Tuesday, October 24, 2006

EPCOT 1939 - Part Two: Icons Past and Present

Like Spaceship Earth at Epcot, the Trylon-Perisphere Theme Center was the visual centerpiece of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. And in the same manner that Disney uses Spaceship Earth, Cinderella Castle and the Tree of Life as marketing icons for their respective parks, the Fair’s promoters spared no opportunity to brand everything they possibly could with representations of these two very dynamic structures.

Disney established Spaceship Earth as the symbol of EPCOT Center well prior to its October 1982 opening. Nearly every piece of pre-opening publicity material featured the distinct likeness of the giant geosphere.

The New York World’s Fair 1939 Corporation was no different with the Trylon and the Perisphere. The terms “trylon” and “perisphere” were specially created to describe these structures. Two years prior to the Fair’s opening, the dual icons were featured prominently on this “coming soon” poster:

It didn’t stop there by any means. There were few types of consumer products in 1939 that escaped Fair licensing. Furniture, cameras, typewriters, watches, radios, china, and countless other items all carried some type of image or graphic of the Trylon-Perisphere.
The Trylon-Perisphere Theme Center was dramatic and imposing to say the least. The Trylon stood some 700 feet high while the Perisphere measured 200 feet in diameter. In comparison, Spaceship Earth’s diameter tops out at 165 feet. The following images can give you just some idea of how large these structures were:

Like Spaceship Earth, the Perisphere also housed an attraction. While the Fair did have a zone that was identified with Spaceship Earth’s communication theme, the Perisphere’s resident presentation, Democracity, embraced the fair’s broader theme of “The World of Tomorrow.”

Visitors entered on what was then the longest escalator in the world. At its top, they were deposited onto either one of two revolving balconies that hung suspended over the sphere’s vast interior. Below was a highly detailed model of a city of the future. The Fair’s guidebook provides this description:

“As the interior is revealed, you see in the hollow beneath the sky, "Democracity"—symbol of a perfectly integrated, futuristic metropolis pulsing with life and rhythm and music. The daylight panorama stretches off to the horizon on all sides. Here is a city of a million people with a working population of 250.000, whose homes are located beyond the city-proper, in five satellite towns. Like great arteries, broad highways traverse expansive areas of vivid green countryside, connecting outlying industrial towns with the city's heart.”

In theme and message, though not in presentation, Democracity is most similar to Horizons of all EPCOT Center’s first wave of Future World attractions. But more striking is the miniature city’s uncanny resemblance to models and artwork of Walt Disney’s original vision of his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, right down to the single imposing skyscraper that tower’s over each concept’s city center. I have never come across any information that documents a visit by Walt to the Fair, but I have to feel it’s likely he attended at some point during its two seasons of operation. One must wonder if he viewed a performance of Democracity, and if he carried away any impressions that later influenced his plans for EPCOT.

Up next in Part Three: Futurama - by far the Fair’s most popular attraction, presented by none other than General Motors, future corporate sponsor of EPCOT Center attractions.