Have you been to the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World? If so, you’ve walked on the Seven Seas Lagoon… kinda. You see, by that I mean most of the earth that the Magic Kingdom was built on was actually the earth that made up the Seven Seas Lagoon. That’s because the Seven Seas Lagoon is man-made.
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When it came time to build Walt Disney World, which was at the time the largest private construction project in American history, Disney turned to Admiral Joe Fowler. Fowler had played a vital role decades earlier, overseeing the construction of Disneyland in the 1950s.
At the time of the planning, the Magic Kingdom was really supposed to be the only theme park it would have. The true purpose of all of that land in Florida was for EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. It was Walt’s dream to build a real-life functioning city of the future that would not only be the home to thousands, but would also stand as an example of cutting edge technology.
However without Walt, the future of the city was in question, and so Disney’s focus was on getting phase one of the project complete, which included the theme park and a handful of resorts. However even though EPCOT itself was has an unsure future, Disney still found ways to incorporate its ideas into the resort.
Rather than putting the park services behind the Magic Kingdom, Fowler and Disney opted to put the services under the park, in a series of tunnels and rooms known as the utilidors. This was similar to the way Walt had planned to put much of EPCOT’s services and utilities, not to mention a highway, under the city itself.
There was one problem though; they couldn’t dig down. Due to Florida’s shallow waterbed, Disney could only dig down about four feet before running into problems. So the solution they came up with was to build the utilidors on the ground level, and then build the Magic Kingdom above it.
It was a plan that caused the land preparation costs to more than double, from four million dollars to nine million dollars. It would also require a lot of earth to fill in the spaces and cover the ground utilidors. That earth would come from the area that would eventually become the Seven Seas Lagoon.
Over eight million cubic yards of dirt was scooped out of the land, simultaneously creating a 200 acre man-made lagoon as well as forming the ground base for the Magic Kingdom. It was an impressive feat that required a fleet of earth movers.
It almost worked perfectly too. One mistake Disney made was that they dumped much of the earth in the order they scooped it up. What this meant was that the lowest levels of the utilidors contained all of the fertile top-soil from the lagoon, and the top contained all of the clay and sediment from the bottom of the lagoon.
This caused issues closer to the park’s opening when Disney was in the process of transplanting trees and flora from farms into the park, which needed that soil to flourish. This resulted in them having to dig deeper than usual when planting the trees.
In any case, in one swoop Disney built a massive man-made lagoon, elevated Florida’s ground level, improved on Disneyland’s design, and took a step into putting Walt’s EPCOT ideas into action. On paper it all seemed crazy, but it was just the kind of crazy Disney specialized in.