In 1982, every Future World pavilion was a like a Kardashian: Simple in mind, and possessing its own bold, unique shape. Every design was a carefully considered echo of its pavilion theme. Shells for the Living Seas. The Wheel for World of Motion. Male Pattern Baldness for Wonders of Life.
Then, around 1994, Innoventions arrived and plunged Epcot into the Dark Ages. Beautiful, iconic shapes were just not hip and edgy enough, and these stunning pieces of architecture were either shuttered (Wonders of Life), demolished (Horizons), or made to wear the millennium equivalent of Aunt Clara’s pink bunny costume from A Christmas Story (Spaceship Earth).
World of Motion was not immune to the changes. Test Track ushered in “Epcot’s first thrill ride!” and with it came drastic changes to the pristine wheel-shaped structure. A high-speed loop encircled the building like a strand of barb wire. An ugly tent monster sprung up over the entrance, where a kinetic bank of FastPass machines and Single-Rider marquees welcomed guests into a hammering queue area, complete with sadistic Crash Dummy torture, squealing tire sounds, and an automatic seat cushion squasher that simulates the squirming pressure of a million butt cheeks.
Simple and elegant it was not.
In a way, World of Motion was already a dichotomy when it first opened in 1982. While the outside was all gleaming lines, the ride itself was perhaps one of the silliest in all of Epcot. It had jokes about Used Chariot Lots, cyclists falling into mudpits, and wild-eyed sea serpents. It was zanier than anything not starring a singing milk carton. When the pavilion featuring the giggly purple dragon has loftier artistic visions than yours, it’s safe to say your head could be on the chopping block once management decides they really need a thrill ride.
So help me, I loved that ride. Not the least of which is because of the stately beginning. Before you got to those light-up footprints circling over your head. Before you came upon those first sorry cave men, blowing on their reddened feet, you had to climb World of Motion’s grand staircase.
Remember that scene in Titanic, when Bill Paxton maneuvers a submersible camera over a barnacled staircase of a sunken dining room? (I think it was after the spitting sequence but before the nude scene). Even in the depths of the ocean, the ship’s majesty shone through. World of Motion’s staircase was like that. A gorgeous spindle in the center of a sparse atrium. Omnimovers departed the load zone and rose like a luxurious PanAm airliner into the sky above our heads, making a leisurely turn around a gleaming column before entering into the story of transportation. And then hilarity ensued.
Here’s a picture of World of Motion under construction (lots of thanks to Disney World Secrets on flickr for the use of the photo):
The building is already framed, the roof is going up, and one section of the pie is missing, like the elusive Sports wedge in Trivial Pursuit. That is the entrance atrium. Note the white circular slab. It’s just a footprint, but it will soon hold that pivotal column, upon which will wrap the bannister of a slow-moving dark ride through time and comedy.
Let us go back even further, to a construction picture graciously provided by Imagineering Disney. Universe of Energy and Spaceship Earth are well on their way, but nothing yet exists of World of Motion, except for that same simple white concrete disk. It is a stake driven into the wilderness. Greatness will rise here.
One of the time-honored melancholy pursuits of a parkeologist is seeking out those lost ruins of history. For all the thrills that come with the opening of a new attraction, there is a sadness in the heart as beloved pieces of the past are taken away from us. Who among us has not gazed out on the docks of the old Swan Boats, or tracked the demolition of a Skyway station, or peeked round the walls of an abandoned water park, and not felt a pang of loss?
Before Test Track went down for refurbishment earlier this year, I decided on a whim to see if anything might remain of the grand staircase. I did this on impulse, a day or so before it closed, having never had the thought before. I went in cold. Which was to say, I did not take the time to familiarize myself with any pictures of World of Motion’s glorious past. Surely some architectural feature remained. The column had to provide some sort of structural integrity to the building. Would I find it there, maybe with a few obnoxious load-and-stress tests strapped to the side of it and some mindless robot endlessly hammering a crash dummy in the head?
Alas, it was not to be. The once-sleek atrium of the early 80s has been somewhat enclosed and expanded, with a ceiling full of common air ducts and show-lighting. The floor is bare concrete, with a metal-railing queue twisting through piles of automotive junk and haphazard displays.
Test Track does have an entrance stairway of its own, when the cars are first entering the ride (where they do the seatbelt check). At first I thought this might be it, but I quickly realized that it was set much too far back to have been part of the Grand Staircase. A quick look at some blue prints, as shown by enfilm, depict the respective World of Motion and Test Track layouts. The staircase in the World of Motion drawing is in the northwest quadrant. In the Test Track drawing, there is nothing there.
I wish I had refreshed my memory before going in. How could something so central to the original pavilion — so critical that they laid its foundation first, before even putting up the walls — disappear so completely? One minute there was a tower to the gods. The next minute, only a paved wheelchair-friendly surface and a driving technobeat.
There are many who wait with anticipation for Test Track 2.0 to open this fall. They wait for the next big thing. But I also can’t wait for those walls to come down, and for the doors to be thrown open. I still hold out hope that there is something there, something I missed. A column of bedrock sunk fifty feet into the Floridian soil, or a conspicuous opening in the ceiling, where the staircase once stood. A reminder to the past, even if it’s just a simple grave marker.
Greatness Rose Here.