Last Update to this page: April 19, 2015
In mid-January, 1970, the Walt Disney World Preview Center became the first building on WDW property to be opened to the public. Near the intersection of Interstate 4 and State Road 535, the thoroughly modern glass, concrete and steel structure was situated on the southern shoreline of Lake Buena Vista along the then-quiet Preview Boulevard. This roadway would later become Hotel Plaza Boulevard, a main artery serving traffic to the WDW Village and a gathering of hotels.
Inside the building, a small army of “lovely young hostesses” treated guests to a glimpse of what they could expect to see in the fall of 1971, when the $300 million Phase One of the “Vacation Kingdom of the World” debuted. The Preview Center was open daily from 9am to 5pm, and offered visitors a leisurely tour of artists’ renderings, an aerial view of Phase One in the form of a huge model and a motion-picture presentation that forecast what the first five years of the project would entail. Visitors could also make reservations for a stay at one of WDW’s first two hotels, the Contemporary and the Polynesian Village, or purchase souvenirs at WDW’s first gift counter.Fourteen women were selected as the original representatives of Walt Disney World. They came from a pool of 400 applicants who were evaluated by two Disneyland hostesses, Valerie Watson and Holly Hoelscher, and chosen largely on the basis of appearance. “We looked for that fresh, natural appearance that our organization tries to reflect,” Watson told Orlando-Land editor Edward L. Prizer in 1970.The Preview Center officially opened on January 16, but spent the week prior hosting state and local government and business figures by invitation only. When it opened to the public, it hosted 12,000 visitors in three days – twice as many as Disney had expected. Every fifteen minutes, visitors were escorted into a theater to see the film and 625-square foot model, portions of which would be lit from overhead in synchronization with the film’s dialogue.
1971’s Project Florida, a 21-minute film that aired as part of The Wonderful World of Disney TV program, featured the Preview Center along with footage of construction progress and attractions in development. A portion of that video is embedded below.
The Walt Disney World Preview Center was also the subject of articles in numerous magazines, newspapers and Disney publications. Below is a reprint of how Disney positioned it for their own employees in the April 1971 edition of Walt Disney World News, a pre-opening large-format newsletter that tracked the resort’s construction:
WALT DISNEY WORLD – TOP TOURIST ATTRACTION EVEN BEFORE IT OPENS!
Walt Disney World’s “Vacation Kingdon” won’t open until October, but it is already a major tourist attraction … and has been since early last year.More than 800,000 visitors have toured Walt Disney World’s Preview Center since it opened in mid-January of 1970, getting a sneak preview of central Florida’s “Vacation Kingdom” for the world. At the same time, guests are being treated to Disney hospitality by the staff of lovely and charming Preview Center hostesses, a brand of friendly hospitality that has become synonymous with California’s Disneyland and will likewise permeate the Florida “Vacation Kingdom” when it opens in October.The $500,000 Preview Center is open without charge every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is located on the shore of Lake Buena Vista at the intersection of Interstate-4 and State Route 535, 15 miles southwest of Orlando.Guests can view construction progress photographs, see scale models, artist renderings and a colorful motion picture outlining the first five years of the mammoth project. The Preview Center also features beautifully landscaped grounds, picturesque Lake Buena Vista and a Topiary Zoo featuring sculptured animal-shaped shrubs being grown for the “Magic Kingdom” theme park.Press information and convention service facilities, a souvenir gift shop, refreshments and executive reception areas also are included in the Preview Center. More than 600 letters are being received each day inquiring about accommodations and reservations and requesting information about Walt Disney World’s “Vacation Kingdom.”
Reservations for hotel rooms and camping facilities are being processed and should be directed to ‘”Reservations Office, P.O. Box 78, Orlando, Florida, 32802.
When the rest of Walt Disney World opened to the public in October 1971, the Preview Center was closed. Most of the hostesses moved on to new jobs at other parts of WDW. One of them, Debbie Dane, had by that time already been chosen as Walt Disney World’s first ambassador.
While the Preview Center building still exists and looks little changed from the outside, all of its wonderful interior elements have completely given way to the annoying forward march of time. Since 1971, it has been used for a large number of other purposes, for many years it was known as the Reception Center where guests staying at the Preview Boulevard hotels were directed to check in. It once housed a post office and most recently served as headquarters for the Amateur Athletic Union. So you can’t walk in and see a diorama of WDW’s original souvenir counter. But in a way it’s nice that you can still drive into the same parking lot that met the very first WDW visitors and, suspending disbelief, imagine that this building is all that exists – the first little breath in a big balloon that would soon burst into pop culture and theme park history.
Walt Disney World Preview Center Images & Video
Video Excerpt from Walt Disney Productions’ Project Florida Film
The video below can also be found. along with many others, on WYW’s YouTube Channel (click here to visit)
The Walt Disney World Preview Center – Altered WDW Location Located: Preview Boulevard (later Hotel Plaza Blvd), Lake Buena Vista
Opened: January 16, 1970 Closed: September 30, 1971
Space later became: Reception Center, Post Office, Amateur Athletic Union headquarters
Remnants: Building still exists as of June 2014
Personnel Included: Debbie Dane, Holly Hoelscher, Valerie WatsonBibliography: WDW Publicity Dept. Press Releases, Osceola Sentinel January 16, 1970, Orlando-Land magazine February 1970, Walt Disney World – The First Decade, 1981
All images copyright The Walt Disney Company. Text copyright 2015 Mike Lee.
First version of WDW Preview Center page posted to WYW March 1999Updated June 2002 (additional images), July 20, 2009 (additional text & images, video imbed), February 25, 2011 (additional images), August 17, 2012 (additional text and images), June 8, 2014 (page rebuild) abd April 19, 2015 (additional images)