One would think that forming a town or community’s Historic Center when the town was barely over a decade old would be pushing it a bit. When you consider that European towns have centuries in the book, and America herself has a many decades under her belt, time just over a decade is like a toddler writing an autobiography.
So why then would a town at the edge of Orlando think it was worthy, let alone had anything to save? Why would it take such a step to preserve itself, its history, its contributions to the world after only sixteen whole years in existence?
And even that is pushing its actual timeline.
Because when your are the realization of the dream of one of the world’s biggest, most beloved geniuses, when you’re the physical manifestation of an idea from a dreamer who’s touched hearts around the world, when you sit on the very property of your foundation, and see within those short sixteen years changes already coming around your corner and through your very heart, you’re worth saving.
Celebration, Florida, the town that Disney built, his idea, the moment of actual conception, was historic. From the moment a man who dreamed up a mouse, and a world of magical wonder came up with its first concept, Celebration was destined for greatness.
And so it was, a town thought of, built, breathed to life, and already feeling change. And that was why a group of those first residents (settlers in other worlds) came together to preserve this history. Its their history, its a town’s history, its Disney’s history.
Celebration, the town that Disney built, was actually not something Walt thought up – per se.
We all know that Walt dreamed up EPCOT – Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. I’m told that his first ideas and concepts are not at all what we know today – not the themed park, not the little town.
No, Walt’s ideas were similar, but he had thought of a town, a community where Cast Members would live and work and play. A place where creativity and innovation would come alive.
Walt’s ideas for an EPCOT (sorry gang, I prefer the older version of all caps – not the new version – Epcot), were never truly realized, and we lost him. In fact, we lost Walt before one of his greatest accomplishment was fully breathed, willed, worked into being; Walt Disney World.
When the designers (Imagineers) at Disney, and the Disney big wigs who took the reigns after Walt was gone finally got around to EPCOT as we know it, they weren’t too sure what to do with it. Two differing ideas – a future world and a place for discovering other lands – countries – came together when they finally pushed the two together – literally.
It wasn’t until Michael Eisner, guiding force of the Disney company from 1984 to 2005 (with mixed reviews throughout his tenure and especially in the final years) that the realization of a true EPCOT – a place where people lived, worked and played – came together.
In the years since the “founding” of the town, the creation, the beginnings, many changes have already occurred. From the tightly controlled early years to the later developments where such things were not as controlled, from the early rumors of Disney run schools to the selling of the town (its now owned by a company other than Disney – does that at all strike anyone else as weird – a town owned by a business & not the town owned by it’s own self?), to the varied ownership of such things as the town’s logo, changes have come, and not all are good.
While Disney business holdings are still found throughout the property, and the property overall is still a part of the vast Disney World Complex, Disney has little left to do with it. Wanting to keep the changes from becoming too overwhelming, those founding residents have put together a Historic Center, housed in the one time Town Hall.
Town offices are now found in a much larger, newer building down the road, no longer “in town”, but at the edges of it, while the Celebration Historic Center takes up a single, long room at the back of the first floor. Collecting many of the “artifacts” that already show a changing community, that touch a unique community’s unique past, the Celebration Historic Center is open to the public for limited hours each week.
Celebration, Florida will always be a special community. You can’t take a town built by one of the world’s most well known corporate names and it not be. You can’t take a town that sits on the same property as Mickey Mouse’s house and not have it be considered special. You can’t take a town designed for something as specific as Celebration was and it not be something for the history books. So preserving it is without question, vital even.
Disney lovers will enjoy the artifacts already in residence. The volunteers can regale you with hours of stories about a town that lists 1994 as its founding, while no one actually moved in until 1996. There are literally shelves full of information. Yet they have so much more to go.
Plans are to add walking tours – which they really need. There’s not only the town’s history, but the architecture is among its biggest draws. Ok, have to admit, I find most of the downtown’s most famous buildings to be as ugly as it gets, but they’re still famous for the men that did them.
Last I heard, there were still issues with who owned the logo rights, and frankly, this is an under utilized area of commerce. I’m also not all that sure the relationship between “the town’s” new owners and the Historic Center – or the residents. I still can’t see why a company can own a town, and the residents can’t. Frankly, the town’s residents should own it – even if they have to either buy it or its given to them.
One should also take note: while there are plenty of events throughout the year, there is a limit on parking in and around the town center. The one-road-in-and-out thing can be a pain. Ok, there are other routes, but most don’t know them. Event weekends can be a pain, but they can also be great fun. And even without an event going on, there are less parking spots around the town center than there often are residents, business people and tourists. So if you visit, be prepared to look for a while or walk.
Celebration itself, part residential, part commercial, is a fun little town to visit. The residential areas are an interesting drive or walk through. Its a very dog-friendly area, so you can bring Fido along for an enjoyable experience.
The town, while the original idea was that live-work-play thing, has not really accomplished it. Yes, there are businesses throughout town, and more at the edges of the community.
However, most are geared towards tourists. There are some that are not specific to tourists – some like Disney business elements or marketing companies, and the like.
Its sad really; the residents won’t find a grocery store here, the video store is gone, and in fact, what’s left is truly geared to visitors. Not exactly convenient. The flip side is, for tourists, it’s not like theres a ton of stuff to do either.
Yes, its a great place for events, it is a fun place to walk around for a couple hours, check out the few shops, maybe get a bite to eat. The restaurants around town are many compared to its size, and I’m told the food is great – but expensive.
This is a tourist town at tourist prices. So unless you really need something that says Celebration on it – and sadly there isn’t much in the way of choices – you’re not going to be taking home too many souvenirs.
Yet Celebration is worth a visit.
Come for an event, come just because its a beautiful little town, come because Disney built it, come because the lake is lovely to sit by, but whatever your reasons, just come.
Celebration, Florida; all American, history in the making.