In the mid 1960’s Walt Disney and his corporation amassed a large tract of land west of Orlando, Florida with plans to build a new theme park and resort complex. Walt had learned from his mistake in developing Disneyland in California of not controlling adjacent property to his theme park.
In 1971 Walt Disney World opened with The Magic Kingdom park and three resort hotels sitting in the middle of forty seven square miles of land owned by the corporation.
The Walt Disney World parcel of land is made up of about 30,000 acres. With the opening of the fourth theme park, Disney MGM Studios in 1989, only about 1100 acres of that land was devoted to the theme parks. With the addition of hotel areas, two water parks, Downtown Disney and Pleasure Island 7,100 total acres were developed by 1990.
Using an orphan piece of Disney real estate on the other side of the I-4 highway, the Disney Corporation’s real estate division broke ground in 1994 on Celebration, Florida. It was conceived to be an upscale planned community utilizing all the skills of the Disney organization and also provide additional office space for Disney operations. Because it was designed to offer a quick connection into the Disney World areas with a short five mile direct road leading right to the Magic Kingdom. They rightly expected the residential properties to appeal to their own employees.
The Disney Company commissioned a number of famous architects to create the master plan and to design the major buildings for the community. The master plan was created by architects Robert A.M. Stern and Jaquelin T. Robertson. Both were urban planners and designers who modeled the town after small American towns and neighborhoods from the early 1900s. Visually the town leaves you believing that you have traveled back thru time a hundred years. With front porches with swings, white picket fences and everywhere walking and biking trails.
The small town center post office is by architect and product designer Michael Graves and is shaped like a silo with distinctive porthole windows. Celebration’s USPS building is an example of postmodern architecture.
The old Town Hall was designed by Architect Philip Johnson with traditional, classical columns. This Town Hall is similar to any other neoclassical building, like the Supreme Court building in Washington or a 19th century antebellum Greek Revival plantation house.
Stetson University Center at Celebration opened in September 2001 as a graduate and professional education arm of the university in Florida. Created by architects Deamer & Phillips the semi-circular building borders a preserved Florida wetland and attempts to become environmentally integrated with its surroundings.
The Celebration bank building offers a retro look designed by partners Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. It attempts to evoke a small town commercial feel to the main street crossing Town Center
Architect Cesar Pelli & Associates designed the googie style cinema in Celebration. The two spires are reminders of futuristic architecture from 1950s movie houses and the attached building makes a nod to the theatre that premiered Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on December 21, 1937 in Los Angeles.
Graham Gund designed the 115-room “inn” at Celebration. Sitting along the Town Center lake, Gund took inspiration from the wooden Florida structures of the 1920s.
“It also echoes the actual history of many small-town inns, which grew from landmark houses over time. Design elements associated with older, landmark homes in resort areas include dormers, balconies, awnings and substantial roof overhangs.” — Gund Partnership
On the outskirts of town is a major medical facility. Designed by postmodernist architect Robert A. M. Stern, Celebration Health combines Spanish-influenced Mediterranean stylings with, again, that large, dominating tower seen on so many of the public buildings in Celebration.
The town is divided up into villages that include the Town Center area with residence apartments integrated into the shopping area. There are single family residential villages and villages mixed with townhouses and condo apartments.
If you are visiting Disney World try and fit in a trip over to the town of Celebration. The architecture is distinctive and Town Center offers a number of shops, cafes and restaurants. There are bike rentals and miles of bike trails thru wooded areas, or on boardwalks over wetlands as well as thru the residential areas.
Also check out the town’s schedule of special events that include Radio Disney concerts, an exotic car show, art & wine strolls, and a fall festival with periods of falling leaves and holiday snow on Market Street that includes ice skating.
A few of the Town Center restaurants include:
- Celebration Town Tavern – featured on Emeril’s Florida, it specializes in New England fare.
- Columbia Restaurant – An outlet of Florida’s oldest Cuban restaurant and creator of the Cuban Sandwich.
- Cafe D Antonio – Nice Italian restaurant featuring a great porch overlooking the lake.
- Imperium Food & Wine – A wine cafe with a lighter menu. Tables available outside on Market Street.
- Market Street Cafe – A great place for breakfast or an ice cream soda.
- Thai Thani – Really good traditional Thai restaurant.