Building Epcot

Linda joined WED (now Walt Disney Imagineering) as a wirelister in 1979. By October 1, 1982 she was the show control engineer for nearly half the pavilions at Epcot Center: World of Motion, China, Italy, Germany, France, UK, Canada, Denmark, and Communicore East and West.

I began consulting for WED in early 1982, and worked for Glenn Birket on the American Adventure pavilion. In 1983 I was made the Ride Systems Engineer for the Imagination pavilion.

Here’s one of many interviews I’ve done about building Epcot:

These pictures are mostly from the construction and opening of Epcot Center in 1982. A number of them were taken by Martin Chaney. Artwork (c) Disney. There’s also some Epcot Memorabilia on another page.

aa panorama

The picture above is a 180 degree panorama of Epcot under construction, shot from the roof of American Adventure in August 1982. It is a composite of 15 separate hand-held shots. The frenetic pace of activity is apparent from the many tiny construction workers scattered around the pictures. Epcot opened to construction worker’s families for a preview on Labor Day, less than a month after this picture was shot.

Read more about the building of Epcot here:

and here:

I make a small commission on books purchase with these links. Whoopee.

Around the Site

Pictures taken during the summer of 1982.

PacmanLinda in front of a partly covered Spaceship Earth. She was among the first engineers to make it to the site, and was ultimately responsible for the control systems in ten of the pavilions. And yes, it does look like Pacman.

Steve Epcot 82Steve atop American Adventure at Epcot, July 1982. The unfinished theme park is in the background. Pretty scary. Not the height — the fact that it’s only three month ’til opening!

TopOfAATop of American Adventure under construction, July 1982.

office82The electronic engineering field offices —  in the women’s locker room of the Shop Services building!

ec const 15My fourth floor office in the Sun Bank building overlooking Lake Buena Vista and the Empress Lilly. We were given these luxurious offices, just one floor away from Dick Nunis’ office, because the space had never been finished: bare stud walls and concrete floors seemed fitting for engineers wearing construction garb. Still, we were an incongruous site strolling across the lobby of the bank. I retired to this desk to spend the weeks before opening frantically programming the monitor cabinet to cycle American Adventure. Each afternoon I’d watch the thunderstorms roll in, saving my code to floppy disk after every line.

tunnelAfter opening we moved to an office off of this tunnel under Communicore — opposite the garbage dumpster! See what happens when they don’t need you anymore? Kicked out of the women’s locker room!

LindaConstructLinda on site, March  1982.

lindaconstLinda, mid-summer, 1982.

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The VIP area upstairs in World of Motion, June, 1982.

ec const 9Steve clowning in World of Motion, June, 1982.

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Epcot Central takes shape. A single tape binloop, and several cabinets were the first to arrive.

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Spaceship Earth and Communicore, June, 1982. It was difficult to get around the site in those days. At any moment we might find a giant earthmover  bearing down on us.

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The Spaceship Earth downramp. John Ruck was continually frustrated by vehicles tearing audio equipment out of the track.

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Italy under construction, June 1982.

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France under construction, June 1982.

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Fake trees in front of Canada under construction, June 1982.

SSEConstView from the monorail station during the last month of construction on Spaceship Earth. Note that the covering has not yet been installed around the base of the supports.

epcot centralEpcot Central opened with a very non-informational behind-the-scenes show, The Astuter Computer Review. Look at that sea of tape binloops in the background, now replaced by offices. The Digital Binloops are in the individual pavilions, because they don’t require nightly applications of Turtle Wax!

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Spaceship Earth as monorail testing began, June 1982.

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When the Porta-Potties got too dirty, the construction workers’ solution was to set them on fire. This one they simply put up for sale. I don’t think there were any takers.

American Adventure

This pavilion was the focus of my efforts from January 1982 through opening day. The most complicated attraction Disney had ever attempted, being controlled by a bunch of twenty-something engineers. They must’ve been crazy. We were.

Glenn Birket, electronic project engineer for American Adventure, silhouetted against Spaceship Earth.

aacarriageThis is a small portion of the 400,000 pound “lift carriage” which carries ten of the hydraulic lifts that elevate sets and animated figures into place on the stage. The lifts are 14 feet high, and extend that same distance out of the top of the carriage. The entire carriage rolls silently underneath the audience, to allow many different lifts to be raised in the same small space between the proscenium and the rear-projection screen. Three 10×10 foot lifts are in the center, with a 10×30 foot lift on either side. The lighting fixtures at the base of the screen appear along the right side of the photo, with some of the control equipment on the far side of the carriage. Direction of travel is left to right.

aacarriage2The rear-most portion of the carriage, which houses the first two lifts used in the show.

aa lift carriageA lift being lowered into place with a construction crane.

aa lift carriage craneMore crane work, showing the plastic sheeting that kept the construction dirt out of the theater. The screen was not hung at this point.

aa lift carriage 2Control equipment next to the carriage. A ride control system was used to assure safety.

aapitA small portion of the 2200 psi hydraulic equipment used to power the stationary (non-carriage-mounted) lifts.

aata1The proscenium arch and lighting fixtures prior to installation of the rear-projection screen.

Glenn next to one of the small lifts.

aata3Steve next to the 70mm projector in the annex at the extreme rear of the building.

aata4Walt Narkowitz in the equipment pit, showing one of the three Valley Forge lifts in the theater arch, prior to installation of the projection screen.

aata5Walt and Frank Coffey going over design prints.

aa1Assembly of the carriage. Theater visible through the proscenium arch.

aa2Lighting installer standing on the top of the carriage straddling the screen backlights.

aa3Melanie Simon doing lighting test and adjust. The screen is still not in.

aa lighting 1Now there’s something you don’t see everyday: a submarine at Valley Forge!

aa lighting 3Lighting the WWII sub.

AAMultiExposureA multiple exposure done in the darkened theater. Francie Owen, Bob Frye, Sonya Bookman, Chuck Castiglione, Derek Dotson, Walt Narkowitz, Conrad Blankenzee and Steve are in this picture at least once. Photo by Glenn Birket.

Epcot from the Air

Glenn Birket is a private pilot. Several times during the summer of 1982 we flew over the Epcot construction site and photographed the progress.

glenn1Glenn holds up the Cessna.

plane 82Glenn and Linda: it must say how to fly this thing somewhere in here!

bvgg1Gary Peterson, Glenn, Von Wolff and Brian Cox get ready to go up.

Epcot Feb 82An aerial shot from the company newsletter, taken in February, 1982. This park is going to open in seven months?!!

tunaThe tuna can, World of Motion, June 1982.

ws1World Showcase, June 1982.



aerial 1An aerial view of American Adventure in mid summer, 1982.

aerial 2Another perspective of American Adventure and the south side of World Showcase, mid-summer 1982.

aerial 3The Shop Services and Cast Center buildings, and World of Motion, mid-summer, 1982. Department 510 (Electronic Engineering) set up field offices in the women’s restroom of the Shop Services building.

fw1Future World, June 1982. Oh my gosh! They forgot to build Communicore West!!! No problem — we’ve got twelve weeks.

Epcot People

These are the friends we worked with, and the things we did to stay sane while working 110 hour weeks.

bldg 1048 1983Electronic Engineering (Department 510) and the rest of the staff of the 1048 Grand Central building in Glendale California, 1982.

fw852Our first, and best, accommodations at Walt Disney Work. We lived in these trailers at Fort Wilderness for six months. It took the longest time to convince the travel department at Disney that Linda and I didn’t need TWO trailers! Free rental cars for two years, too.

Epcot Team 82Everybody who was awake one morning in October 1982. (I was asleep after spending the night on the floor of American Adventure to ep it cycling, and Linda was in an equipment room for the opening.)

LindaAGlenn Birket and Linda’s office in the Grand Central building. Not a computer in sight. Photo by Glenn Birket.

ILove510Department 510 in 1979.
Front: Bob Struble, Glenn Birket, June DiRienzo, Lee Frisius, Cliff Present, Linda Alcorn.
Rear: Kevin Kirio, Randy Hill. John Noonan, Marty Kindle Photo by Glenn Birket.

dept510loadingdock1980Department 510 on the loading dock of the 1048 Grand Central building, 1980. Photo by Chris Senchack

Ilove510-1Department 510, 1980. Carl Bonjiorno, president of WED, addresses the crowd. Photo by Chris Senchack

Ilove510-2Department 510, 1980.Photo by Chris Senchack
SEATED (left to right):
Stacey ?, Annette Tedrow, Romona (Quinn), Adrianne ?, Lee Frisius, Von Wolff, Ira Frank,
STANDING (left to right): Jim Barnhouse, Conrad Blankenzee, Bob Baumbach, Carl Bongirno, Kevin Kurio, Cindy Lee, Randy Hill, John Ruck, Ralph Rosenthal, John Noonan, Chris Senchack, Linda Alcorn, Ed Martinez, Chuck Castiglione, John Sullivan

lindasoffice1980Linda’s office, 1980. Photo by Chris Senchack

wirelisting1980Wirelisting before the age of PCs, 1980. Photo by Chris Senchack

movienight1980-2Movie night at our home on Manhattan Place, 1980. When you had to check out a 16mm projector to see a film, because there were no VCRs. Photo by Chris Senchack.
Randy Hill, Bob Struble, ?, Andy Heller, John Noonan (behind projector), Glenn Birket, June DiRienzo, Cliff Present

A-AAA Photo by Glenn Birket.

Steve and WaltNSteve and Walt Narciewicz in American Adventure. Look how small that flashlight looks in Walt’s hand. Photo by Glenn Birket.

Epcot Grand Opening Spaceship Earth Gala, October, 1982. Photo by Chris Senchack. The Spaceship Earth Gala was the grandest party I have ever attended. Tables were piled with thousands of pounds of fresh seafood, and we all got cleaned up for one night of festivities. Nearly every famous big band in the country was in attendance, set up on different bandstands throughout Future World. The party marked the end of an exciting period in all our lives. Who could have guessed it would be just the beginning?

LaidOff1984-2Department 510 expires, 1984. Photo by Chris Senchack. The sign on the office says RIP.

Of course, Linda would be back at the Disney Studio within a few months, and I’d go on to found Alcorn McBride and work on all the world’s theme parks, so who knew the story was just beginning!

Learn more in my online Imagineering Class.