Late last year the Skipper Canteen opened at Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland, a move which this author enthusiastically endorsed. Yet not everyone was as complimentary as I – almost immediately unfavorable comparisons to the Adventurer’s Club of Pleasure Island began to emerge. In fact, 2015 was something of a bumper crop year for restaurants being unfavorably compared to the Adventurer’s Club, starting with the new Trader Sam’s in the Spring, proceeding through Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar in the Fall, and climaxing with Skipper Canteen in the Winter. This is in spite of the fact that none of these restaurants – to a one – ever announced or attempted any ties to that loudly missed Pleasure Island institution.
Between Summer 1994 and Winter 2015, an entire generation has passed through Adventureland without stepping foot into the Adventureland Veranda. Pieces of the original layout have been truncated, altered, and removed over time – the shaded verandas which gave the food service location its name did not return, and the most extended seating porches out towards the Breezeway had long been swallowed up by Restrooms.
And so it is entirely reasonable to expect new visitors to not be fully in the know about exactly what the Adventureland Veranda and the Skipper Canteen represents and, in looking for answers, perhaps did not look to the right places to begin with.
Adventurer’s Club belonged to some time long ago, where there could still theoretically be snooty butlers and French maids. The time period of both the Jungle Cruise and the Club are some ephemeral sense of “pre-World War II”; back then, when theoretically we could expect Indiana Jones, Rick Blaine, or Groucho’s Captain Spaulding persona to rub shoulders at the bar. A time that didn’t really exist, but generations of passed on memories from Hollywood thrillers made us want to believe it could have.
And of course, the Jungle Navigation Company – the fictional proprietors of the Jungle Cruise – were explicitly connected to the Adventurer’s Club. Many guests seemingly expected the Canteen to reflect either the Club, which was connected to the Jungle Cruise mythologically, or the Jungle Cruise queue area, connected to the Jungle Cruise physically. Instead, they were served up, in Skipper Canteen, a remade version of something else entirely.
And don’t get me wrong; I applaud Magic Kingdom’s decision to honor the original design of the Adventureland Veranda, one of the most richly evocative spaces ever created for a theme park. The trick is, it’s been so long that most people aren’t even sure what the Veranda was designed to evoke, so to show how retaining the interior makes both good historical and thematic sense, we need to grapple with what the Veranda is supposed to be at all.
Adventureland: Tracing the Colonial Narrative
As described in a previous post, Adventureland at Magic Kingdom does follow a specific progression and trace a unified concept, it’s just one most observers will never attempt to unpack. We will have to, for the purposes of this essay.
There are basically four sections to Adventureland, and each structure can be tied to one or another. The Theme of Adventureland is of the encounter between the Western world and far-off places and peoples. This Theme is Visualized through the device of exotic architecture. The Thematic Heart of the area is the Jungle Cruise, the ride the area was designed to complement, where we (modern Americans) may travel into uncharted regions and confront various dangers.
The First Section is the Jungle. The Jungle represents the untamed wilderness which Adventureland encroaches on. Attractions that belong to the Jungle are the Jungle Cruise and the Swiss Family Treehouse, both representing the concept of “Survival Against the Odds”. Both attractions are perched on the edge of the apparently boundless Jungle section. The Thematic Heart of the Jungle Section is the Cambodian Ruins, which represents the notion that all cultures will fail to conquer the wilds of the Jungle and establishes the dominance of this threat.
The Second Section is the Colonial Area. The Colonists represent the intrusion of Western cultures into forgein lands. The Thematic Heart of the Colonial Section is the Adventureland Veranda. Notice how, when entering from the Hub, that the Colonial Section is directly juxtaposed with the Jungle across the way, an early indication of the main conflict of the area – and setting up the nearby Jungle Cruise.
The Third Section is what I call the Native Section. The transition occurs at the Adventureland Breezeway where the bathrooms are located, where the architecture switches to rougher earthen walls and strong Moorish influences. This is the civilization which existed in Adventureland before the Colonists arrived, and it appropriately is positioned further in the area, allowing the Victorian touches of the Colonial section and Main Street U.S.A. to transition smoothly. The Thematic Heart of the Native Section is the Balinese Temple that the Enchanted Tiki Room occurs in.
Let’s dwell for a moment on the altered significance of the Tiki Room at Magic Kingdom. At Disneyland, the Tiki Room is designed to reflect a midcentury American tiki restaurant, the likes of which had proliferated across Southern California since the end of the war. That’s why it’s supposed to be a surprise when the stuffed birds inside come to life. At Magic Kingdom, the Tiki Room is inside a Balinese Temple, an actual house of the Gods. We are told in the pre-show area that the Birds inside can talk as an effect of the “Magical Sunshine Pavilion”, i.e. they can speak because they have been blessed by the power of the Gods. Therefore, when the Tiki Gods end the showing of American pop culture by bringing in a storm, it’s an actual reflection of their power. In other words, we’re lucky they didn’t get even angrier. The Colonists don’t stand a chance. Or, as Uhoah said, “When you mess with Polynesia, the Tiki Gods will squeeze ya!”
The Fourth Section is Caribbean Plaza, which comprises Pirates of the Caribbean. The Thematic Heart of the Plaza is the Castillo del Morro, the fortress the pirates attack and overrun in the ride. But the Pirates are intruders as much as the Colonizing Spaniards are, don’t forget. Although Pirates of the Caribbean does not dramatize Adventureland’s key theme – it’s a morality play and thus best paired with The Haunted Mansion – the fact that Caribbean Plaza is executed in Spanish Colonial style, and bookends the Native section of Adventureland with yet another village built by conquerors, both means it feels perfectly at home in Adventureland and allows for a smooth transition into a representation of another area overrun by greedy white men: Latin America and the American Southwest.
Here’s a map of the main area with everything color coded to dramatize the clash of values in Adventureland.
The Adventureland Veranda: What Is It?
Okay, now that we know how the Veranda fits into the narrative conveyed by Adventureland’s architecture, let’s dig into what the darn thing actually is, and we can begin by taking a quick tour of what’s represented architecturally here.
Facing the Hub, we see immediately tile-lined roofs and elaborately shaped details.
Yes, tile-lined roofs do evoke the Caribbean, and it’s an easy leap to make given the elaborately tiled roofs just down the way in Caribbean Plaza, but let’s not forget that tile roofs are also traditional in Asia, which helps visually tie the roofline in with this elaborately realized pagoda-esque tower:
The elaborate scrollwork of the Veranda is unmistakably Victorian in design. We know this because only the Victorians did things like nail intricately scrolled wood on their houses, and they did it because it was brand spanking new and novel. The Scroll Saw that made the production of these pieces possible was not created until the Industrial Revolution, which meant you could now cheaply produce things which once would’ve required a skilled artisan. The Victorians loved that stuff, which is why we can instantly recognize the intricate but mass produced “gingerbread” of Main Street USA as Victorian.
We also see elaborately designed railings…
…promenading balconies and painted steel or tin roofs. Corrugated steel, again, being a product of the Industrial Revolution, making it possible to date our structure definitively to late in the 19th century.
So now the trick is to narrow down what sort of tropical architecture has all of these features. One easy place to search for inspiration is Hawaii, which had effectively been annexed by the United States for decades before it was made an official part of the union following World War II. It’s easy to see the similarities to structures built in Hawaii to house workers and owners on sugar plantations:
But it’s easy and tempting to conflate the merely tropical with a direct source. The tin roof, peaked architecture, bright colors and charming porch recall the Veranda closely, but what of the Asian elements? The same historical location in Hawaii, the Plantation Village in Waipahu, has a temple built for Chinese laborers that looks like even more of a smoking gun:
But let’s keep looking before we jump to any conclusions. It gets into tricky territory if you want to claim that Hawaii was ever “colonized” – issues that a Disney blog and this unlearned author would be best to avoid. We are in the “Colonial Section”, and if the more Asian the designs get the closer we seem to the Veranda, then we need to question which European powers maintain colonies in Asia. And when we ask that, the range narrows considerably: Britain and France.
How about India? The entrance to the Veranda has this highly atmospheric punkah, redolent of tropical climes and the Indian subcontinent.
Punkahs spread with the English out of British East India during their colonial era, spreading west to Europe.
But there isn’t much else you can point to in the Veranda that seems especially British or Indian in design. Punkah became especially popular in the American South among the richest landowners, and those who operated punkah is where we still derive our pejorative “coolie”. Dixie Landings/Port Orleans Riverside’s lobby has two very visible punkah:
Keep in mind this connection, but next we have to look to French Indochina, and once we do that, things start to look familiar indeed.
French Colonial architecture begins to more strongly resemble the almost hallucinatory refinement we see in Adventureland. The rambling balcony on this house would look at home dispensing Dole Whips.
Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, was the center of the French Indochina Empire and in an old section of town we can see native building materials and tile roofs juxtaposed directly with the kind of elaborate railings and open balconies found at Magic Kingdom:
France was so proud of Hanoi that they actually staged a Expo there in 1902. Intended to ride the coat-tails of the era’s love of World’s Fairs, to Magic Kingdom fans the architecture is startlingly familiar:
If the Adventureland Veranda’s corrugated roofs and shutters strike Americans as redolent of Key West or the Caribbean, well, the reason is because the French stopped off there too. Notice the similarities to this 1911 plantation house in St Lucia:
If we stop off at Caribbean islands which still evoke a Gallic influence, we come across architecture which would look right at home in Adventureland. Port-au-Prince, in Haiti, still has some astonishingly beautiful French Colonial vernacular architecture:
In fact, if the whole thing seems redolent of the American South and Jazz, remember just who it was whom we bought the Louisiana Purchase from. I’ve heard more than one guest describe the Veranda as reminding them of New Orleans, and they’re right, because don’t forget that we in the States still have French Colonial architecture too:
We call our concentrated area of French Colonial architecture the French Quarter, but in New Orleans you can also hear it called the “Vieux Carre“, which was what the French called it – it means “The Old Square”. That’s exactly what the Vietnamese call their concentrated area of French Colonial architecture – “The Old Square”. This is not a coincidence. In fact, once you lock in on French Colonial as the architectural style, the pieces fall into place: tall rooms designed to circulate air:
Sliding or opening shutters:
Airy verandas, just as in the Old South… wait, the clue was actually in the name all along! Turns out the name “Adventureland Veranda” doesn’t just describe the actual Verandas which lined the east side of the structure facing the Hub, but were meant to evoke the function of the space as a great house, a location of manners and refinement, a cool escape from the oppressive heat beyond.
The Adventureland Veranda represents a French Colonial Plantation Home of the Victorian era. Now, notice that in its original state, the Veranda was heavily dressed with bamboo, wind chimes, and other South Pacific textures and patterns:
This not only makes the interior more strange and exotic, helping differentiate it from Main Street, but looks forward to the totally rustic look of the “Native Village” deeper in Adventureland, typified by the Tiki stylings of the Sunshine Pavilion and the Jungle Cruise.
It’s a testament to the design talents of WED Enterprises that generations of guests detected this without really being able to put their finger exactly on what it was they were seeing. French Colonial architecture is at once familiar and exotic, an appropriate overture to the area to come. It can look European, American, Caribbean, Indian and Asian all at once, and has been quietly confounding description for decades.
The Design of the Adventureland Veranda
Once I had gathered the above sets of influences, I was able to start drilling down my search for material on the design of the Adventureland Veranda, and thanks to a fortuitous series of “finds”, I’m able to present a fairly clear picture for the first time. So, it’s time to meet Disney Legend Dorothea Redmond.
Mrs. Redmond has been mentioned here before, but it’s fair to say that if the design of Magic Kingdom had an “MVP”, I’d place Dorothea at the top of the list. This may seem silly, until I start listing the locations based directly on her designs: The Crystal Palace, King Stephan’s Banquet Hall, Liberty Tree Tavern, Plaza Restaurant, Tony’s Town Square, Columbia Harbour House… need I go on?
Dorothea’s first job out of art school was working under legendary designer William Cameron Menzies…. on Gone With The Wind, David O Selznick’s colossal production. Much of the feel of Redmond’s production art of Tara was transferred to the screen through elaborate special effects shots:
Redmond kept working for Selznick, including later productions like Rebecca and Notorious, with Alfred Hitchcock. Her art must have caught Hitch’s eye, because he brought her over to Universal, where she did design interiors and storyboards on Shadow of a Doubt:
Perhaps it was her work on Gone With The Wind that suggested her, but Walt Disney brought her onboard at WED Enterprises, where she contributed to New Orleans Square:
I’ve been able to gather up a number of Redmond’s pieces relating to Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland, which if I had to guess, based on what I have, she designed the common areas in totality.
That’s something like what the Sunshine Pavilion looked like in 1968 – it compares tolerably well to the layout seen in this 1968 Magic Kingdom site plan, provided by Mike Lee at Widen Your World:
Sharp eyed viewers will notice that the basic shape of the Adventureland Veranda is pretty much in place by then. Which is why I’m comfortable saying that this blueprint matches an elevation recently put up for sale by Van Eaton Galleries:
Don’t worry, we’ll get closer to pull it apart presently. I was, in fact, going to pass on this unremarked when I noticed that Redmond had left barely legible source citations at the bottom of her art, and this find was too remarkable to pass up on. Although there were undoubtably other sources, I’m pleased to present two books which are direct sources for Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland: The West Indies by Life World library, 1967, and Shadows From India by Roderick Cameron, 1958.
Shadows From India is hard to find today – it seems to have been published only in Europe – and strikes me as the more interesting source so we will begin there. Although in the final park their placement was flipped, on the Redmond piece what is identifiably Aloha Isle is present:
The final design was much reduced and had no visible structural decay, but that is definitely the building where Dole Whips were dispensed for three decades. Redmond’s notation here directs us to Shadows From India page 135, which turns out is a fairly unenlightening reference for the windows seen here.
However, if we look carefully, we can find more obvious sources, like these long slatted shades between columns on a British Colonial townhouse on page 142:
These seem to have been copied pretty much directly:
Elsewhere in Shadows From India, it’s possible to find echoes of Adventureland:
This British Colonial houseboat seems especially close to the mark:
Going back to Redmond’s art, we can see that originally, the very first structure inside Adventureland to the right — was going to be a Shooting Gallery! Notice the crossed pistols on the mural top the left of the shooting gallery counter:
Her citations direct us this time to page 105 in The West Indies, where she has reproduced a building sitting behind The Queen’s Park in Trinidad pretty much exactly:
The park is still there, but all evidence suggests that this fascinating Victorian is long gone. The final version came out a bit differently while retaining the overhanging eaves:
One real life building that strikes me as even closer to the final Veranda design is the Boissiere House in Port-au-Prince:
The central section of the Veranda facade here, what Redmond has labeled “6” and “7”, would seem to be total fantasy. The glass gazebo, once called the South Seas Terrace (now the entrance to the Skipper Canteen), only has a notation indicating how the corrugated steel roof should be applied:
But if we follow the paper trail to The West Indies, on page 85 we come across a startling discovery:
It turns out this memorable building is actually a pretty direct copy of a house in Port-au-Prince, which at least as of 1967 was still standing. I’ve searched online and it no longer seems to exist – much of Port-au-Prince’s Victorian architecture was either torn down or finally destroyed by the 2010 earthquake. But here’s one, rarely bestowed form of immortality!
As for the interior? I have only vestiges – scans from a Food Service planning packet dated 1970 on file at the Orlando Public Library – but enough to show how faithfully realized Redmond’s designs were:
A Club By Any Other Name
Let’s go back to the Adventurer’s Club for a moment here.
Here’s the thing, even allowing for the inexact nature of farce, is that Adventurer’s Club was always supposed to be a Gentleman’s Club, heavily British East Indian in style. Supposedly the idea germinated from a theme party held by Joe Rhode in the late 80s called “The Last Days of the Raj”. In other words the Adventurer’s Club was a place you came back to to tell your stories and show off your treasures. The Adventureland Veranda is a plantation, meaning it has the feeling not only of being away from everything, but of domesticity.
Now the Jungle Cruise is unavoidably British Colonial in theme, even if it’s staffed with wisecracking yanks in the fashion of Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen. Thus it makes sense that the Jungle Cruise and Adventurer’s Club would be bedfellows. So how does the Jungle Cruise fit into the Veranda?
I’d argue that there is a backdoor here through the colonialism theme. And since it would be egregious to keep the distinctive exterior of the Veranda structure but gut the interior to resemble something it is not, then either the whole thing must be torn down and rebuilt into an entirely new stretch of architecture or the Jungle Cruise theme must be adapted to the new space.
The key is that the Skipper Canteen must then by definition not be a social space in the style of the private club represented by the Adventurer’s Club, but a private space, and that is just what Imagineering has done. They’ve made the Canteen into a converted home, even turning one of the side rooms into a family dining room with a fireplace and cabinets of fine china.
Instead of making the connection between the Jungle Cruise and the Adventuer’s Club and being disappointed that the Canteen does not follow suit, I’d like to propose a more appropriate lens to view the new restaurant through, one that actually works with both the Jungle Cruise and the Veranda:
The Explorer’s Club, also known as Colonel Hathi’s Pizza Outpost at Disneyland Paris, is another space which is at once exotic and evokes domesticity, with soaring ceilings and shaded verandas.
I’d rather have it that way, too. The approach is simple and matches the tone of what’s there in the park already.
One of the distinctive things about Disneyland and The Magic Kingdom, I feel, is that in many areas the theming is actually dead simple. There’s nothing inherently fabulously elaborate about the Columbia Harbour House or the French Market, but they’re persuasively alive in the ways that some more modern Disney themed establishments feel more cluttered up with stuff than actually carefully themed.
And that’s why I applaud what Imagineering did with the Skipper Canteen. It isn’t just about reopening a space and keeping it true to its original intentions, it’s about knowing when to stop. It’s a problem that pops up more and more these days, as Walt Disney World sees more and more visitors and more and more projects put through the sausage factory.
It’s reassuring that the designers of the Canteen saw the value in the intended design, and knew that sometimes that was enough. And that a brilliant, historically valid original Magic Kingdom interior was repurposed and reopened to the general public is even more cause to celebrate.
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