One of the greatest things that happened during Widen Your World’s newsletter days (greatness has many definitions in my world) was a series of research accidents that pinpointed Walt Disney World’s first extinct attraction. It was called the Safari Club – an Adventureland game room that briefly resided in the space that would soon be home to Colonel Hathi’s Safari Club, a shop, for many years. That shop has since become the Island Supply Co (above image).
At that time (May 1994), the record bearing out the game room’s existence consisted of the following:
– An article in the April 1971 issue of “Orlando-Land” magazine discussing the upcoming arcade as a “shooting gallery” where guests would bag simulated animals with air-pellet guns. The intent was probably to replicate Disneyland’s Big Game Safari Shooting Gallery, which opened in 1962.
– The first printed guides to the park and its attractions (which from October 1971 to April 1972 were contained in a publication called Walt Disney World News) listing the Safari Club as an Adventureland attraction. By May 1972, when the first true “guide book” was published, the Safari Club was no longer listed as an attraction, but its replacement – Colonel Hathi’s Safari Club- was added under “shops.”
– The first poster-size souvenir map of the park, printed in 1971, also listing the Safari Club as one of the numbered features of Adventureland. Below is a close-up of the park’s 1979 souvenir map, with #45 marking the location in question.
– Blueprints for this location indicating that it was not actually a shooting gallery, but a game room along the lines of the later Caribbean Arcade (1974-1980) in Adventureland’s Caribbean Plaza. According to those prints, the Safari Club contained a variety of freestanding games arranged about a rectangular room.
So that was all pretty exciting stuff, but the problem was that I was too young to remember anything prior to 1973 firsthand and couldn’t find anyone else who recalled seeing the arcade up and running – someone who was certain they weren’t confusing it with any number of other game rooms they’d been in since the 1960s. Short of an eyewitness account or photographs, there was no way to demonstrate that it was a real place vs. a plan that was not realized. The first person I asked was Dave Smith of the Walt Disney Archives, who had been very helpful in confirming other information and operating dates. He admitted that he could not remember this or find anything to definitively support it – although a friend of his did believe that it was real. Then I asked everyone I knew who would have been at least ten years old in 1971 – including some old WDW employees; none of them could say for sure. That went on for ten years and I had pretty much given up on getting a definitive answer. At last, in January 2004 I received an e-mail from Orlando native and former WDW employee Scott Smith (no relation to Dave Smith), who was able to specifically recall his one and only trip into the Safari Club arcade between February and March of 1972. As Smith related it, “My Grandmother had to use the bathroom in the Adventureland breezeway, so I wandered over to the arcade. I remember it because it had one of my favorite games in it; there used to be a game where you [shot] different African wildlife such as elephants, rhinos and antelopes (before PETA existed). It had a Hatari-like theme to it.” Smith ended up working at the adjacent Frontierland Shooting Gallery years later, where he was told that the original plan for the Safari Club was for it to be a more standard shooting gallery like its neighbor. This would corroborate the information printed in that “Orlando-Land” magazine article. As if Smith’s revelation wasn’t enough, in April of 2006 I learned via Dave Ensign that Lee Nesler, who co-founded WDW Artist Prep department in 1971 with Leota Thomas, had actually worked on the Safari Club’s machines. Nesler and Thomas were both “stationed” in Florida for the express purpose of maintaining the Magic Kingdom’s electronic menagerie to WED quality standards. Among E’s responsibilities during the park’s earliest months was the maintenance of the custom-sculpted animal cabinets that encased a very real Safari Club arcade’s game machines. Among the animals represented were lions, zebras and tigers.
I may eventually find some photos of the games as they were customized for WDW, a trend that would continue with the
Caribbean Arcade , but for now I’m approximating a Safari Club description based on the blueprints and what we’ve learned from E so far. There were about 24 games in all, most designed for one player such as United’s Jungle Gun (below left) or Midway’s Wild Kingdom (below right). The walls of the room were sparsely decorated, with textured gypsum board and rough-hewn wood supports giving an “African outpost” effect. Guests could enter the arcade the same way they now enter Island Supply Co., through the large arched doorways (now obscured by a covered patio that was added in the mid-1990s) facing the Adventureland street or coming off the west side of the Adventureland/Frontierland breezeway. Toward the back of the arcade was a door that led to a long, narrow room that sat between the arcade and the Frontierland Shootin’ Gallery. This room still serves as base of operations for the shooting gallery today, and for a brief period in time it probably served as headquarters for two arcades.
Hear a background track from the Wild Kingdom shooting game
Nesler believed the reason for the Safari Club’s brief life span as a game room was the Merchandise department’s desire to position a shop directly adjacent to the Swiss Family Treehouse exit. The timing makes sense, as by early 1972 management must have already realized that closing Frontierland’s Westward Ho shop , which sat not so far from the Safari Club, would be one way to help control the Country Bear Jamboree’s unexpectedly long queue. And with Main Street’s Penny Arcade and the Frontierland Shooting Gallery both a short hop away, there were still enough gaming diversions to fulfill guests’ needs. Another possible factor in this was that – even in the increasingly hedonistic 1970s – the appeal of shooting endangered animals for sport was on the decline. It was another 20 years before Jungle Cruise skippers abandoned the practice of capping hippos square in the teeth, but sympathy for exotic species may be what took root just down the street – summarily denying a generation of trigger-happy East Coast kids their opportunity to kill a tiger before settling down to a sweet and sour hot dog at the Adventureland Veranda .