland California, with the biggest difference being that the entire venture was planned as an indoor attraction. The five-story building would have essentially been an indoor theme park with rides, theaters and shops built inside a high rise. Because the St. Louis weather is much less conducive to an outdoor park, especially compared to sunny California, creating the indoor amusement park would have allowed for year-round business.

The park building would have been located in the riverfront area of St. Louis, just two blocks north of Busch Memorial Stadium, which was under construction at the time as Riverfront Square’s development. Projected costs for the building were around $40 million and the goal was to have 25,000 visitors at the park per day.

In addition to recreating some attractions and elements that already existed at Disneyland, Walt also planned on incorporating the audio animatronic technology that was unveiled at the New York World’s Fair in 1964. Plans for the building’s entrance were very similar to Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A., with one side of the street based on St. Louis and the other side based on New Orleans. The top floor would have featured a banquet hall, restaurant, lounge and bar overlooking the Mississippi River.

Some rides currently operating at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, like Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, were actually designed for the St. Louis park first. Other planned attractions for Walt Disney’s Riverfront Square included:

  • The Lewis & Clark Adventure
  • Rides based on the stories behind folk legends Mike Fink and Davy Crockett
  • A replica of Disneyland’s New Orleans Square
  • An attraction based on Missouri’s Meramec Caverns
  • Two Circarama Theaters, one of which would feature a film about St. Louis
  • An aviary exhibit
  • An explorable pirate ship
  • An opera house
  • A wishing well
  • Dark rides based on Peter Pan, Snow White, and Pinocchio (now open at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom)
  • A Western Riverboat Ride
What Went Wrong

The plans for Walt Disney’s Riverboat Square couldn’t quite come together and the project was officially cancelled in July 1965. There were rumors of conflict between August Busch Jr. and Walt Disney over some public statements that Busch made about Disney’s idea that he could maintain a successful park that didn’t sell beer, but the more likely explanation is the dispute between the Chamber of Commerce and Disney over the financing and ownership of the park. The city of St. Louis would have been required to put up a chunk of money for the park’s building structure and it ultimately did not seem like a worthwhile venture. Additionally, Walt had already developed an interest in Florida being a better destination for the next Disney park.

For more #UnbuiltDisney check out this post about WestCOT, the west coast version of Epcot that never came to life. Browse for discount tickets to Walt Disney World and tons more!

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