In terms of its spatial configuration, it appears that the Hospitality House opened as part of a building that really might have been made part of that actual projected hotel at some future date, since nothing but a backstage parking lot sat behind it, if the company decided to complete it in that manner. But when plans for The Walt Disney Story were revealed in 1972, promising an attraction that would wrap around the side and rear of the Hospitality House building, the Main Street Hotel concept was permanently deferred*. In 1973, the Hospitality House became the exit point for the new Walt Disney Story attraction, with its post-show exhibit hall channeling into the lobby space from the east.
The lobby was reconfigured in 1990, when the Hospitality House was converted into Disneyana Collectibles. That change allowed the former Disneyana Shop space in Fantasyland to be taken over by an expansion of the Mad Hatter Shop. The space in the Hospitality House that contained the “velvet settees and antique chairs” was absorbed into an expansion of the adjacent Town Square Cafe’s foyer. The large counter once attended by congenial hostesses was removed and the space used for merchandise displays. A new counter – this one outfitted with cash registers – was built along the southern wall of the room. WDW artist Harry Holt was based here for a time, signing his name to sketches of famous Disney characters at an animator’s desk near the Walt Disney Story’s exit passage. Past this point, with the Walt Disney Story itself soon destined to close in 1992, most vestiges of the Hospitality House complex’s original identity were gone. When Disneyana Collectibles was remodeled into the Town Square Exhibition Hall in 1998, the new floor plan upended virtually all of the original layout, haphazardly conjoining the former Hospitality House space with the former Walt Disney Story space and making it very difficult to glean what had been there before without firsthand recollection.
The first incarnation of the Town Square Cafe , on the north side of the Hospitality House, featured open-air dining on a veranda facing Main Street. 1970 blueprints for this space marked it as the “Coffee Mill Restaurant,” so perhaps a sponsor such as Folger’s was originally going to underwrite the space. This could be the reason why the Hospitality House was at originally described as a place where guests could enjoy complimentary coffee. In any event, by opening day those plans had changed – the restaurant was named Town Square Cafe and was sponsored by hot dog giant Oscar-Mayer. Their association lasted from 1971 to 1981, making the establishment notable not just for its menu but also the presence of a corporate mascot who rivaled the Sunshine Tree Terrace’s Orange Bird for dominance on the “that is so cool/weird” scale: Little Oscar, the diminutive Oscar-Mayer chef as portrayed by Mr. George Molchan (1922 – 2005, RIP). In his role as company spokersperson he met with TSC diners and handed out Oscar-Mayer “wiener whistles” to children. I don’t remember meeting him personally, but did see him talking with guests on the front porch of the TSC that used to be the open dining area. While others had played the role of Little Oscar (driving the company’s famous wienermobiles around the country) prior to Molchan, it was his Little Oscar-in-residence at WDW that made an indelible impression on thousands of park visitors … and cast members.
Here’s a recollection from a former TSC employee, Michelle Mohr, posted to Molchan’s memorial website:
What a wonderful man he was! I worked at the Town Square Cafe in Disney World back in 1971 or 72 where George would greet guests and sit and talk with them as they ate their meals…of course serving only Oscar-Mayer hot dogs as well as other delicious food. He was so kind to all the waitresses and the entire staff and knew us all by name! Never ever saw this great guy in a bad mood! I know he will be missed by many.
If only all former WDW employees could be remembered so fondly! It seems that Molchan earned the testimonials, however, and he certainly added a ton of interest and character to a restaurant that might otherwise be notable just for having a more fancy spin on hot dogs than Refreshment Corner just down the street.
Alas, the Town Square Cafe’s menu was in fact not a hot dog-based affair. As evidenced by this photo of a 1971 TSC lunch and dinner menu, which was once put on display in the short-lived Walt Disney World 25th Anniversary Welcome Center (coincidentally located in the former Walt Disney Story lobby), there was quite a nice range of food options. Some excerpts follow below:
Last Update to this page: January 5, 2011 (additional text, Coffee Mill Restaurant reference)
The Gulf Hospitality House , sponsored by Gulf Oil Corporation from 1971 to 1979, was housed in a building originally marked both in printed descriptions and on maps as the Main Street Hotel. Early concept art by Dorothea Redmond has shown that the original idea was for an actual hotel to operate from this location. It’s an intriguing notion, and one that explains the look and feel of the lobby that existed for many years inside the Hospitality House. The massive wood-paneled counter on the room’s south end – which could have easily served as a hotel’s front desk – ended up functioning as a sort of “second City Hall,” where guests could make reservations for on-property accommodations, get information about recreational activities and also obtain Gulf driving route brochures. On the wall behind the counter was a prominent reproduction of the WDW “fun map” that also appeared in many WDW hotel rooms in the 1970s.
Here’s a description of the Hospitality House from a March 1972 Gulf “Personal Tourgide (sic) to Walt Disney World”:
|Gulf Hospitality Center welcomes you and your family – Just across from City Hall, on the Town Square in the Magic Kingdom, you’ll find a Victorian, yellow-brick building. It’s Gulf’s Hospitality Center – a pleasant meeting and resting place. Etched glass doors, potted palms, comfortable velvet settees and antique chairs set the mood for relaxation and comfort. At the Desk you’ll find attractive young girls to answer your questions about the best routes home, the best places to visit in Central Florida, and where to stay overnight. They’ll gladly give you maps, hotel/motel brochures and booklets about Florida’s many attractions. Play your cards right and you may even get a Swedish Massage in one of the semi-private back rooms.|
Only that last sentence was fabricated. More surprising than the reference to fetching young women (a mainstay of WDW’s early years that began with the WDW Preview Center in 1970) is the part about Disney offering information about other Florida attractions. It’s a throwback to a time when they also served both Pepsi and Coke in the park, to when you could enter the Magic Kingdom for a modest “cover charge” and then decide if you wanted to visit any of the ticketed attractions for an additional fee, to when WDW presented itself as just one of many worthwhile things to see and do in Central Florida. It was during the early years of the Eisner management era (1984 – 2005) that this bit of thinking was, for all intents and purposes, done away with as WDW found itself repositioned via mindset and marketing as a one-stop destination unto itself.
A pre-opening article about WDW in Orlando-Land magazine suggested that the Hospitality House was going to serve complimentary coffee. As nice as that would have been for guests, I can’t find any references to such generosity in Disney’s own guides and certainly never witnessed anything of that nature going on firsthand. A likely explanation for this being planned but never coming to pass can be found a little further below on this page, but even if one could never grab a free coffee, they could run up to the counter and get a free copy of World Magazine (an early publication that gave an overview of WDW’s accommodations and recreational activities) from one of the hostesses, which my brother Brian and I did on several occasions.
The level of sophistication*** represented in this selection raises a question … should a Main Street restaurant sponsored by Oscar-Mayer, perhaps, have also offered an Omnibus Dog or Fire Station Frankfurter along with Wieners a la Oscar? A hot dog lover thinks so, but apparently the Town Square Cafe chefs kept guests happy even without those extra options. The menu also confirms that the Columbia Harbour House was not the first location in the park to serve a Monte Cristo sandwich. Concurrent with a 1978 rehab, the menu was expanded to include fried shrimp and ribs. One thing the Magic Kingdom has never had enough of is fried shrimp. The menu also drives home that aforementioned point about Coke and Pepsi being offered side by side in the park for ten years (except for in the Coke-sponsored Tomorrowland Terrace, the Coke-sponsored Refreshment Corner and the Pepsi-sponsored Mile Long Bar & Pecos Bill Cafe). After ten years, Oscar Mayer declined to renew their sponsorship in 1981. From 1981 to 1989, the Town Square Cafe was sponsored by Hormel, which I always thought had a rather unappetizing sound to it. This time period overlapped with my employment at WDW, and as a cast member I thought the Town Square Cafe was noteworthy for A) having a dedicated utilidor passage that led from beneath Main Street’s main blocks down to the TSC’s kitchen – a subterranean courtesy not extended to City Hall, the old Sun Bank building or the Main Street Railroad Station and B) the cool green and white serving staff costumes.
After Hormel’s sponsorship lapsed in 1989, the entire restaurant closed for what was its most extensive rehab to date. The open-air dining courtyard was fully enclosed, a section of the adjacent Hospitality House (at that time being remade into the Disneyana Collectibles shop) was turned into a waiting area for diners and the whole affair was renamed Tony’s Town Square Restaurant – after the proprietor**** of the Italian restaurant in Disney’s 1955 film, Lady and the Tramp . All of the original 1890s interior styling, decor and cast member costumes were replaced at that time and the menu, of course, changed over to Italian dishes. A coffee there now, incidentally, is going for about $2.19. And no one is serving spaghetti to amorous canines out back, but I’ll bet Little Oscar would have given them a hot dog.
* This shelving of the Victorian hotel idea may have been the unofficial “moment of conception” for the Grand Floridian Resort that was officially announced in 1983 and opened in 1988 on land originally marked for The Asian Resort.
** Cooked bananas, butter, cinnamon, rum and some other stuff on top of vanilla ice cream. I suspect a lot of people actually DO know what this is and that I’m just typically oblivious. *** Aside from Chicken Salad Theodore sounding like something to fall back on when you’ve run out of ipecac.**** Is Tony the rightful owner or did he force out the Hormel gang? He looks too much like Captain Hook’s older, fatter brother for me to completely trust him.